Saturday, May 11, 2013

A look at the PS Vita...

This is a re-post and modified version of a review for my PS Vita

Looking at the system initially, the overall shape of the Vita is much rounder than its predecessor the PSP. The dimensions of the Vita are just a little bigger in every way compared to the PSP. The weight of the Vita (3G version for this post) is pretty the same as the original PSP. However, it feels lighter in the hand owing to the larger size (creating greater weight distribution) and a lack of a metal chassis. It's very shiny and extremely prone to smudges. It lacks any coating to prevent smudges so bring a cleaning cloth. You're going to need it.

For space accommodation, the Vita does a very good job with what it has. The dual joysticks only stick out about a quarter inch from any other button. Obviously, the large 5" touch screen takes up the majority of the front. Aside from the joysticks and screen, the left side of the front contains the standard directional pad and the Playstation button which serves as the equivalent of the home key from the PSP. This button also glows blue when in standby and orange when charging. On the right side you have the Start, Select, and standard four button set found on all Playstation products. This is where I run into a bit of issues. The four button set feels very cramped (though they have great feedback) and playing for extended periods of time can really hurt. The Start and Select button are placed awkwardly below the shape buttons making them difficult to get at when you're playing a game. I personally feel they would have been better suited below the screen like the PSP. There's certainly plenty of bezel to work with. There's also a 0.3 MP camera cleverly placed above the shape buttons. It's built into the system and covered with the glossy plastic so there's no risk of scratching the camera directly.

On the top rim you have the Power, Volume Keys, card slot for games, shoulder buttons, and output for accessories. The power and volume keys appear to be made of metal and look very striking on first glance. Both the accessory and game slot ports have covers which I appreciate at it keeps them dust free. The shoulder buttons are clear and have excellent feedback. They really feel like controller buttons. Overall this area is very well thought out.

The left side and bottom edge contain the SIM card slot on the left (only on the 3G model), headphone jack, microphone port, charging port, and Vita storage card slot. There's not much to say here, but I'm still disappointed in Sony with going with a proprietary card as opposed to the norm. There's no reason you couldn't have a regular microSD card here. The only reason they are doing it is because the Vita is selling at a loss and the cards help recoup costs. On the back side you have the rear 0.3 MP camera, the touch pad which takes up most of the space, and two oval shaped indentations. The indentations are meant as spots for your hands to hold the Vita so you don't disrupt the rear touch pad during gaming. However, in my experience, this made hold the Vita much harder. It's true you can play like this, but this just hastens the cramping of your hands.

Overall I'm giving the physical design of the Vita an 8.5. I'm taking points off because of the cramped shape buttons, placement of the start and select, and overall smudginess of the glossy plastic.

Turning the Vita on, you're greeted with the ultra colorful OLED screen. This is definitely one of the best selling points of the handheld. The Vita's extremely responsive touch screen is used to navigate the "bubble" style menus. You'll see some nods here and there to Android in the appearance. I'll admit I was leery at first of the bubble style they chose. I thought the XMB system the PS3 and PSP had was wonderful, but that wouldn't take advantage of the touch screen and I suppose diminish the system somewhat. Still, it works wonderfully.

Flipping between the home screens is fast as is opening menus. The qHD screen shows fine level details on everything. The ability to stop what you are doing by pressing the PS button and navigating to something else on the fly is excellent. However, some elements of the system seem very counter intuitive. For instance, there's no way to navigate or find files on the system itself, nor can you just plug and play. Instead, you're forced to use a program called content manager to do mundane tasks. Also, there's no way to determine exactly how much battery life you have, only a rough estimate based on the little icon at the top. None of these things are unfix-able  In fact, a software update would take care of them so I'm not too frustrated, but I would like to know what exactly is using up my memory card.

Overall, the replacement for the XMB is pretty passable. However, it is the one time I was hoping the OLED wasn't there. Even on the lowest brightness setting, the colors are almost painful to the eye. Still, the new menu system works and is very stable. Giving it an 8, more if Sony updates the system some.

