With the release of the PlaySation Vita not so far away for the rest of world, I thought this would be a good opportunity to write a review of the Wi-Fi unit that I've been playing around with for about three weeks now and share some my thoughts on it. It's a bit long and quite badly phrased in many parts (I apologise in advance) .
Questions are welcome in the comment section : )
Upon gazing on the console many will note how similar it is to the original PSP, but yet there are subtle differences that sets it apart. Firstly, Sony calls the shape of the Vita a "Super Oval," whilst you and me would probably snub that off as some kind of wanker-ey designer term, you can't help but notice how comfortable it is and how well it fits in your hand, the curves exactly allows you to wrap your two trigger fingers around it allow for easy grip of the two shoulder buttons, now I do consider myself as having an average adult males hand size although I do admit my fingers are generally more slender than most due to the years of music practice, nonetheless the console is shaped well. Furthermore, there are two grooves on the back to allow the rest of your fingers to rest, quite a good design I must say, it's not quite organic as to completely mould into your hand like the Xbox 360 controller nor is it rigid like the original NES controller, it's somewhere in between with good balance. Secondly, and most importantly to the gamers at least, is that there are two analogue sticks rather than the single slide nub on the PSP, they flank the screen together with a set of stereo speakers over a single piece of Perspex that unifies the large screen with the design. The analogue sticks are small in nature and inherently that means less control for subtle movements, however with that said they dead on accurate and offer great grip with decent resistance without feeling too fluid, perhaps this is aided by the grip the player makes when holding the unit. Thirdly, we have dual cameras on board, front and back. Finally we have the rear touch pad strung across the back in a pseudo Louis Vuitton pattern except we have the iconic PlayStation button shapes instead. It's important to note that whilst the face buttons may appear similar to those on a Dualshock controller or PSP, they are in fact different, for instance they feel clickey like a computer mouse rather than mushy, and this tells me they are no longer pressure sensitive, not a big deal as not many games utilise such a feature, however games like Metal Gear Solid often used this for actions such as zooming in for a gun.
The Vita has a number of ports on board, on the top we have two pull out slots similar to the PSP's own memory stick slot; the left accepts Vita game cards and within this slot is a orange LED that flashes if the card is being accessed. To the right we have an expansion port that currently has no use and I'd imagine it would be for future peripherals much like how the PSP received a camera/GPS expansion. on the bottom we have a several ports: in the centre we have the charging/data port, to the right we have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and another pull out slot for your proprietary Vita memory cards. It's good to know that the charger simply uses a figure 8 plug as used in most electronics and as is with the PSP, so you can simply swap the cable when travelling or if you bought an imported Vita system.
To me the volume output is a little on the weak side, often I have to pump it up to almost the highest setting. This could be due to the fact that Sony may have cheapened out on a good sound chip or perhaps the earphones I have been using is of too high impedance (spelt power hungry) to be properly driven. In fact I experimented by plugging the Vita into my tube amplifier and the difference in sound quality was dramatically increased with sounds that much more differentiable, especially in a game like Uncharted, which basically concurred with my initial thought about the Vita's sound, although I highly doubt many would even bother to notice considering it is a portable.
A big selling point for the Vita is the large 5" screen, what you can expect is very vibrant colours, a bright backlight, deep/accurate blacks and motion that is free of ghosting. The screen is only protected by a piece of Perspex rather than your typical Gorilla Glass, which means wiping the fingerprint prone glossy surface could cause abrasion marks, a screen protector is highly recommended here. If I had to point out the flaws of the screen it would be that there is clear evidence of parts on the screen that are darker than the rest which create an almost scar like pattern. I wouldn't directly say it is a manufacturing fault that would sound the warranty alarm, as certainly my Samsung Galaxy SII AMOLED screen exhibits the same anomaly, which tells me this is merely Samsung is still perfecting the OLED technology. With that said however you can only really pick apart this whilst staring at a completely black screen with your eyes well adjusted to the dark.
Upon pressing down on the top power button for a few seconds, you'll be greeted with a blue glowing "PS" button (this glows orange during charge cycles) and the PlayStation Logo on the screen and if this is the first time you have booted the console or after a reformat you instead see a Sony logo, followed by an introductory video showcasing Vita and it's many features (which annoyingly enough cannot be skipped). After this we jump into the home screen (of course if the console has been turned on for the first time we have a number of settings first), and gone is the original XMB and replaced with an array of floating icons ala any modern smart phone, windows to display these icons can be added so you can arrange anyway you like, perhaps you might like to bunch all Vita games in one window and have another just for PSP games, you can even personalise these windows with individual wallpapers to help you indentify what category you have. This user interface cannot be accessed or manipulated with the Vita's physical buttons and users must use the touch functions, this may be an annoyance for those who prefer buttons, however it is of little concern when you discover how fast and zippy the interface truly is.
