A year after it was first announced the PlayStation Vita has finally gone on sale and brings with it the highest credentials ever seen on a mobile gaming device.
The PS Vita has more in common with the PlayStation 3 than it has with its predecessor the PSP.
It has a large OLED touchscreen and all the physical controls dedicated gamers will appreciate along with some impressive launch titles.
The key feature of the PS Vita are those physical controls including dual analog sticks which will enable users to play popular console genres like first person shooters and adventure games.
While Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch and smartphones have become the most popular form of mobile gaming they lack the physical controls and interactivity offered by the PS Vita.
Whether the PS Vita will be enough to lure the more casual gamers from their smartphones – time will tell.
The PlayStation Vita has a 5-inch OLED (organic light emitting diode) multi-touch display with a resolution of 960 x 544.
This is not a small device. It’s a lot bigger than a smartphones at 18.2cm wide, 8.35mm long and 1.86cm thick. The wi-fi model weighs 260g while the 3G/wi-fi model tips the scales at 279g.
The PS Vita is powered by an ARM Cortex A9 Core processor.
The device is not just something that will fit in your pocket like your smartphone so the user needs to be committed to carry it around.
For dedicated gamers who want to experience their games in the type of quality they’ve come to expect on their computer and on their console then that commitment won’t be hard to find.
The controls on the PS Vita have a lot to do with the portable gaming experience on the go.
It has most of the controls which can be found in a PS3 controller including the directional keys, circle, cross, triangle square buttons, PS button, select, start and left and right shoulder buttons.
There also the dual analog sticks – a feature missing on the PSP – and the feature that will make it a gamer favourite.
Also included is a rear touch panel which can be used for an entirely different type of interaction for some games. For example, it can be used to push objects forward towards the player and adds another dimension to gameplay.
Users will also find a front and rear camera and connectivity either through wi-fi, 3G and Bluetooth.
Along the top is the on/off/lock switch, memory card slot, USB port and the volume keys.
On the bottom edge is an accessory port and a headphone jack.
And let’s not forget the 6-axis accelerometer that comes into play for movement sensitive games.
With these kinds of elements available to developers, there is sure to be a number of interesting titles in the near future.
The PS Vita can take up to a minute to load a game but that’s more an indication of the size of the game rather than the speed of the processor.
Other functions like opening up other apps are done in a matter of seconds.
The gaming side is obviously where the strength of the Vita lies.
Thanks to launch games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, ModNation, MotorStorm RC and Reality Fighters we found the experience a lot more involved than an app game downloaded to a smartphone.
The other features things like a Facebook and Twitter app along with a web browser, maps and multimedia capability are nice add ons and handy to have but not the stars of the Vita Show.
The 5-inch screen of the Vita is excellent with pin sharp resolution and excellent contrast and not a bad place to view your photographs and comfortably watch a movie.
All of the physical controls are clearly defined and responsive with ergonomic grips on the rear panel making the device easier to hold.
The dual analog sticks – the small joysticks on either side of the screen – puts the Vita forward as a serious portable gaming device.
The control offers by the dual analog sticks brings a lot of popular games into play including first person shooters.
In fact, Activision has confirmed the massive Call of Duty franchise is being prepared for the PS Vita. That fact alone will make gaming fans buy the Vita.
We were pleasantly surprised by the sound quality through the Vita’s speakers as well.
The Vita’s interface displays circular buttons arranged on screens which can be scrolled up and down. Scrolling left and right will go through the most recent application.
If you already own a PlayStation 3, the PS Vita can link with it to share content and also to share games.
The connection of the PS Vita – either wi-fi or 3G – will also allow online play against other Vita players and, using CrossPlay – against PS3 players on the same games.
The games for the Vita can either be downloaded directly to the device or purchased physically in a memory card.
There is no internal memory so downloaded games need to be saved to a blank memory card which will be available in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB capacities.
One surprise is the augmented reality gaming. The PS Vita will come with six cards to enable players to create the game’s environment in their world.
Players simple spread the cards on a table or on the floor and the games uses these as point of reference to add elements of the game to your reality.
Launch title Reality Fighters, takes advantage of AR and allows the characters to fight in front of you and even allows players to move around them with the Vita to change the angle of their view.
One place where Sony has fallen down with the Vita is the decision to create its own memory card format. The games, of course, will be sold in this format but users will be forced to buy brand new memory cards instead of using their existing SD cards.
This is going to be the make or break area for the PS Vita and, from what users will get with the launch titles, it’s going to get off to a flying start.
The standout launch title is Uncharted: Golden Abyss which makes great use of the dual analog sticks and offers the same control of the game as players would experience on the PlayStation 3.
There’s also F1 2011, Hustle Kings, Escape Plan, Lumines, ModNation, Reality Fighters, Everybody’s Golf and FIFA.
In the near future we’ll see Call of Duty, LittleBigPlanet, Assassin’s Creed, Unit 13 and other major franchises preparing Vita versions.
The PS Vita is an impressive device but it’s let down slightly by the battery.
Players will bet between four and five hours before they have to look for a power point to recharge. The upside is that is that device recharged pretty quickly.
The battery is sealed inside the device and cannot be replaced. Perhaps having an accessible battery would have given Vita owners the option of carrying around a back-up battery to swap out if they run out of power on the go.
The PlayStation Vita is the most powerful portable gaming device on the market that’s backed up by an excellent range of games that will only get better.
Dedicated gamers will give the Vita some serious consideration if they haven’t already rushed out to buy the device already.
Other casual or incidental gamers may not feel the need to tear themselves away from Angry Birds on their smartphones but once users get the PS Vita in their hands they will clearly see its quality and power.
At $419.95 for the 3G/wi-fi model and $349.95 for wi-fi only the PS Vita isn’t cheap – it’s actually more expensive than the PS3.
But serious gamers will be more than willing to play the price because the PS Vita will offer them a portable gaming experience that no smartphone can.
Price: $349.95 (wi-fi), $419.95 (3G/wi-fi)
Four stars (out of five)