Sony's Vita-l refresh
By CHONG JINN XIUNG
THE PlayStation Vita (or PS Vita) is Sony's latest portable game device, which was all the buzz at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo convention in Los Angeles.
Nine months after that first preview, we have finally gotten our grubby hands on a WiFi PS Vita model for review.
The mobile gaming world has radically changed over the past few years, with smartphones and bchallenging traditional portable game systems like the PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo DS. The Vita is, in many ways, Sony's big push to reclaim the portable gaming space, but has the age of dedicated portable game systems come to an end?
There are two versions of the Vita available: WiFi only while the other has 3G. Aesthetically, the two versions are identical, though the 3G version is slightly heavier than the WiFi version.
The first thing you will notice about the Vita is its sheer size - at 7.2in wide, it dwarfs most portable systems and is almost the same size as the Nintendo DSi XL.
Despite its large and unwieldy shape, the Vita feels very comfortable in the hand and is lightweight enough that it you don't feel tired when you hold it over an extended period of time.
We loved how the Vita's 5in OLED screen displayed incredibly sharp images with rich colours. It also has great viewing angles from side to side. The screen is quite glossy so expect to see some glare when using it under direct sunlight but it was perfectly viewable indoors.
It is worth mentioning that the Vita's capacitive touchscreen was very responsive and worked smoothly in navigation and during gameplay.
In terms of audio performance, the Vita's stereo speakers offer average quality sound and they can easily be drowned out in noisy surroundings.
The Vita features a built-in GPS and a digital compass that works with a pre-loaded map application. While it is very basic in both design and use, it gets the job done when you need to look up a destination.
The GPS also works with another application called Near, which lets you connect and interact to other nearby Vita players as well as discover what games they are playing.
TOUCH THIS: The rear touch panel is unique to the Vita and it allows players to control on screen objects without obstructing their view.
The Vita however makes a few missteps in terms of its design: One, it does not possess any internal storage space and it needs a proprietary PS Vita memory card, that ranges from 4GB to 32GB, to store downloaded games and other data.
We did not like the fact that an external memory card is a pre-requisite to play certain games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss. It also doesn't help that these Vita memory cards cost more than regular microSD cards.
Secondly, the Vita sports a measly 0.3-megapixel camera on the front and back. Sadly, the grainy pictures aren't even worthy of posting to Facebook or Twitter.
Granted, the Vita doesn't really need a high-end camera for playing AR (augmented reality) games or when you want to speak with your friends over video chat.
Another drawback of the Vita is its battery life. While we could get at least three to four hours of dedicated game time on the Vita, you're likely to need a recharge in the middle of a long session.
The Vita does however fare better if you intend to use it for video and music playback, lasting almost five to six hours.
The Vita's control scheme is similar to that of the PSP, with a D-Pad and four face buttons.
The inclusion of a second analogue stick makes the Vita's controls precise enough for shooting games and gives you better camera control in certain games. The analogue knobs are quite small though, so gamers with large fingers may find it slightly uncomfortable using them.
Apart from the physical buttons and touchscreen, the Vita also offers a six axis motion sensor control for games that require players to physically tilt the device to control something on screen. This works great for games like Wipeout 2048.
ACCESSIBLE: You will find PS Vita's power button, game card slot, volume controls and an accessory terminal for future peripherals on the top.
There's also a rear touch panel that gives users the benefit of touch controls without your fingers getting in the way of the screen. Admittedly, the controls feel awkward and unnatural since you can't see your fingers, but once you get the hang of it you can play games like Touch My Katamari.
The Vita sports a swanky new touchscreen interface that is nicely laid out with several homescreens stacked on top one another. It feels very much like a modern mobile OS. It has circular icons for apps and you can shift them around by long-pressing on them.
Much of the software bundled with the Vita such as the Music, Photo, Video and Web Browser are very basic. The interface isn't ideal for managing content and the Vita's web browser isn't very useful unless you are doing very casual surfing on non-Flash and HTML5 sites.
At any time you can press the PlayStation button to return to the home menu. This will cause the current game or app to pause and if you want to close, just "peel" the app off the screen from the top right corner.
This, however, does not mean the Vita is capable of multitasking between apps as certain apps require you to close the current game you are playing in order to launch the next.
Additional Vita and even old PSP games can be downloaded through the PS Store app. However as the store is not yet available in this region, we weren't able to test out any downloadable Vita games.
Still, we are excited about the prospects of being able to download full retail Vita games directly to the device once the store launches officially.
There's a cool feature called Remote Play that allows you to control your PS3 with the Vita over a WiFi network. In practice, this allows you to access your PS3 content and select games on your Vita when you are away from home - as long as you are connected to a stable Internet line that is.
The image quality on Remote Play is noticeably softer and is nowhere as sharp as a native Vita game, but it is commendable just how responsive the experience is.
Handheld game console
Processor: ARM Cortex A9 processor (4 core)
Graphics Chip: SGX543MP4+
Memory: 512MB RAM, 128MB VRAM
Display: 5in OLED multi touch screen (960 x 544-pixels)
Camera: 0.3-megapixels (both front and rear cameras)
Copyright 1995-2012 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)