Movies Games and Tech

Sony PlayStation Vita Review

A few weeks ago, Sony released the PlayStation Vita, the follow-on product to the PSP and PSP Go.  I bought a 3G(AT&T)/WiFi US unit and I’ve been putting it through its paces…read on for details!

 

We told you about the Vita here, back when Sony was calling this product the Next Gen Portable (NGP) system.  Sony’s goal here was to introduce a gaming system with top-notch graphics to appeal to hard-core gamers who want a mobile gaming option.  Did they succeed?  We’ll give you our impressions!

Technical Specifications

Sony put a beautiful 5 inch OLED screen in the Vita, as well as dual analog sticks and a rear touch pad.  The screen is touch enabled as well.  Here are the complete specs for the US AT&T 3G model.

CPU ARM® Cortex™- A9 core (4 core)
GPU SGX543MP4+
External Dimensions Approx. 182.0 x 18.6 x 83.5mm (width x height x depth)
(tentative, excludes largest projection)
Screen (Touch Screen) 5 inches (16:9), 960 x 544, Approx. 16 million colors, OLED
Multi touch screen (capacitive type)
Rear Touch Pad Multi touch pad (capacitive type)
Cameras Front camera, Rear camera
Sound Built-in stereo speakers
Built-in microphone
Sensors Six-axis motion sensing system (three-axis gyroscope,
three-axis accelerometer), Three-axis electronic compass
Location Built-in GPS
Wi-Fi location service support
Keys / Switches PS button
Power button
Directional buttons (Up/Down/Right/Left)
Action buttons (Triangle, Circle, Cross, Square)
Shoulder buttons (Right/Left)
Right stick, Left stick
START button, SELECT button
Volume buttons (+/-)
Wireless Communications Mobile network connectivity (3G)
IEEE 802.11b/g/n (n = 1×1)(Wi-Fi)(Infrastructure mode/Ad-hoc mode)
Bluetooth® 2.1+EDR (A2DP/AVRCP/HSP)

Overall Hardware

The Vita is a well-executed piece of hardware.  It feels solid in the hand, and the 5” screen that is the heart of the unit is beautiful.  The layout of the controls is similar to the PSP, but have been updated.  In particular, the addition of dual analog sticks is a welcome change from the PSP.

This is not a small unit…it feels heavy.  Since it is built like a tank, it is a bit heavier than the PSP, but it is much more capable.

The PS Vita uses proprietary memory cards, which are at least double the cost of SD format cards.  You must purchase a memory card to use with your unit…I purchased an 8 GB and a 16GB card to use with mine.  While I understand why they wanted a proprietary format, I wish that they had priced the cards a bit more reasonably.  If you plan on loading videos or downloading full games to the Vita, go with the largest memory card that you can afford.

System Software

The operating system is a customized version of Android.  Sony engineers worked hard to deliver a differentiated experience; this feels consistent with Sony and you can’t tell that it is running Android.

Here is the lock screen that you see when you start the PS Vita.

Did you notice the dog eared edge in the top right hand corner?  That is where you open up the lock screen to log into your Vita.  Just swipe from the top right hand corner down towards the bottom left corner and that opens up the lock screen to allow you to enter your access code.  This is how you close all apps on the Vita.  The lock screen looks like this:

Just enter your access code and you are brought to the home screen, which looks like this on mine:

Here are some details on each application on the home screen.

And the movies:

And the apps:

Note that there is a Netflix app, and also the Sony Music Unlimited service available for the PS Vita.

There were 5 people playing with their Vita at the time that I ran this on a Friday night.  My avatar is the cat in the middle, and you can see the others listed by their coarse GPS location provided by Near.  I have used this feature to find and connect online with about 6 local people near me so far, and this has been a really fun feature.

Here is what people around me were playing recently:

Chris is a level 12 with 778 trophies, all earned on a PS3.  Nice!

 

Overall, the picture quality is not up to par.  Note that the Vita’s camera can also take video.

Apps

Sony has made several apps available to extend the capability of the Vita beyond the standard capabilities.  As I write this, the following apps are available for download to the Vita:

Here are my detailed observations on each of the apps that I have tried out.

Facebook

The Facebook app is pretty limited.  It shows your latest news feed items very well, but I could not figure out how to load photos or check in using the GPS capabilities.  It is good for keeping up with your news feed, your Facebook friends, your messages and with photos that have been uploaded, but really needs the ability to upload photos from the Vita and to check in with the GPS.

Foursquare

This app works very well.  I was able to use it to check in from the airports between home and Sydney (using AT&T 3G in the US and wifi in Australia), follow the check-ins of my friends, and explore nearby highlights.  Foursquare works as well as on my iPad or Droid 2 cellphone.

Flickr

Flickr works well for uploading photos from the Vita, and this is probably your best bet for sharing photos and screen shots.  However, there is a bug when reading photos from the online service.  When I click on a loaded photo, I get the message “An error has occurred in the following application C2-12828-1 Flickr” and the photo fails to load; this happens about 80% of the time.  The app then needs to be restarted.  If they can fix this, Flickr will be a great app to use with the Vita.

LiveTweet

LiveTweet is a really nice Twitter app.  Tweets, mentions, direct messages, and lists are all supported.  Here is what it looks like:

I have not used either Netflix or Music Unlimited as I don’t have accounts for either service, but would expect these to work fine.

Note that Skype is missing. I would really like to see a Skype app that allowed me to make video calls as that would really make it easy for me to take this with me on business trips.

Games and Game Play

I have played several games on the Vita so far; here are my impressions of each.

The combination of the 5” screen, the rear touchpad and the analog sticks on either side of the device make for engaging gameplay.

Battery life was not great; I got about 3.5 hours of battery life when gaming and about 5 hours when playing videos back.  This is OK, but I’d prefer closer to six hours when gaming.

Overall Assessment

The Vita is a serious overall gaming system.  I prefer the graphics and overall layout to the PSP and to the Nintendo DS.  Video playback is great when using h.264/AAC3 encoded videos, and when combined with the ability to rent videos from the PlayStation Store, this is a seriously capable device.

I recently took a business trip to Australia and tossed it into my carry-on bag.  Boy, did it come in handy on the LAX-SYD 12.5 hour flight!  When teamed up with my Beats headphones, I had hours of gaming and video playback at my fingertips, and I had fun using the Foursquare app Down Under.  Seeing the Vita calculate the 15,000 mile trip in Near was amusing.  This device will be in my bag on my next business trip!

The release games are compelling, and I recently also added MLB The Show.  I’ve just started it but already am impressed with the gameplay.  If Sony continues to add compelling games, like Call of Duty and Grand Tourismo, then this platform will continue to have relevance for mobile gamers.

I like the ability to download games completely to the data card from the PS Store.  No need to wait for a Best Buy to open to buy a new game, and with the ability to back up games and scores to your PS3 or PC/Mac with Content Manager, you can minimize the risk of losing the downloaded game and score data.

Overall, the camera is underwhelming and I’d prefer that the data cards be less expensive, but I love the Vita and recommend it highly.