So, the wait is finally over and we have at long last taken receipt of our PlayStation Vita
and have been spending the last few hours becoming acquainted with its finer points. The big question on everyone’s lips is the obvious one; is it worth the money? Well, we hope we’ll be able to help you answer that for yourself as we go hands on with our PlayStation Vita hardware review.
Once you get the thing out of the box, you’re going to be surprised at just how big it is. Those of you who haven’t had the chance to get an early look at the system before launch won’t realise just how mammoth the whole thing is. Fortunately, it’s not so big that it isn’t comfortable in the hands – instead it genuinely feels like a valuable piece of technology, as it should.
For those of you with smaller hands, concerned that it might be a little on the bulky side, it measures 182 x 18.6 x 83.5mm approximately, so if you want to whip out the measuring tape you’ll get a good idea of its size. It’s considerably bigger than the PSP
and the DS/3DS
, however it’s more ergonomically focussed than the latter, so it makes up for it.
The 5 inch OLED screen
demands your attention from the very first minute you set eyes on the Vita. It’s huge, it’s bright and it’s brilliant. It offers multi-touch support, which is spot on in terms of responsiveness, which will come in handy for numerous Vita games.
As we’re sure you know at this stage, the device features two analog sticks
, one on each side of the screen. Obviously they aren’t as big or robust as they are on the Dual Shock 3
, but they are surprisingly durable feeling. One concern that we have with layout is the proximity between the X button and the right side analog stick. There really isn’t all that much room for manoeuvre there, but it’s unlikely that too many games will require you to be using both at the same time too often, so it’s not something that we foresee being a problem (touch wood).
While the system comes with a USB connection kit
, it’s worth noting that it’s not currently possible to charge the Vita using your PC while the Vita is turned on. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker for too many people, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re going to be charging the device in the office following your daily commute. It does, however, charge just fine once the unit is powered off. The AC adaptor is much the same as we have come to expect from mobile phones, in that it’s a reasonably petite wall plug with a USB connector built in. You simply plug your USB to Vita cable in and wait for her to juice up.
One thing we’ve mentioned whenever we have been talking about our hands-on time with the Vita pre-launch has been the rear touch pad. It spans the same width on the rear as the screen does at the front, but isn’t quite as large in its vertical dimension. This means that you may find yourself taking a little time to get used to where exactly it starts and ends initially. Another unique problem this presents is the fact that you’re going to have to adjust your natural holding position for games that use the rear touch pad since you can’t simply rest your fingers at the back of the device as you usually would. These are minor things, but they might irritate some people.
Aesthetically, the Vita is a real beauty. There’s a definite sense that you’re holding something really impressive at all times. The finish is as slick as we have seen for a handheld unit, with pleasing curves complimenting the straight edges found at the top and the bottom of the device. Additionally the combination of black and silver, so well used on the PSP, serves to offer up a striking look to the device.
With all that said and done, we’re sure none of you really care about how the thing looks, or feels; when it comes to a games console it’s all about how it runs, so let’s now take look at how everything shapes up once you’ve actually hit the power button for the first time.
After you have booted up the device, and run though the painless 2-3 minute initial setup routine and downloaded the latest firmware version to the device, it’s time to get to grips with the basic navigation throughout the system menus. You are helped here by a pre-installed app called Welcome Park
. Essentially, Welcome Park offers a series of tutorials which will familiarise you with the numerous input and interface options available on the Vita. It covers everything from tapping and swiping the front and rear touch
interfaces, to six-axis
control, to the microphone to the more rudimentary button based stuff. If you’re a newcomer to this kind of technology, it’s well worth running through everything, just so you know exactly where you stand. Those of you who are a dab hand at this stuff should still give it a go too, if nothing else it’ll help you to familiarise yourself with the most comfortable ways to hold the system for your own needs.
Exiting out of the various apps on the Vita is actually a little trickier than we think it needed to be. It’s not exactly rocket science, but tapping the PlayStation down at the device’s bottom left hand corner to window the app, before swiping down and away from the top right hand corner of its window certainly isn’t the most intuitive solution Sony could have implemented surely? Either way, once you’re used to doing it, it’s a system that works just fine.
Next up is the browser. Given the fact that various PlayStation spokespeople had been talking this side of the Vita up quite a bit, citing full HTML 5 compatibility and what not, we found the browser to be a little underwhelming. It can be sluggish at times to deal with pages, and has a somewhat baffling need to load every single section of the page, bit by bit, should you have had the bare faced cheek to attempt to scroll somewhere. It’d do if we were stuck for a browsing method for some reason, but given that most of us have mobiles that do a much better job at the browser side of things, we can’t really see much point in it. Maybe some of you will get use from it, but it’s not for us; it’s definitely one of the weaker sides of the Vita experience.
