Sony’s latest handheld console proves that it’s all just one big game
Until recently, playing games on the move required a dedicated handheld console, such as Sony's original Playstation Portable (PSP). Now we can get our portable gaming fix from our phones – and at low prices, too. This poses a challenge for Sony's new handheld, the Playstation Vita.
Unlike Nintendo's recent 3DS console, with its glasses-free 3D, the Vita initially appears low on unique features. Its main abilities - touchscreen controls, wireless internet access, downloadable titles, multimedia playback and social features - will all be familiar to anyone with a smartphone.
What sets the Vita apart, however, is power. It has a sumptuously large 5in display with a high-resolution of 960x544 pixels. A quad-core processor and advanced graphics chip allow it to produce visuals comparable to those of its big brother, the Playstation 3. All that oomph makes hefty demands on battery life, however. Expect around four to five hours of gameplay on a full charge.
The Vita is a surprisingly bulky device; portable, certainly, but not necessarily pocketable. That said, it's fairly light (around 260g) and well built, with a smart-looking design Sony has also addressed many of the PSP's shortfalls. In particular, it adds a second analogue joystick, improving the control system immeasurably, and rejects the PSP's UMD disc format in favour of memory card storage, although sadly these aren't standard memory cards but specific to the Vita.
Memory and games are costly, however. A blank 4GB Vita card costs £18 and the average price for a game is around £35. The console itself isn't cheap with the 3G-enabled model costing £280 – £50 more than the Wifi-only version. At the moment, 3G connectivity (which requires a mobile broadband subscription) has few tangible benefits, though this may change if and when new games and apps arrive to take advantage of it.
At the time of writing, many of the console's network functions, including access to the Playstation Store, social media apps and online music and movie services, were unavailable to test but these could well be major advantages in the future. Similarly, the dual touch-sensitive panels (main screen and rear touch pad), motion sensors, compass and location systems, microphone and front and rear-facing cameras all promise some intriguing gameplay possibilities.
For now, the Vita arrives with one of the best launch software line-ups we've ever seen, including Uncharted Golden Abyss, Wipeout 2048 and FIFA Football. It's also backwards-compatible with games from the PSP's large downloadable catalogue.
The Vita is an impressive gaming experience, but its long-term success depends on its currently untapped potential.The Vita is more compelling if you don't already own a Nintendo 3DS, a recent iPod Touch or smartphone.
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Opinions of the Vita are likely to be split, but we're largely impressed. It's a pricey but powerful gaming handheld that's backed up by a wide selection of quality games
Large, high-resolution display; wide selection of launch games; impressive graphics; plenty of potential for the future
Console, games and storage are all expensive; 3G version doesn't currently appear to have any major advantages; short battery life
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