The PlayStation Vita Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This review was performed using two PlayStation Vita 3G models.

After the long, long wait, has gotten their PlayStation Vitas, charged them up, and run them through the gauntlet.

The PlayStation Vita, introduced to the world as the NGP, or Next Gen Portable, in January 2011 has finally arrived.  We’ve all seen the press releases, gotten hands-on with the device, and experienced gameplay with its front and rear touchpads and two analog sticks, but now it’s time to really get to the nitty-gritty on this device.  Get ready for our most comprehensive hardware review to date after the jump!

The first thing that you’ll notice when you remove the PlayStation Vita from its cardboard confines is how sleek and beautiful it is.  Sure, it takes plenty of cues from the PlayStation Portable, but this piece of hardware isn’t just an improvement in controls; it’s an improvement in design as well.  On the front is a single piece of glass that covers the entire body of the device.  This doesn’t just provide a rich, deep gloss black finish, but also allows you to easily clean the entire surface including the touchscreen without having to worry about gunk getting into the crevices around the border.  The silver band of trim surrounding the device accents the deep black finish of the PS Vita perfectly, and on the back, a nice matte finish ringing the second piece of glass that is the rear touchpad, which is accentuated with small triangles, squares, circles, and X’s symbolic of the PlayStation Brand.

When you first turn on the PlayStation Vita, you’ll be greeted by a few dialogues with your basic configuration options for language, country of origin, etc.  For those who have the 3G model, you’ll also be asked to configure your trial 3G connection for AT&T (US).  Afterwards, you’ll be prompted to connect the device to a Wi-Fi network and register on the PlayStation Network.  Although, this will likely fail, as it will find that an update is required for you to be able to proceed.  Just run the trial setup and move on to find yourself at the main hub that is your new mobile home.  Altogether, setting up the Vita will take you between 10-30 minutes, depending on what you configure.  I had to go through the online user manual to configure my Sennheiser MM400 Bluetooth Headset as well, so it took a bit longer than you may experience.

Navigating your way through the PlayStation Vita’s menus is pretty intuitive; merely swipe up or down the menu screens, much like you would with any mobile device.  Swiping to the side will take you to whatever applications you have open (games, music apps, etc.).  Exit most applications by hitting the PlayStation button.  This will allow you to move freely in the Vita UI, however, the application will still be open and accessible by swiping your finger to the left.  If you’d like to close the application, merely swipe your finger from the upper right corner to the lower left to peel it off the screen.  Swipe and peel.  Swipe and peel.  Got it yet, Daniel-san?

The User Interface (UI) for the PlayStation Vita is impressively intuitive.  The console is exceptionally simple to navigate, requiring little or no time to get used to.  The on-screen keyboard is large enough to allow even my chubby fingers to tap out a message or email address in relatively quick fashion, and the word picker remembers frequently used words so you don’t have to type “Wanderson75″ over and over and over again.  Another thing that Sony has done to really make the Vita an enjoyable device is to add a theme song to most of the applications on the device.  This is going to be a “like it or hate it” function for most people, and luckily for those that hate it, you can easily turn those tiny tunes off in Settings>Sound & Display> System Music.

Didn’t we say we’d tell you everything you needed to know?

If you’re looking for tutorials on how to use the PlayStation Vita, you can swipe your way up to the top of the menus to Welcome Park.  Welcome Park is a set of tutorials to assist you with the new features of the PlayStation Vita.  However, instead of a bunch of dry reading, Sony has made learning more entertaining by creating a series of mini-games around the features discussed in the tutorials.  The approach works very well as I found myself spending quite a bit of time just playing the tutorial games for the fun of it, which is a good thing for Trophy hunters, because (you guessed it) there are Trophies attached to these mini-games!

Speaking of Trophies, it’s hard to grasp why the Vita seemingly needs to download the Trophy files individually in order to display the information on them, but it does.  So it’s recommended that you leave that application open for a while to allow it to do its thing depending on how fast your internet connection is.

So, how does it play?  Beautifully!  The first thing that any long time PSP gamer will want to play with is the analog sticks, and for the most part, they don’t disappoint.  Playing Uncharted: Golden Abyss with these tiny dual analogs is silky smooth (after you make the traditional in-game adjustment, but we’ll get to that in our Golden Abyss review coming soon), and the use of the motion controls is responsive and accurate.  The button and analog positioning is exceptional, allowing you to easily shift from using the sticks to the buttons without much effort, after you get used to the smaller size.  An oddity in the analog sticks stands out however, as the rubber (which does provide good grip) curves outward instead of in, which could lead to some slippage issues if you’re in an intense match.