Internally, the quad core CPU and GPU are a beast of a combination. There's been no word on frequency sets, but the chipset listed runs from 800 MHz to 2 GHz. I'm betting it's running at 1 GHz right now, with some options to increase later on like they did with the PSP. The 512 MB of RAM and 128 MB of RAM is decent, but I just feel like they skimped here. 1 GB of RAM really could have done the system some good. 

Outside of the system's engine, you have all the usual suspects: Bluetooth, GPS (3G model only), Wifi b-g-n, 3G, and Sixaxis motion control. Curiously, however, is no vibration. I figured Sony would have went for this considering it's in every modern smartphone and their controllers. Alas, I assume it was passed on due to space or battery concerns.

Speaking of batteries, I'm happy to say that the battery for the Vita lasts quite long. They said 4-5 hours of gameplay, but I'm getting longer. I keep the Bluetooth and 3G off, plus the brightness low and I usually get 6-7 hours of game time for Vita games and even longer for PSP games. The standby feature is awesome. The ability to push the power button and pause the action, even in the middle of a cutscene, is great. The standby time is excellent too. You can put this system into standby for almost a day or more and come back for a little gaming afterwards. Sony did a great job here, but I'm disappointed with the built in battery.

Overall, I'm giving the guts of the system a 9. The non-replaceable battery and low RAM hurt the system some, but it's damn good for what it costs.

On to games, I'm happy to report that the majority of games you can buy on the PSN for PSP actually do work. You can purchase them directly for the system, but you can transfer them. There's no official list from Sony, but you can find them online at various forums. Still, there are a few choice titles that don't work for the system or can't be obtained at all. These include Crisis Core, MGS: Portable Ops, any of the Lumines games, Motorstorm, Resistance, and Twisted Metal to name a few. If any of those games are your favorites, either get a PSP or hold on to the one you have because they aren't here. PSOne support has been added for quite a few games including some of the most popular like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy 7, and Resident Evil just to name a few.

For the Vita games, we're a bit hit or miss here. Some of the games are great. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is just like the console version packed into your handheld. Lumines is great and so is Uncharted. However, there's been a lot of really weak games. There's also a lot of digital only games. Now granted, these are games like Plants vs. Zombies and Escape Plan, but for those who enjoy having physical copies beware because there are going to be a lot of these in the future.

Speaking of the future, the Vita's is a bit uncertain. On one hand, you have a new Resistance, Mortal Kombat, and Final Fantasy X HD, but on the other you have a lot of nothing. Really, right now, there isn't much to root for. I'm really hoping for some AAA titles to hit. Gravity Rush looks really cool, but outside of that, there's not much. Compound that with the fact that the Vita really needs these titles, but they are months out and it's going to hurt the system bad.

For the games, I'm saying 8. The Vita needs a lot of work here. Sony needs to get as many PSP titles working. They also need a killer game to make people want to buy the system. Uncharted is good, but a new exclusive Metal Gear or God of War or Final Fantasy could give the system the push it needs.

Everything else... well, the system already has very good accessory support. They have great cases and screen protectors out there. I bought a cradle to keep mine safe along with a nice case that allows me to put up to 16 games in it. Other elements of the OS are OK  Near helps you find other Vita owners close to you, plus welcome park has some nice mini games to help you learn how to use the system. You've also got Google Maps support as well as Netflix (though I don't recommend using it with 3G data). I'm going to give the fluff an 8. None of these things sell the system, but they can't make you think twice about it if they were wrong.

When taken together and averaged, I gave it all an 8.3 (83) or B. There's definitely a bumpy road ahead of Sony. They've really got to get their act together if they're going to sell this thing. The fact that they didn't even have a CAPS lock button before a firmware update is a bad sign. These are things not even worth mentioning during updates if they weren't such necessity. And yet, I can't help thinking Sony could have brought this system out with everything ready to right off the bat. Being hasty has only hurt them before, so why do it again?

Final Verdict: B (Worth it, but do your research first)

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