First Edition: PS Vita Review

Note: This article will update with continuous coverage as more launch titles release for the PS Vita. Stay tuned!
Update 1: Added score for cameras. 

I’ve been waiting for this day for a while now. February 15th. My First Edition Bundle for the PS Vita has released and I’ve been clawing at it since 10am this morning. I’ve had some time with it before but now it is mine. As usual with me and new hardware in the gaming and cell phone scenes, I’m the first of my friends to jump in and buy something. I’ve been excited for the Vita since it was announced and being an avid PSP fan I knew I’d buy one. I owned every iteration of the PSP (including the Go) and loved every minute playing it. I really felt that Sony’s handheld showed the weaknesses of Nintendo’s portables and it’s a shame that piracy ruined a great run in the US. Nevertheless, Sony chugged on and turned out a massive beast called the Vita. This handheld (read: portable home console) is extremely powerful and pushes every boundary you ever thought handhelds had.

Even looking at the ever flowing battlefield that is cell phones and tablets, nothing comes close to the Vita. Beating out both the horsepower of the Transformer Prime and the graphics of the iPad 2/iPhone 4S, this has quickly become my go-to entertainment device. If the Vita brings out apps for e-mail, sms, and Reddit I’m doomed. Let’s check some categories for the device before we head into the games. Lots of scores abound!

Screen – 10/10 – This is the most impressive part of the device in my opinion. The colors radiate. The size is perfect. Just looking at the Vita when it’s on is a joy. Everything looks crisp and if the devs put times into their games they can really get a lot of detail in there and it shines with this screen. The 5-inch, OLED screen rivals the Retina display that Apple touts on their devices. I’d go as far as to say this is the best looking screen on a mobile/portable device ever. Big ups to Sony for putting a lot of effort in this region. The screen may not be all the bells and whistles for some, but trust me, get this baby in your hands and you’ll see why I say this.

Touch – 9/10 – Another big claim here: the Vita has the most responsive touch capabilities on any device. This thing never misses a tick. Every motion or tap gets recognized and instantly transmits to the operating system, app, or game. During gameplay, this responsiveness makes for more fun and less hassle. Uncharted has a lot of out-of-the-blue touch events and when I scrambled to do the requested motion, it worked and knew what I was trying to do. Very accurate and fast. Even just zipping through the menus and apps is a breeze with how smooth the touch is on the Vita. I have yet to have any issues with the touch controls on this device.

Motion – 8.5/10 – The six-axis motion technology is present in the Vita and works just as well if not better than in the DualShock 3 controllers. I always had a very, very slight delay in motion on the PS3 but with the Vita it works instantly. My biggest problem with the motion here is that the sensitivity seems to go up and down while using it. In Uncharted, I enjoy aiming with the motion but it will get faster and slower at random times on its own. I did not see this in Welcome Park or any of the games I played that utilize the motion. This may be a game-by-game experience but so far I am impressed with how Sony has gotten better with this technology but I still see some quirkiness.

Battery – 7/10 – There’s a lot of debate over the Vita’s battery life and you may wonder why I give it a 7. Well, to be honest, what else do you expect from something so powerful and portable? I have disabled 3G while I’m home, turned off Bluetooth, and lowered the brightness of the screen down to 40%. With those changes, I see the battery level drop very slowly. Even after a 3 hour Uncharted session my Vita was still running at 45% (down from 90%). I know it could be better but I wasn’t expecting iPad levels of life here. For what the Vita does, I’m happy with the battery life. If you aren’t, make some changes to your device’s habits like I did and even purchase the portable battery. The standby mode conserves battery very well. Use it when you’re not using the device! Keep your screen timeout to 1 minute.

OS/Apps – 8.5/10 – I had a lot of reserves about the ‘bubble’ OS before I got my hands on a Vita. After I played around with it on a test unit a couple months ago, I felt okay with it. It’s not the prettiest interface but it does the job and does it well. Sony wanted to show off the touch screen (and for good reason!) so the operating system and most apps are touch only. This isn’t that bad! Since the touch controls work so damn well the menu movements are smooth and easy to get used to. Just glide your finger up or down to switch windows and tap on apps to launch.

