Review – hands-on with the PlayStation Vita (video)

15 Feb 2012

The PlayStation Vita

The PlayStation Vita gaming console represents an interesting new opportunity for Sony to get to grips with the fast-growing mobile data world and potentially create a whole new apps ecosystem.

When I first unboxed the PlayStation Vita console over a week ago, I thought most of what I would talk about here today would be just games, playability, etc – and we’ll get to that – but actually there’s so much more to talk about.

Effectively, Sony has done something incredibly clever that will no doubt be emulated by rivals like Nintendo and Microsoft – this new handheld console is, for all intents and purposes, a tablet computer. This is an opportunity Sony would be reckless not to exploit.

The first thing that would arrest you about the PlayStation Vita is the quality of its 5-inch OLED screen – it actually seems and feels bigger.

This isn’t just a games console, it’s a tablet computer

But the beauty within is how tactile the device is as a touchscreen tablet. Because the device is Wi-Fi and 3G (via Vodafone) enabled, it allows you to surf the internet, chat with friends (in games!) and download content.

Switch it on and peel back a page and a bright and vibrant new world emerges. You can group message, collect trophies, buy content from the PS Store and use GPS functionality and the Party capability allows you to chat with friends over data networks mid-game.

John Kennedy checks out the new Sony PSVita 

The device features a front and rear camera (5MP) and users can take vivid shots. The latest software update brings new capabilities, like video recording and a pretty cool mapping app. Another app, enigmatically called ‘Near’, shows you your proximity to friends, who’s online and playing what, etc.

Apps is precisely where I see a great future for the PlayStation Vita and its dual role as a games console and a tablet computer. While you can buy and download PSP games (by the way, it is backward compatible with all previous PlayStation Portable titles, including downloadable and PSOne classics), I would love to see Sony bring mainstream apps currently on iOS and Android platforms to the Vita.

As you can tell, I’m smitten by the potential of the Vita as a tablet device and don’t see why the technology can’t be harnessed to include popular apps, such as Facebook, Netflix, Google+, Dropbox, Skype, Evernote, etc. Why not?

For families that want a tactile tablet computer and gaming device, is it not the perfect way to hit two birds with the one Vita?

La Vita Nuova

OK, let’s get back to its mission as a gaming console. The 5-inch OLED screen is perfect for immersive game play and along with the myriad of PlayStation buttons we all know and love, there are extra capabilities, including a dynamic six-axis system and a clever touch pad at the back that turns the Vita into an even more physical machine. For example, one game I played called Little Deviants allows you to use the touchpad underneath the Vita to create a rolling effect on the game’s surface, moving objects on the screen with your finger.

While games are a little slow to load (my only real gripe) the immersive story experience of the Vita can be seen in games like Uncharted Golden Abyss, where physical environments come to life in a satisfying, gloriously cinematic way. The high octane experience can also be seen in games like Wipeout 2048.

Another capability the 3G version of the device has is the ability to download augmented reality games.

In terms of connectivity, there are two versions: a Wi-Fi version and a 3G plus Wi-Fi version. Both devices have integrated GPS and Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity.

The battery on the device is particularly impressive and I have rarely had to charge it up. The device is designed for a battery life of between three and five hours during game play, five hours of video and up to nine hours of music.

In terms of storage, the PlayStation Vita comes with 512MB of system RAM and 120MB of VRAM. Users can also plug in NVG cards of up to 32GB.

Effectively, what Sony has succeeded with here is a digital hub that pretty much can do anything. To truly capitalise on this, I can’t wait to see what Sony does in terms of mobile apps. For all intents and purposes, it is not only a gaming console, it is a tablet computer and Sony should see it that way.

The Vita has already been launched in Asia but will hit stores in Europe and the US next week on 22 February.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years