Using the touchpads as an alternative means for performing tasks assigned to the buttons is something novel as well.  For example, being able to “paint” a line across a number of stones to tell Drake how to traverse a wall, or tapping a soldier for a silent takedown works, dare I say it, better in many instances than using traditional controls.  Similarly, using the rear touchpad to move objects (like in Little Deviants or LBP Vita) is intuitive, not being as big of a hassle as many people worried about.  Furthermore, the underside grips give your fingers a good place to rest and an excellent reference point so you don’t have to worry about accidentally tapping the rear pad.

Near is another function that has been pushed to the forefront by Sony as an attempt to make the Vita more of a social device than the PlayStation Portable.  Essentially, Near uses the location data of your PlayStation Vita as well as others in the area to determine people that are close by.  It will also (provided you allow it to) transmit what kinds of games and apps you’re playing and compare them to those other people in your vicinity.  You can then see if those people have similar interests and invite them to play in online matches.  This feature will even give you a chance to compare scores of supported games and invite your friends to a “friendly” competition.  I’m pretty sure my associate, Mr. Jordan Hiller, is still stinging from the blazing fast 27-second time on Digit Chase, oh yeah!

The PlayStation Vita is capable of playing digital downloads of certain PSP games as well.  However, the list is missing some of the better games available for the PSP.  Most notably absent for my taste was Final Fantasy VII: Crisis CoreMGS: Peacewalker, and The Third Birthday.  Hopefully over the next couple of months, we’ll see more games PSP games added to the library.  Currently there are 275 titles available for download from the Vita PlayStation Store, with promise of more coming soon.

If you do have approved PSP games that you’ve previously downloaded digitally, you can retrieve them by going to the PlayStation Vita Store (PS Store) and hitting the bubble with the three dots in the lower right corner.  Tap on the download list to see all of your previous downloads.  When scrolling through the list, any Vita approved downloads will have the Download button, while the rest will not.  Once downloaded, simply tap on the game after it’s installed.  PSP games are noticeably grainy on the larger resolution screen, but otherwise work fine.

As far as graphics go, the PlayStation Vita has one of the clearest, most vivid displays that we’ve seen on a portable device.  The five inch OLED display running at a resolution of 960 × 544 might not be 1080p, or even 720p for that matter, but it shows off some exceptionally sharp colors combined with deep blacks.  You would swear that you were looking at a higher res display.  These rich graphics can be seen not just in the games you’ll play, but in the three dimensional UI itself.  To complement the gorgeous graphics comes stellar sound.

For a portable device nowadays, one would expect that it should perform admirably in terms of sound, and the PlayStation Vita does not disappoint.  Connected through my Skullcandy ear buds, the PlayStation Vita was able to deliver a surprisingly high quality range of sound.  Even plugging it into my car’s six-speaker surround sound, Uncharted: Golden Abyss delivered deep bellowing bass, crisp highs, and everything in between.  Pairing the Vita with an A2DP Bluetooth audio device delivers the same high quality sound.  However, there is a very slight lag noticeable.

While we made a number of attempts to establish a Crossplay match, it appears that the network is not quite ready at this time.  Apps such as Facebook, Foursquare, and others are also currently unavailable for review.  However, Party Chat was available to try out on the Vita and tested exceptionally well.  Voice chat was able to be maintained in the lobby or while gaming and hearing our friends while we played a round of WipeOut 2048 posed no problems.

The Vita’s battery life has been of some concern to gamers, however, it seems to be able to hold its own relatively well for about five and a half hours of continuous play.  This should be well enough for most long trips, although New York to LA might be pushing it.  Sony’s answer to conserving battery life is a standby mode that kicks in between 1 and 5 minutes depending on what you have set.  However, this can be pretty annoying when it’s plugged in and charging, because it will turn off while idle when you don’t necessarily want it to.  It would be nice to disable this feature, at least while it’s being charged.

Overall, the PlayStation Vita offers exceptional graphics and sound, with tons of features for the gamer on the go.  The device is surely an improvement over its predecessor.  While some issues keep it from being the holy grail of mobile gaming, the pros heavily outweigh the cons.  I’m not entirely convinced that the 3G functionality is worth the additional $50, and the lack of a full PSP games library to download from will keep me from shedding the old handheld for some time.  Although, when it’s time to grab and go, the Vita will definitely be the closest reach.

The PlayStation Vita receives a 4.25/5.

Our Rating
out of 5.0

About This Post

February 16, 2012 - 8:45 am