Speaking of apps, the launch selection is good enough while promises of social and video apps such as Facebook and Netflix to come soon. You start out with Welcome Pack (has trophies), Party chat, PS Store, NEAR, Friends, Messages, Trophies, Photos/Camera, Network (3G enabled Vitas only), Browser, Music, Videos, Remote Play (need a PS3), Content Manager (for PS3 and PC/Mac), Settings, and Maps (after your first update). If you see any in that list that you think you wouldn’t use, you’re out of luck as you cannot hide or delete any Sony or system bubbles from windows. You can move them but that is it. This has to be the worst part of the OS. In a time where many cell phones get beef for having ‘bloatware’ that you can’t get rid of, it is a bit crappy that Sony decided that NONE of these apps can at least be hidden.

Sony has stated that apps like FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Netflix are coming and coming soon. They may even be here for the full launch on the 22nd. If they are, I’ll update this section with impressions. I said earlier that if Sony gets an e-mail, text messaging, and Reddit browsing app on this thing, I may just purchase some Skype credits and say goodbye to my cell phone. Hah! That would be nice.

Connectivity – 6/10 – Kudos to Sony for including 3G in the Vita. Say what you want about AT&T or “I’ll never use it!” but having the option there is well worth it. When looking at the Vita bundles, how could you not want to spring the extra $50 for an option that you may certainly want/need at some time. When I bought my first iPad, I neglected the 3G ones to keep the cost down. When I had gone up to the mountains for vacation, I was kicking myself. I didn’t make the same mistake with the Vita. AT&T may not have the best support from consumers but their 3G speeds and connection are pretty stable and fast. Out of every service provider I’ve been with (all 4 major US ones) I’ve seen the best 3G speeds with AT&T.

That said, the 3G works surprisingly very well on the Vita. Just like on Wifi, the Vita flows and springs apps and webpages to life. The prices for the data packages aren’t half bad, either. Especially since AT&T just recently increased the top tier package another gig for just $5. Right now I’m on the lower tier since I’m normally around plenty of Wifi. I can’t say I’ll stick with 3G for right now but I’ll have it up and running when my vacations come around.

Wifi connectivity works as well as it should. Although I’ve had an instance where it could not connect to my house until I restarted the Vita. This has happened about 4 times now and is becoming very irritating. Another battery saver, the Vita turns off Wifi after a few minutes of inactivity. When you try and connect to any network-driven app, the Wifi will auto-connect again. Very nifty for the battery.

I scored this section a point lower than I wanted to because some games have it set to turn off all network settings during gameplay. With Sony touting the group messaging and friends at any time, I feel this is a bad option to give devs. Why does Uncharted need to turn off Wifi and data? I missed two messages from friends while playing and one was an important question about a PS store purchase. Please devs, don’t do this in the future.

Launch Games – 9/10 – Best. Launch. Lineup. Ever. The Vita launched with 22 games today and an additional 3 coming on the 22nd for full launch. Not only is this a ton of games for a launch but there are so many worth owning. There is a game for nearly every category and if it isn’t there yet it’s coming in the launch window. Vita starts off with a heavy hitter like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and continues on with greats like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (with 60 frames per second!), Rayman Origins, Hot Shots Golf, Fifa Soccer, and Shinobido 2. If you can’t find at least one game in the launch lineup you want to get, then I don’t know what to tell you. Are you really a gamer? 😉

(Update!) Cameras – 5/10 – Not much to say about these guys. The rear does an alright job but really only from a medium distance. Anything too close or far gets grainy and blah. Choose your distance wisely if you’re gonna use the camera. Having no flash doesn’t help at all. The front facing camera is just as good as many of the same you see on phones and the iPad 2. Nothing too exciting here but they are better than the 3DS’ cameras. No 3D pictures or video but that is all they have over the Vita’s cameras.

Overall – 9/10 – When the worst part about this system is the fingerprints, I’d say we have a winner here. Sony put a lot of power and effort into this one. With a great western launch lineup like this and some high quality titles on the way (BioShock, Final Fantasy, Gravity Rush, Mortal Kombat, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, and much more) it is hard not to be excited for this handheld. Everything about the Vita screams quality. Some think the price is too high but for what you get I think it is quite worth it. The memory cards are a bit hard to swallow but if you are planning on going full retail with your purchases you can slide with a 4gb or 8gb card. I can’t see a reason to get a 32gb. If you are headed towards a lot of PSN titles, a 16gb card is perfect. This is the best handheld that I’ve ever played (starting with the original GameBoy). It is astonishing to see the amount of power you can cram into something this small.


Upcoming Vita reviews:
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational
ModNation Racers: Road Trip
Little Deviants
Rayman Origins
Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3