On Wednesday, the mobile gaming race is going to heat up.
Sony will again enter the crowded handheld gaming space with the U.S. release of the $250 PlayStation Vita, the successor to PlayStation Portable. How does it hold up against the Nintendo 3DS and iPhone? I’ve been using one for more than a week. Here are my thoughts.
Design • The PSVita, which was released in Japan late last year, is much larger than past mobile devices. It’s thicker than the iPhone and bigger than the 3DS. It’s even larger than the original PlayStation Portable.
That’s because it comes with a huge 5-inch OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen that is more rich and colorful and than any portable screen I’ve ever seen. It also sports a high-resolution picture (960 by 544 pixels) and has deeper blacks than other portable screens. Graphics and video are brighter, clearer and more detailed. Only the iPhone has a higher resolution, but its 3.5-inch screen looks puny compared with the Vita’s.
There are front- and rear-facing cameras, but sadly they’re such low resolution that pictures and video are grainy. Don’t expect to use them for everyday picture taking, but they should suffice if games use them.
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Gameplay • Besides that eye-popping screen, something else sets the Vita apart from other gaming portables: a second analog joystick. The PlayStation Portable (PSP) before it and the 3DS each have just one joystick, and that cripples games like shooters. With the Vita’s twin-stick design, you can now move and aim independently in a game like “Call of Duty” or move your character with one stick and pan the camera with the other. And the joysticks feel good in the hand, much like the joysticks used on PlayStation and Xbox controllers, unlike the disc-shaped nubs used on the PSP or the 3DS.
The Vita also uses a front touchscreen that feels as responsive and smooth as the iPhone or iPad. The addition of a rear touch pad on the back of the Vita adds new gameplay mechanics, though some of the early games haven’t used it as creatively as they could.
Power • The Vita uses a quad-core processor and 512 megabytes of system memory, a much more powerful combination than any mobile phone or the 3DS. Graphics on games such as “Uncharted: Golden Abyss” look almost as crisp and detailed as games on the PlayStation 3 home console.
Unfortunately, all that power and the screen size come at a cost: The battery life is woefully short, about three hours at most on a single charge. And you can’t open up the device to replace it.
Another big downside is that the Vita doesn’t come with built-in storage. Instead, you have to separately buy a tiny proprietary memory card from Sony, and they’re unreasonably expensive. A 32-gigabyte card costs $100 while a regular 32GB SD card can cost as little as $30.
Games • All of that impressive hardware can be meaningless if there aren’t games to take advantage of the features. While it may not be the best list of launch titles for a video game console, it’s certainly much better than the games that were first released with the 3DS.
“Uncharted,” an Indiana Jones-esque sequel to the “Uncharted” games for the PlayStation 3, demonstrates the graphical power of the Vita. Innovative games such as “Escape Plan,” an odd black-and-white puzzle game, and “Little Deviants” show off the different ways players can use the front and rear touchscreens. Later this week, I’ll post a story online at www.sltrib.com where I take an early look at some of those first games.
Best of all, the Vita is backward compatible with more than 250 PSP titles that are available for download on the PlayStation Store. Unfortunately, if you own the disc-based versions of those PSP games, you will have to buy them again in digital form to play them on the Vita.
While games are the system’s main focus, it also can play videos and music, though the number of formats is much too limited. You can buy movies, TV shows and music through Sony’s online store, giving the Vita a rich catalog of content from the very start.
With a good price for such a powerful and elegant device, the PSVita is a huge step up from the PSP and the Nintendo 3DS. Unlike the 3DS or the iPhone, this is a handheld system designed for hardcore players who want console-quality gaming on the go.
Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi