To many, the PlayStation Vita may seem like a foolish endeavour on Sony’s part. When the iPhone and high-end Android phones can give you access to tens of thousands of games, many of them free, as well as other phone and portable computing features, why on Earth would anyone even care about a dedicated gaming handheld anymore? Actually, it’s quite easy to see why. The fact that Apple hasn’t killed off the iPod yet means that there is still a sizeable portion of consumers who like to keep their music separate from their phones. The same applies to gaming. There is still a massive section of gamers that prefers a dedicated gaming device; just look at the blistering pace at which the 3DS is flying off Japanese shelves. And I haven’t even got to the many compelling arguments the Vita itself makes in its favor.
The main question is this – does the Vita offer anything that a gamer who owns a high-end Android or iOS device doesn’t already have? Yes, it does, and that not only includes some great games you won’t find on any other portable device (Uncharted: Golden Abyss, anyone?), but the hardware itself. Sony may have fallen behind in the consumer electronics space over the last few years, but they’ve been wise to incorporate a lot of what consumers have come to expect from current-gen portable devices within the Vita.
The Vita’s predecessor – the PSP, went through many iterations and a few redesigns. And each time a newer model was released, there was a noticeable drop in build quality, thanks to the use of cheaper materials to be able to price the device lower. Of all the models, the launch model – the PSP 1000 still boasts of the best build quality. Same is the case with the PS3; the older “phat” model came with touch-sensitive buttons, while the slim one seems somewhat cheaper. The Vita, like its predecessor, is built exceedingly well. It’s neither too light nor too heavy, and even though it’s substantially larger than the PSP, it feels just right in your hands.
Taking up most of the real estate is the Vita’s resplendent 5-inch OLED capacitive touchscreen. It’s bright, crisp and while its performance under direct sunlight could be better, the only real worry is that without Gorilla Glass-like protection, the screen could scratch over time. A screen protector should definitely be one of your purchases along with the Vita. Unlike the PSP, the Vita features two analog sticks, and these aren’t the nubs the PSP had either. They’re raised and look and feel just like the analogs sticks on the PS3 controller; just smaller. None of the buttons feel flimsy and all the buttons on the front as well as the analog sticks are located conveniently within the reach of your thumbs. One minor gripe with the layout is that the X button is a little too close to the right analog stick, but this is something that you will get used to over time.
The back side
The XrossMediaBar or XMB, which was the UI used by Sony in the PSP and PS3 and even in some non-PlayStation products has been dropped in favor of a more colourful interface that is completely touch-driven. I liked the XMB, because it did exactly what a console’s user interface is supposed to – get you where you want to go with minimum fuss and allow you to get into a game as soon as possible. The Vita’s interface, however, doesn’t seem as intuitive. The touch screen is as responsive as you would expect, but the layout could have been better. All apps and games are represented by circular icons on the home screen, but the more games and apps you have, the more home screens they are spread out over. You can arrange these icons as you like, but you can’t group or resize them to reduce clutter.
Click here for a quick look at the specs.