We’ve had our time with the PlayStation Vita, and now we feel comfortable with bringing you the rundown on the system and, eventually, our solid recommendation. This review will be broken into bits that, although a little arbitrary, we feel highlight the major points of the device.
If you’re looking for coverage for the games, head to our guide.
A word about scoring this device before we get into the meat and potatoes of this review: I won’t be doing it. Quite honestly, slapping a number next to a hardware review doesn’t make sense. Each piece of gaming hardware is so different, both in tech and release timing, that it would be silly to place them each on the same grade scale.
When it comes time to see what we think, you’ll find a “Final Word” section. That’s about as close to a score as you’ll get.
Look and Feel
First off, the PS Vita is a nicely weighted and appropriately sized device. Its glossy finish is a magnet for fingerprints and greasy smudges, but the sleek shine and form compensate for that minor complaint.
The buttons, while a little small, feel nice and firm through play. The same goes for the shoulders, volume rockers and lock switch. The media drives are all covered by locking flaps that feel a little flimsy, but they’ve yet to cause a problem for me and my constant play.
The rear touch panel works well in conjunction with the unit; but, if you’re controlling a character with the two thumbsticks and you’re asked to swipe or pinch the back of the PS Vita, it can get a little cramped.
Which brings me to the analog sticks themselves. This sounds really weird, but the presence of these two well designed sticks is almost the best reason to buy the PlayStation Vita. They make gaming feel great, they make adventures like Uncharted: Golden Abyss playable and they make Touch My Katamari the best portable entry in the series. They, quite frankly, make the system jump from good to fantastic. I can’t wait to see what Ratchet and Kratos feel like.
Games on the PS Vita look fantastic. Without diving into the GPU, resolution, RAM and processor speed, know that the device is downright pretty and snappy.
Typically, launch titles don’t represent the best looking games a system has to offer. As hardware ages, developers get used to making the most out of the specs on board; that’s why, more often than not, the best looking games come out towards the end of a platforms life-cycle.
Consider that fact and apply it to what you’ve seen on the PS Vita. Games like WipEout 2048 look wonderful. A few years from now, they’ll probably look a little crappy compared to what developers are getting out of the device.
In regards to speed…loading times for games can range from fine to frustrating. However, that doesn’t apply to the zip of the system’s UI and other functions. In general, the PS Vita is quick and snappy. It bogs down occasionally, but you can have five or six applications running at once without noticing a single hitch in performance.
The battery life of the device is around four hours, at least in our experience with Wi-Fi turned on, brightness around 80% and the speakers at medium volume. While not great, it is roughly on par with that of the Nintendo 3DS.
The biggest knock we have on the system comes in the form of storage. There is no internal storage for the PS Vita, and, unfortunately, the memory cards are sold separately, proprietary and a little pricey. While some games don’t require the memory cards for play, a vast majority of the best, like Uncharted, do.
You’ll need to shell out an extra $25, at the very least, to game properly on the portable with a memory card.
Running on top of the hardware is a user interface that you’ll get a lot of time with. It feels like a touchscreen based smartphone, plain and simple. Sony’s built some unique multitasking features and customization options into their OS, but, overall, it feels like a slightly dated phone.
The look of the bubbly style will either be something you love or you hate. It can have a feel of cheapness to it at times, as the bubbles look jagged against custom backgrounds and applications can’t be stacked together for space saving. There’s some music in the background of the OS that you can disable, but it does add to the immersive feel Sony is going for with the device.
Icon sizes can’t be changed and the applications that arrive with the device can’t be deleted; beyond that, you can change wallpapers, tweak sounds and change the lock screen.
It’s worth noting that games install the first time you put them into the system. When you take them out, their icons remain in the OS. So, while they won’t be playable without the physical game card, you’ll be able to see your full library in the PS Vita’s menu constantly. If you ditch a game, you can, of course, delete it.
The best feature, as far as I’m concerned, is the notification bubble in the top corner of the device’s screen. It shows up during gameplay when you unlock a Trophy or finish a download, and you can tap into it from the main screen at any point to revisit recent notifications. It keeps the system dynamic and allows you to feel constantly connected to the PlayStation experience around you.
One oddity worth mentioning comes from the friend request notification system. I was notified that I had a friend request, so I tapped the notification bubble to check it out. That pushed me into my Friends List. From there, I saw no indication that I had a pending friend request. However, the request showed up in my friends list the very next day. It was…strange.
The cameras, both front and rear, on the PS Vita are puny. Simply put, you’ll use them for mini-games on the system and then you’ll likely walk away from them entirely.
They each sport 1.3 megapixels, and they produce fuzzy and dark pictures almost like it’s what they were meant to do. They work perfectly fine for quick, augmented reality games, but they won’t be replacing your point-and-shoot or the camera on your mobile phone.
What the PS Vita does best, even beyond control and graphical prowess, is that it makes portable gaming feel more like home gaming than ever before. The friends list, the Trophy support, the notifications and the entire setup of the device has a very immersive feel to it.
If you’re looking for more than “mobile gaming” when it comes to your portable device, the PS Vita has it. You feel connected, you feel surrounded and you feel involved.
Yes, the device still has this pick-up-and-put-down sense about it, but it offers the other end of the spectrum as well. That’s what makes it better than smartphones, and that’s even the bit that pushes it a little ahead of the Nintendo 3DS for this reviewer.
Like I mentioned briefly above, the Trophy support here managed to pull me in. In fact, it managed to keep me playing games I was ready to put down for a few extra sittings…Little Deviants in particular.
When deciding whether or not the PS Vita is for you, consider what you want out of gaming on the go. If you fancy yourself to only enjoy quick, easy, cheap games, then this system is probably overkill. However, if you want a near-console level experience in your hands at all times, the PS Vita is a fantastic choice.
This is Sony’s second portable effort, but it’s leaps and bounds better than their initial attempt.
Aside from the price inflation that occurs with the purchase of memory cards, I wholeheartedly recommend the PS Vita.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline was sent a 3G/Wi-Fi PS Vita for review more than a week before the system’s retail launch. We used the device for gaming, internet browsing and general time-killing for more than 50 hours before starting our review.