Much like any smart phone, and of course Sony has probably learnt a thing or two here from their Android phone business, the arrangement of all opened applications as windows which you can "slide" between or "tear off" when you want to terminate it. To demonstrate how versatile this is, when multifunction-ing, I could be playing a game and suddenly want to listen to music: simply press the "PS" button and instantly the game suspends and we are brought back into home menu, tap on the music app, select your song, slide back into your game and the game will resume as if you've never stopped playing, only this time we have custom music.
Important for the modern gamer is online connectivity, and if I were to sum up the Vita's ability to excel in this area in a few words I would describe it as being "immediately better than the PS3". First and foremost we have access to our PSN accounts (or soon to be called SEN accounts) as a given you have your trophies (comparable with friends), profile (customisable details, colour theme etc), friend list, text chat and PSN store access. *(see bottom of review for edit) Curiously enough I was not able to access my download history and thus had to rely on syncing my Vita with my PS3 and downloading games off of that, I don't know whether it is because I simply cannot find the menu for doing so or whether that as of now (or possibly never) this cannot be done. On top of this we have a few new functions including "party" (aka Party chat), "near" and Photo . Party chat functions as you expect and I suspect many people will be satisfied with it, you can multifunction this on top of your games and you speak with members on your friend list simultaneously at any one time, provided you are logged into your online account, what's there more to say? Near is an interesting application which aims to either help you find new friends or locate and communicate with existing friends. With a internet connection, the Vita will use Google maps to triangulate your position and upload that to PlayStation servers, once this is done you will be presented with a RADAR screen displaying any Vita users within a close vicinity (say 5 or so Kilometres). Provided users are sharing their ID tag online, you can see what they have been playing, see their rating and comments on played games and of course communicate with them by either sending them a friend request or trade/ receive gifts. I was unable to test the function of gifts as I did not have any games that was compatible, however I imagine this is similar to Nintendo's own Street Pass function, only except you do not have to passively leave the handheld powered on with wireless as this is done via the online servers, in other-words a much better system. Not much to be said about the photo application other than you can view your own photo pictures and use the camera which allows you to take low resolution photos with either back or front camera; it's important to note that whilst the camera is of low resolution, it is a high frame rate, one which is important for augmented reality function and similar to the PS3 eye.
Furthermore adding to Vita's core feature set, we have: the previously mention music application, video application and web browser. The music application has your basic functions to play MP3's including: a equaliser with a few presets, shuffle/repeat and album art, interesting to note that the application can be controlled via pressing the "PS" button for 1 second, bringing you to an overlay for track changing and volume control amongst other settings such as screen brightness and microphone volume. The video application is quite basic and appears to only play Mpeg-4's of specific quality, I could not get any of my Mp4 I had around to play on the Vita and had to convert them, however I believe further compatibility will be added in the future as it would be a logical upgrade, which has already been promised by Sony representatives. The web-browser would be quite familiar to those who have been using it on the PS3 except it is much faster and much more accessible thanks to Vita's touch screen and generous screen size, however do not expect YouTube videos to play as there is no flash support, although this could be solved in the future with firmware updates or via external downloadable apps.
Speaking of apps, the Vita allows for an ever expanding catalogue of apps for social media and function. As of currently the Vita has downloadable apps for Twitter, Flickr and Nico Nico (similar to YouTube) amongst other things, this goes to show that Vita is quite fertile ground for new potential such as a native Facebook app.
It is important to note that any transferring of files must all be done via the Vita's own "content manager" app which you can sync with either a PC via an installed application (and soon to have Mac compatibility) or a PS3. The content manager is actually quite primitive and does not seem to detect sub-folders on your computer. I personally was never able to get the Vita to sync with my Asus laptop although funny enough the Vita was instantly detected my Sony Vaio laptop and PS3...curious :P, but of course this problem is limited to myself with many others having greater success.
On final note, that whilst the memory cards are seen as an optional accessory, it's more or less mandatory for any user wishing to experience the full catalogue of Vita games and make use of its functions. Personally I have the 8gb card, whilst quite decent in size, 80% of my storage was used up on day one by downloading all the available PSN demos (around 10 in total), a few of my PSP games, some Mp3s, a trailer video and game saves/patches. So I would recommend for any potential serious Vita owner to aim for a 16gb card at least, although the no-thrills gamer would certainly not be missing out on a whole lot and would easily get away with an 8gb or even a 4gb card...my two cents
The Vita is a gamers handheld and whilst it current has or has the potential for many other things, everything other than gaming is merely a sideshow. As mentioned before we already have online connectivity that we are familiar with on the PS3 and much more, however I noted an interesting feature whenever you install or simply plug in a new Vita game card. An icon will be placed on your home window, when the Vita detects a new game and upon tapping the icon we are brought to a new window before the application to launched, this pre-launch window gives you quick access to certain features in the game and complimentary add-ons such as a digital game manual, link to the game's website and a update patch button. This is convenient as you can access information that much quicker without going through a games entire menu, take for instance Hot shot Golf, I can go straight into the online mode's chat lobby, related DLC in the PlayStation store or even be updated with the mini online score board to see my world ranking. Of course not every game will emphasise this feature, especially single-player only games like Uncharted , but it certainly shows how the Vita can cater for your gaming experience.
