Sony PlayStation Vita

I have in my hands Sony’s latest portable console, the PlayStation Vita. There are 2 versions available – 3G and wi-fi. The latter, as you can imagine, is cheaper and is the version that I havei. It was launched in Japan back in December and today to the rest of the world.

I pre-ordered it from Amazon as it came with a free memory card. As usual (and when will Sony learn the users hate this) Sony have created their own format for memory cards – it’s basically a modified Micro SD card (and no, a Micro SD card won’t work) but a lot, lot more expensive. 4GB costs £15, 8GB costs £28 and £16GB costs £40.

So, what does the Vita offer over its previous incumbent, the PlayStation Portable (PSP)? An awful lot, to be honest. Sony have combined pretty much gaming input method into one device. We have a 5″ touchscreen on the front and a touchpad on the back. There are 12 buttons, a D-pad, 2 analogue sticks, a microphone, Sixaxis motion sensing and an electronic compass. There are also front and rear VGA cameras (so intended for gaming rather than taking snaps). It weighs 260g and measures 84 x 182 x 17 mm.

Connectivity, other than the aforementioned wifi (b/g/n band) and/or 3G, includes Bluetooth. As well as the memory card slot there’s a Vita Card slot – this is a larger card that games will come on. A proprietary multi-use connector, used along with a provided cable, allows you to connect the Vita to your PS3 or PC. You also charge your unit with this cable. There is also an “accessories” slot on top – what this is for is yet to be detailed. Media wise, along the top of the device is a power button and a volume control. There are also stereo speakers and a headphone socket.

Back to that screen – it’s a vibrant 960 x 544 resolution OLED screen and it truly is stunning – when anybody has seen my Vita that’s usually the first thing they comment on. Power wise the 4 core CPU and 4 core GPU really shows, with many commenting that it nearly has the power of the PS3 in this compact unit.

I didn’t buy any games initially as I wasn’t keen on the few that are currently available. However, I’ve started to download demos from the PlayStation Store and the quality is outstanding. I’ve even bought Grand Theft Auto : Vice City Stories, which is a PSP game – these emulate fine on the Vita.

The XMB front end of the PS3 has been dumped in favour of a more touch-friendly GUI named LiveArea. This allows you to swipe up and down through your apps (each shown as a shaking sphere, although the quality of the images are not brilliant) – left and right then allows you to scroll through any that are running. Small icons for each running application is also shown in a status bar at the top of the screen.  I haven’t, as yet, read the manual but after a while I worked my way around it – working out how to close running programs was the hardest thing to work out for myself! All-in-all it works well.

The device is quite free of bundled software that you might not want – in fact I’d wished they’d included some videos and music for demonstration purposes. There are social media programs waiting for you in the PlayStation store, including Facebook and Twitter. To get you used to the various control methods the Vita does come with “Welcome Park”, a series of games and fun applications that will make full use of the input controls.

The camera software is basic but the pictures are remarkably good for a simple VGA camera – the colours are crisp and the macro facility particularly good. Without a flash, though, darker pictures are noisy. Today was quite overcast so I haven’t been able to get any get photos – as soon as I can I’ll add them onto this review. However, they Video recording  capability is only added by a system update that will be waiting for you when you first turn the device on. My biggest issue is what to do with media once you have it on the Vita – for example you can’t send a photo to any of the social applications and Facebook doesn’t seem to have an upload facility. So you can take photos, but then what? The only saving grace is the Twitter app, which does allow uploads from the Vita.

It’s a shame that the Vita doesn’t appear to recognise external media servers as the PS3 does. I have a NAS on the network which contains photos, music and video – the PS3 can see this and read from it. It would have been a nice touch for the Vita to have been able to do the same.

I’ve not had a chance to try out these features fully but connection between the Vita and a PS3 is possible. Some games will interact across devices – you can even (and I have tried this bit so I know it works) connect to your PS3 and operate it from the Vita. This is brilliant but what you can do is limited – you can’t play games on the PS3 for instance. However, as well as doing this on a private network you can also enable this over the internet. As the iPlayer, ITV Player, etc, are all accessible this is a great way to view content remotely. It’s such a shame that Sony didn’t think to have iPlayer, etc, as applications for the Vita – this would have really set it apart from the struggling 3DS.

The battery doesn’t last long – a few hours of gaming at most. Power saving options consist of changing the screen timeout and nothing much else – considering battery time is an issue you’d have hoped that more of an effort in this department would have been made. BE wary too that if you put the Vita into standby using the top power button then it will disconnect Wifi, even if you’re downloading something at the time. The best thing to do is leave the screen on and let it timeout that way – the Wifi remains active that way (this was rather essential for the 1.5GB Vice City download).

In the box you get a lot of leaflets, but these are related to health & safety and warranties. A small quick start guide is the only printed manual – the main user guide is on the Vita itself (or rather it’s not – it’s via a browser link, so you can’t view the manual unless you’re online). You also get a cable that plugs into the multi-user connector and then terminates to USB – you can then plug this into your PS3 or a PC. You can also charge via USB as well. Alternatively, they also provide a USB mains charger as well. To compete with the 3DS they also include some Augmented Reality cards – the games that use these are free via a provided code. But that’s it – you’ll need to splash out some more money if you want a memory card, screen protector or even a wrist strap.

The quality of the hardware is beyond reproach – it really is a thing of beauty. From the silver circle around the thumbpad to the quality of the materials it’s a well built, sturdy device. I never owned a PSP so this is my first time around a portable Sony console, so I’ve a lot more to discover – expect more updates over time. As for the name Vita I’m yet to be convinced. It sounds like a breakfast bar.

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Conclusion

Brilliant! The hardware is fantastic and although some of the software is still a bit rough but I expect that to improve over successive updates. It’s probably only one for avid gamers, but the quality of those games and what the Vita can deliver means that they will be very happy indeed.

It’s such a shame that Sony have to resort to proprietary memory cards, connectors and penny pinching when it comes to the content.

  1. if I’m out and about and need to get the Vita online I can always turn my phone into a mobile wifi hotspot and connect that way []
Darkstorm40
About Darkstorm40

Relatively recent convert to Battlefield but now hooked. Not the best aim or sharpest reflexes but good team player.

Hates people complaining unnecessarily and believes you should always offer solutions – yes, I’m looking at all the Battlefield 4 haters.

General IT bod during the day and all-round geek at all other times.

Owner of bfmedic.com.

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