The PlayStation Store
, being a key element of the PlayStation
experience, is certainly one of the key things when it comes to the Vita’s built in software. Fortunately it all runs without a hitch. Using the touch screen interface, it’s a piece of cake to navigate your way around, and the screen layout has been optimised for the Vita’s display. However, we were massively disappointed to find that our previous download list was accompanied by an endless string of lines reading “This content can not be downloaded using a PS Vita”. Okay, for full PlayStation 3
games we can understand, but why the bloody hell won’t you let us use our Minis on the device Sony? Where’s the sense in that? Same goes for our PSone Classics! So much for being able to move our existing content across!
Obviously, this is something that will be addressed and fixed sooner rather than later, but surely the time when people most need access to their pre-purchased games is when they’ve just bought a brand new system and don’t have a huge amount of games to select from? For now, this is certainly a biggie for us, but hopefully it’s not something that we have to contend with for too long.
Those of you used to the XMB
style interface of the PS3 and PSP will probably find the Vita’s new layout a little odd at first. Essentially, it’s comprised of a series of (fully customisable) screens, each containing a maximum of seven icons per screen. You find the app you want to launch and tap it. Rather than doing exactly what we’d all expect it to do, and launching the app there and then though, for some inexplicable reason it then brings us to another screen, where we need to tap, yet again to actually launch it. It’s another completely unnecessary complication for what should have been a very basic function. A couple of extra taps here and there don’t bother us, but we honestly cannot see the point of this dual launch method, except perhaps to protect against accidentally launching something – but that’s what the sleep lock is for surely?
If you're interested in the community aspect of your gaming will likely get plenty of use from Friends
(which gives you access to your PSN, or SEN
as Sony now want us t call it, friends list), Trophies
which will let you take a look at your progress across games to date, Party, which lets you create chat rooms for you and your online friends, Group Messaging
, which doesn’t take Einstein to figure out, and, finally, near. Near is an interesting one; by activating it you’ll be able to check in geographically and find other Vita players located near to you. From there you’ll be able to swap Game Goods
(items collected for sharing in Vita games) with them, or just check out what they’re playing. It’s an interesting feature and certainly, we’re sure, one which will see a huge amount of growth and expansion from Sony as the Vita matures.
Anyone who fancies using the Vita as a camera will be able to use the Photos
section to maintain, show off and manage your photography collection. Despite being something that we weren’t really expecting to add anything to the overall value of the device, it’s actually surprisingly nifty. We usually resort to the iPad when it comes to sharing our snaps, but this works just as well. It’s intuitive, it’s fast and it’s accessible to all.
You’ve also got the usual stuff, like Music
, which play your music and videos, surprisingly, as well as Google Maps which comes built in. Given that we rely quite heavily on Google Maps
quite regularly, this is a massive plus for us, and we’re sure it’ll be something that will get quite a bit of use from many people – especially those using the Vita’s always connected 3G model.
The standard features are finished off with Settings, Content Manager
and Remote Play. While Settings is fairly self explanatory, Content Manager is slightly more interesting than its name might suggest. Basically, it enables you to hook your Vita up to your PS3 or PC in order to back up your apps, downloads and other data. As more and more games are released for the Vita, particularly in the online store, we can see this feature becoming more and more useful. Obviously, there aren’t many of us who are going to buy three or four 32GB memory cards
, especially given the prices that Sony are charging for them, so quick and easy transfer of data between our systems is something that’s going to play an increasingly important role – and this ticks all the right boxes for us.
is something that has been heralded as something to really set the Vita aside, allowing you to play your favourite titles from your Vita’s screen, rather than the big screen by the PlayStation 3 console. Unfortunately, given the fact that we can’t actually find anything compatible with the service on any of our PS3s, or in our pile of games right now, it’s tough to say just how good it is. We’ll keep you posted on that in the very near future though.
So, from a hardware perspective that’s pretty much everything you get here from the Vita. It’s a hell of a machine, packed to the gills with power and presented in a beautifully crafted body. Technically, it’s a hell of an achievement, and aesthetically we could look at it all day. Ergonomically it does need a little adaptation from the user’s standpoint, but once you’re familiar with how everything is laid out, and the necessary changes you need to make to your traditional holding methods, it sits perfectly in the hand.
We’re impressed. We’re very, very impressed. The PlayStation Vita is undoubtedly a brilliant piece of kit, and it’s one that really deserves success – however the only thing that will guarantee that is the quality of the software available for it... and with that note, it’s time for us to start playing some games!