To further the experience, we are introduced to a number of new gaming controls including the touch screen, rear-touch panel and camera. The touch screen feels very responsive and really what you'd expect these days, reaction is fast and multi-touch is enabled; in games such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss, I felt the touch screen did not let me down on the quick-time-events and controls for the feature, which is speaks for itself. The rear-touch panel is quite an interesting feature, initially I was expecting a slow and somewhat limited functionality on this one, but in reality it is quite the opposite, as responsive and natural as the touch screen the potential here is quite endless; to demonstrate this if you go into PS3 remote play, you can actually localise each corner of the panel to be assigned as L2/L3/R2/R3 as with a Dualshock controller and as such it was very responsive still. Speaking of remote play, although the Vita has been demonstrated by Sony to be playing PS3 games, this of course cannot be done without having a hacked PS3, although that is not to say it cannot be activated in future updates or cannot be done and as such is limited to both the resolution and compatibility of the original PSP's remote play function. The camera here is very much for augmented reality, whilst my Vita did not include any built-in augmented reality games nor the glyph cards (although this will be included for the Western release) I was able to test it in Hot Shots Golf. For instance with the camera I was able to pan and rotate the camera freely as if I was peering into the game, although it did not see the practical application of such controls, it was at least fast and responsive and showed the potential. Interestingly the game included a augmented reality feature that allowed you to spawn characters that appear in the game using Vita's much touted glyph-less approach, it was impressive to see the camera track the different heights of objects in my room from desks to book stacks and as such was able to place a character on a surface which then allowed me to walk around the character and move it as if it was actually there; yes it is pointless, but nonetheless demonstrates that such features are currently in Vita SDK kits and the potential is there for developers to use.
Of course centripetal to the Vita is playing the game itself, and what can I say, except it's a "PS3 in your hands", as clichéd/tiring/over-said as it is. Loading a game up like Uncharted: Golden Abyss you will immediately be familiar with the dual analogue sticks with face button configuration and it does not disappoint. The graphics are really mind-boggling on a handheld level to be able to cram: a lighting system with real-time shadows, real-time physics on multiple objects on screen and a competent enemy AI.
With games that high of a calibre, the down-side to handhelds really shows: the battery life. On a flight back home from Japan (a 9 hour flight for me), my Uncharted gaming session was cut short fast with the battery dying on me on what was perhaps the 3 hour and a half mark, although I was able to charge via my Laptop (USB) which took around 2 hours to fully charge and continue playing. With that said however game time does vary, Hot Shots Golf does seem to run for around the 4 hour plus mark and native PSP games seemingly going forever (possibly the 5-6 hour mark), this would indicate to me that the battery life is very dependent on the graphical fidelity of the game and whether you are using any functions such as wireless or high brightness. Overall really what you'd expect in battery life for a modern high powered device when left to process such software and the Vita is quite fair here.
The Vita is a well designed handheld console, hardware and software wise. There is little here that is missing when catering for the gaming mass and as such I am greatly satisfied with what Sony has offered here: it's sleek/light for what it is, has the control options you want and is quite literally a "PS3 in your hands". However the Vita does not get away with some shortfalls: the battery life doesn't makes charging often a must, there are content syncing quirks, volume could do with a kick etc. But in the end of the day the flaws don't remove the player from the core experience: that is to play quality games without compromising on what is only practical on a touch screen only device. The only thing left that will dictate its success is whether Sony can uphold a strong and steady stream of games.
- Excellent build quality combined with smart design (Hardware and software).
- Additions to the control scheme don't feel like a second thought and work well.
- Great non-gaming feature set, but gaming is still the core function and excels in this
- The feature set allow for huge potential in future firmware updates.
- Although dependant on activity, battery life still leaves much room for improvement.
- Some annoyances in the screen and sound device.
- Content manager is primitive and has strange compatibility issues.
- The video player is in much need of greater format and resolution support.
- Flight mode should be accessible via the PS button!!!!!
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I tested it just now, and unfortunately you cannot simultaneously use remote play and party chat (or any network reliant features really) at the same time. The apps do not close but the remote play function will tell you your connection has been terminated and the PS vita app will take priority.
The offline features such as looking at photos/camera, listening to music etc work as this merely suspends your remote play session. (and no the music app cannot play music whilst in remote play.)
I guess this works the same way as the PSP, in that you cannot have more than one connection to separate apps/games.
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I was able to access my download history and download my PSP games without a PS3, turns out I couldn't find it because unlike the PS3 and PSP where you have a menu category for transaction management, the Vita has it tucked away in the corner of the PSN store app.