The PlayStation Vita

Overall I’m really impressed with the Vita.

The 3DS has been a disappointment for me—Nintendo still knows how to make good games, but I don’t think they’re keeping up on the hardware or the system software side. The system has to be held very still to keep the 3D in focus, and if you turn that off you’re left with little more than a DS with modest improvements, and some new downsides. The iPhone, iPad, and mobile computing in general have drastically changed what people expect out of a handheld device, but Nintendo hasn’t fully caught on. Fortunately, Sony has, for the most part.

The Hardware: Probably anyone’s first thought on seeing the Vita is that it’s really big. You probably won’t keep it in your pants pocket. Personally I’m okay with that—my phone is in my pocket and I don’t have room for another device there. The large size allows the Vita to have a gorgeous 5" screen. It’s OLED, so blacks are dark and colors are vibrant. The controls are on the tiny side, but for me it’s very comfortable to hold and use. After seeing the size, I was surprised when I picked one up—it’s actually very light. I haven’t compared numbers, but it almost feels lighter than my iPhone. The touch screen is nice to use—it’s capacitive, not resistive like the 3DS and DS, so it works more like an iPhone, and you can use your fingers easily. It makes a huge different when you’re trying to scroll through a menu or a large block of text. The top surface is plastic, so dragging your finger across it isn’t as smooth as it is over glass, but it’s a subtle difference.

The System Software: I’ve been worried since I first saw the Vita’s home screens. The design is pretty ugly. Fortunately that’s the worst of it—the design is well thought out and most of it is fairly nice looking. If you’ve used an iPhone or another touch screen phone, much of it will seem familiar. It has plenty of unique touches though—for example you “peel away” the lock screen to start using it, and the same gesture is used elsewhere to close running apps.

Many of the awful things about the PSP and PS3 software have been addressed. Take downloading games for example: on the PSP it’s tedious just to get online and open the store, and when you start downloading a game you can’t do anything else until it’s done. With a large retail game that can take hours. On the PS3 you can download in the background, but it’s not automatic. The whole process has an insane number of steps—you have to add money to your “wallet”, buy the game, download the game, tell it to download in the background, then back out of the download screen. The Vita ditches all the unnecessary steps. You can buy a game with a couple of taps, and it automatically downloads in the background. There’s a notification center where you can check the progress, and it pops up on the home screen when it’s done.

Vita Games: So far I’ve only spent a significant amount of time with Uncharted. As an Uncharted game, it’s a bit average so far, but that’s mainly due to the story and the secondary characters, which haven’t really captured my interest yet. The gameplay and graphics are solid, and they do a great job of showing off the potential of the system.

The touch controls are a bit overused, like Sony gave the developers a touch-based gameplay quota to fill. But they’re great when they’re used for little things, like contextual buttons. When you walk up to a Treasure in a PS3 Uncharted game, the screen shows a treasure icon along with an image of the triangle button, so then you have to remember where the triangle button is and press it. You get used to it quickly, but it’s a bit disconnected. On the Vita, it just shows a treasure icon, and you tap it. It’s pretty perfect. Of course you can still use one of the standard buttons if you prefer that.

The standard controls are easy to use, and not much different from the PS3. The small analog sticks are a bit trickier to use, especially when you’re trying to aim precisely, but they’re pretty comfortable and I’m adjusting to them well enough. One problem I’ve had with the PSP Go, every DS, and the 3DS is that my hands would get tired and cramped after using it for a while. So far the Vita has been much more comfortable to hold.

PSP Games: They look beautiful. After seeing how DS games look on the 3DS, I was worried I’d see the same backwards compatibility problem here: you can choose from blurry pixels that fill the screen, or an image that’s much too small. Fortunately that’s not the case at all. Sony was smart, and gave the Vita a screen that’s exactly double the PSP (much like the iPhone 4’s Retina Display). Pixels are crisp and the image fills the screen—actually, the image is more crisp than it is on my PSP Go, thanks to a higher quality display. I’d much rather play PSP games on the Vita.

Unfortunately not all PSP games are considered compatible at launch—only about a third of my own games. I was able to install most of my other games by downloading them to my PS3 first, and then transferring them over. They seem to work fine, but I’m assuming they haven’t been fully tested. Transferring saves from a PSP is a bit of a mess, but the really ugly part of that process only has to be done once, and then you can freely and easily transfer as many save files as you like.

The Charger: It’s a bit smaller than the huge PSP Go charger, but still big and far longer than it needs to be. Sony should be more mindful of the size of the charger on a portable system. On the bright side, part of the charger is a USB cable, and it can charge over USB. It has to be turned completely off, though, or it won’t get enough power, and from what I hear it still charges very slowly this way. It also only works with computers (Mac or Windows) that have Sony’s content manager software installed. I tried using an iPad USB charger for several hours and got nothing. You can charge with the USB cable connected to a PS3, even if the Vita is on, but I certainly can’t count on having a PS3 available when I’m traveling. I would gladly pay more for a more portable charger—even just a shorter cord!—but it doesn’t seem like Sony is interested. People should not have to write articles about modding the charging cable.

PlayStation Vita Carrying Case: I bought this case along with my Vita. It looked very close to what I was hoping for, but it’s very disappointing. It’s designed to double as a stand, so you can prop your Vita up to watch movies or whatever. I figured I could just ignore that feature, but because of that, it’s thicker than it needs to be, and there’s this weird plastic thing the Vita clips into, making it tedious to remove. I also thought that, since it’s open on most of the sides, I’d be able to charge my Vita while it’s in the case. Nope—they didn’t bother to leave a hole there. Even the headphone jack is blocked when it’s closed.

Posted February 28th, 2012 by Mike Piontek
Link to this entry: http://mikepiontek.com/go/8732