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Review: The PS Vita is an Awesome Piece of Hardware but is That Enough

I have spent the last few days getting to know my new PS Vita from Sony, and I have to say that it is one of the sexiest pieces of gaming hardware I’ve ever owned.  It’s OLED screen rivals the iPhone 4’s retina display, the physical joysticks are things of beauty, and it just feels right in the palm of your hands.  Unfortunately, great hardware doesn’t always equal a great gaming experience.  The software needs to mimic the great hardware, and for the most part it does in regards to the Vita, but Sony is going to have to keep their developers cranking out more hardcore games if they want this thing to be a huge success.  If you’re on the fence with this device then I urge you to read about my findings below (additional pics and video demos can be found after the review).

 

Sony’s PS Vita

EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas

The Awesome: Hardware, OS, Remote Play

The Not so Awesome: Battery, Clunky Content Management, Lack of Backwards Compatibility

 

The Awesome

Hardware

Without a doubt the PS Vita is one of the finest looking devices I’ve owned, and I have a sh*t load of toys.  Everything about it is sexy.  The OLED screen is amazingly beautiful, and like I said earlier its HD screen rivals the retina display found on the iPhone 4 and 4S.  The menus and icons look vibrant on the screen, and they just scream refinement.  That’s not the best looking thing on this system either.  Sure, solid looking menus and icons are neat, but that’s not what gamers are interested in.  They want great looking games, and I’m happy to tell you that they too look wonderful on the Vita’s OLED screen.  For example, Uncharted looks every bit as sharp on the Vita as it does on the PS3.  There’s a few jagged lines if you look closely enough, but the visuals on the Vita are the best I’ve seen on a handheld device.  Not to mention that it’s touch capabilities are dialed in as well, and they really do provide a unique spin on gaming.

Front and Back views of the PS Vita

Even with how awesome the screen is I have to say the best piece of the Vita’s hardware is its dual joysticks.  I can’t even begin to tell you how enjoyable it is to play a hardcore game like Uncharted on a mobile device with two joysticks.  The feeling is as close as it can get to simulating the console gaming experience.  I’ve played great looking shooters on high end mobile devices such as the iPad 2 and 4S, but they’ve always felt awkward with their virtual joysticks.  This is not the case on the Vita.  Sony’s decision to put two joysticks on the Vita may have been one of their greatest innovations in some time.

Top and Side views of the PS Vita

I just hope more games that rely on the two joystick setup get released, because I think the hardcore crowd would really take to the Vita if they knew great third, and first person shooters were coming out for it. I would love to see a Killzone Vita title, because I think it’d be phenomenal for this piece of gaming hardware.  The touch controls are interesting, but they’ve been done before on the smartphone platforms.  I want to feel like I’m playing on a console, especially when I spend $250+ on a mobile gaming unit like the PS Vita.  I just hope Sony doesn’t piss away its great hardware with crappy ports of smartphone games, or a deluge of gimmick based games that play up the Vita’s touchscreen capabilities.  This device has all the tools to be a hardcore mobile gaming platform, but its amazing hardware will fail if the software isn’t there to back it up.

OS

If you’ve ever used a touch screen enabled device, then the Vita’s OS will feel very comfortable to you.  It employs many of the tactics that portable operating systems like iOS and Android have instilled in their user bases, such as clicking and holding app icons to reposition them.  You can create new menus by dragging icons to the bottom of the current menu just like you can do on iOS, and on top of that you can even set custom wallpapers for each menu.  Each menu has animations that give the Vita’s screen a feeling of being alive.  When you switch between menus the backgrounds will transition smoothly, which really gives this device a sense of polish that hasn’t been seen in gaming handhelds before.

Vita’s Main Menu feels very similar to iOS and Android

To help manage open apps the PS Vita uses what Sony calls the LiveArea screen.  With a swipe to the left you can resume or kill open apps such as games, Netflix, Settings, and more.  If you want to close the app you just have to swipe from the top right corner down to the left bottom as if you were peeling the app from the screen.  It’s a very simple way to shut down open apps, and I’m starting to prefer it to Apple’s way of shutting open apps down.

In addition to the Vita’s OS touch based controls it also employs a physical PS button that acts the same as iOS’s Big button, or the Menu button on Android phones.  You can tap this button to minimize open apps, or if you’re at the home menu you can tap it to open up an alternative open app navigational menu to the LiveArea screen.  The PS button can also be depressed for a few seconds to open up a mini settings menu to toggle sounds and screen brightness.  Overall, the PS Vita’s OS is on par with the most popular mobile OS on the market, so if you can use a smartphone you can use the Vita.

PS Vita Review: General Functionality and Hardware Demo HD

Remote Play

Remote play isn’t a new Vita technology, but it seems to work much better than it did on PSPs past.  Remote play allows you to control a PS3 console that you’ve registered your Vita with.  As long as you have an Internet connection you can technically remote into your PS3 through the Vita and utilize some of its functionality.  For example, if you own some PS1 classics that have been downloaded to your console you can remote into it and play them on your Vita.

You would think that this would be a clunky process, but it’s far from it.  The games stream almost perfectly to the Vita if you’re on the same network.  They work just as well on a strong connection that isn’t on your home network as well.  I didn’t experience any frame rate issues while playing Final Fantasy 7 via remote play, and considering that these titles don’t work on the Vita locally, this solution is satisfactory if not ideal.  If Sony would make it possible to play all types of downloaded gaming content on the Vita then owning one would be a must for all PS3 owners.  That’s how impressive the Remote Play functionality is, so I’ll be interested to see where Sony takes this technology in the future.

PS Vita Remote Play Demo and Review

 

The Not so Awesome

Battery

Not that it’s a big surprise, but the Vita’s battery stamina is lacking greatness.  This becomes clearly evident once you start playing games on it for long stretches of time.  The reports you have read about the Vita dying after about 3-5 hours of continuous gameplay are true.  This thing will not make it on a long trip without being charged if you intend to game on it consistently.  After playing Uncharted Golden Abyss for nearly two hours I lost half of my battery’s charge.  In all honesty I don’t see myself ever gaming for more than two hours at a time on the Vita, so the battery issue isn’t a deal breaker for a gamer like me, but if you plan on gaming hard on this thing then you better invest in a car charger at the least.

Games like Uncharted will murder the Vita’s battery life

If you don’t game too heavily then the Vita’s battery actually lasts pretty long.  I’ve played Uncharted here and there, as well as downloaded a few GBs of data, and I still have a full battery showing even though I haven’t charged it in over 24 hours.  This means that the Vita does manage its battery power quite well when not playing games for hours on end, and its standby mode does a good job of preserving a charge.  Considering that the Vita is a gaming device though I can’t help but point out its battery troubles.

Clunky Content Management

The Vita’s method of managing its content between devices is slightly cumbersome and inefficient.  You have to install a software client on your PC or Mac to transfer any content to and from the Vita.  You can’t just fire up an email client to send a screenshot, which is kind of a pain in the a*s.  You have to hook up the Vita to your computer via its custom USB cable, launch the CM software on both devices and then begin copying the data.  It’s no different than managing data on a USB drive, but in this day in age of the Cloud, I would have preferred an option to sync data wirelessly like the iPhone can do with iTunes.

The Content Management client is clean looking but slow

I was surprised with how long the copy process took to complete as well.  I wanted to get some custom wallpapers on my Vita, so I hooked it up to my MBP and began the process.  I immediately found out that this was going to be a long process.  Copying these small files took an extremely long time to complete.  I was expecting to copy 50 wallpaper images in a matter of seconds, but the entire process was closer to 10 minutes.  Luckily I don’t see the need to manage content with my MBP too often outside of backing my Vita up, but if you plan on using the Vita as a multimedia device full of videos and pictures, then be prepared to wait a long time for each copy operation to complete.

Lack of Backwards Compatibility

One of the biggest downsides to the Vita is the fact that it can’t run much of the software that the older PSP models could.  At this current time it can’t play PS1 classics locally, so if you have a large collection of those games installed on your PS3 the only way you’ll be able to play them is through Remote Play.  The Vita also can’t play the entire catalog of downloadable PSP games.  There’s a fair amount of them that are compatible, but not all, so there’s a good chance that some of your older PSP downloadable games won’t work with the Vita.  I can only hope that Sony fixes some of these issues in future firmware updates, because it’d be great to play classics like FF 7-9 on my Vita rather than relying on Remote Play.

 

The Final Verdict

The PS Vita is one of the slickest gaming handhelds to ever grace the video game world.  It’s hardware is impeccable, and it’s complimented by a solid touch based OS.  The Vita’s remote play capabilities make it a very powerful cloud gaming device that will give PS3 owners alternative ways to enjoy their gaming content.  Having two joysticks on the Vita immediately make it heads and tails above the competition.  Hardcore gamers will feel right at home using the two joysticks especially in games like Uncharted, which relies on traditional gameplay mechanics for third person shooters.

Unfortunately, the PS Vita’s battery won’t be able to make it through the day if you plan on gaming on it heavily.  You can only get about 3-5 hours of pure gameplay out of it on a single charge, so if you are going on a long journey you better bring a car charger with you, or another toy to keep you busy.  Managing content on the Vita is a little more cumbersome than it needs to be.  I would like to be able to send screenshots from the Vita without having to hook it up to my Mac, as well as the ability to transfer content at a quicker pace.  Even with these shortcomings the PS Vita is still one of the greatest pieces of mobile gaming hardware I’ve ever come in contact with.  If Sony makes it their mission to provide great games for this device then it’ll be a success.  I have to give the PS Vita an EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas even with its shortcomings.  It truly is a sexy piece of hardware that should be enjoyed by all gamers who can afford this luxury item.  For two additional Vita demo videos (Netflix and Near demo, Uncharted gameplay) you can head on down past the break.  You’ve been thinking that the Vita may be for you…

PS Vita App Demos and Reviews: Near and Netflix

PS Vita: Uncharted Golden Abyss Gameplay

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Tags : DemosHandheldsImpressionsPSVita
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he's not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB's Star Wars Time podcast show.