Geek Gifts 2012: Sony PlayStation Vita

Sony's PlayStation Vita is the next step in the evolution of handheld gaming. Find out what surprised and disappointed our reviewer about the PS Vita.

Sony's newest game system, the PlayStation Vita (PS Vita), hit the U.S. market on February 22, 2012, and it's not like any other handheld system. Not only is the PS Vita capable of playing three of the same games as the PlayStation 3, but it also allows players to play against their friends across the two devices and even transfer their game progress from one device to the other.

The PS Vita comes with very interesting control options. In addition to what are now fairly standard buttons and analog control sticks, the PS Vita includes a touchscreen, a touchpad on the back surface, and a Sixaxis motion sensing system (3-axis accelerometers and 3-axis gyroscopes). There are also dual cameras integrated, as well as the option for voice control.

The PS Vita's other stand-out feature is its use of the cameras to create an Augmented reality. The system comes with a deck of six AR cards that games and applications can use to determine where to position elements within real space on the device's screen. One example of this is the game Reality Fighters, which allows you to position your boxers in places like your living room floor (which I show in the PS Vita TechRepublic gallery).

At the time of this writing, there are 45 games available for the PS Vita, including those capable of bridging with the PlayStation 3, with over 250 more PlayStation Portable (PSP) games that are playable on it as well, if you purchase the downloadable versions. (UMD card-based games are not playable on the PS Vita.) There are several more PS Vita games slated for release in the coming months. The games that are currently available run the gamut of genres, including first-person shooter, racing, action and adventure, sports, and even role-playing games.

I don't usually play handheld games (I think the last handheld gaming system I played was the Sega Game Gear); I was very surprised at the quality of the graphics, the response of the controls (including the touch controls), and the speed of the games.

Product specifications and features

  • Processor: quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor (three of the four cores are usable by applications)
  • Memory: 512 MB of system RAM and 128 MB of VRAM
  • Graphics: quad-core SGX543MP4+ GPU
  • Display: 5-inch OLED capacitive touchscreen
  • Controls: D-pad, two analog control sticks, PlayStation standard buttons (X, square, triangle, circle), PS (Home) button, Start, Select, Left, and Right triggers, touchscreen, rear touchpad, accelerometers and gyroscopes
  • Connectivity: USB to PC or PlayStation 3, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G (some models)
  • Ports: Charger, 3.5mm headset, memory card slot, proprietary PS Vita card slot, expansion slot
  • Cameras: Front- and Rear-facing 0.3 megapixel cameras capable of face and head recognition and tracking
  • Augmented reality: By using the included deck of six augmented reality cards and the onboard cameras, players can place game content in their own physical environment.
  • Battery: 3-5 hours of gameplay, with an external battery pack as a purchasable accessory
  • Wireless 3G plan: The AT&T Data Connect is available for the 3G/Wi-Fi model (I didn't use it).
  • Built-in applications: Welcome Park, Party, PS Store, Near, Friends, Group Messaging, Trophies, Photos, Network Operator, Browser, Music, Videos, Remote Play, Content Manager, Maps, and Settings.
  • Price: $299.99 MSRP (Wi-Fi/3G edition), $249.99 MSRP (Wi-Fi only edition)
  • Where to buy: According to the Sony US site, you can buy it from Sony, Amazon, Target, Best Buy, Kmart, Dell, Sears, and Walmart.
  • Photos: In the TechRepublic photo gallery of the PS Vita, I show the device's packaging, what you get in the box, how games and updates look on it, and more.

What I like

  • Graphics: The graphics are surprisingly good for a handheld device.
  • Backward compatibility: The ability to play most digitally obtained PSP games is great for PSP owners wanting to upgrade but not lose most of their investment.
  • Controls: The response and accuracy of the controls, especially the touchscreen and touchpad, is very good.
  • Augmented reality: The ability for the gaming system, especially one this small, to dynamically place game objects in a real environment is impressive.

This shot of Super Stardust Delta shows the eye candy of the weapon destroying an asteroid. (Photo: Wally Bahny)

What I don't like

  • Short battery life: 3-5 hours is nothing for someone to spend playing a game. I couldn't even test the basics of the system in that amount of time.
  • Screen: Even though it's OLED technology, I don't know that I could get used to playing on a 5-inch screen. It's just too confining.
  • 3G: Paying for a 3G data plan on a device like this doesn't make sense to me. With the proliferation of Wi-Fi hotspots, there are very few locations where I could see someone wanting to play and use online features when not covered by Wi-Fi.
  • Proprietary storage: Even though the PS Vita cards look like SD cards and the memory cards look like micro-SD cards, they're proprietary media, so you have to purchase them from Sony.

Geek bottom line

If you enjoy handheld gaming, the PS Vita is the next great step in the evolution of the form factor. And, if you own the PSP, you don't have to lose your investment in digitally obtained games. Enhanced features, such as the touch interactivity, Sixaxis motion sensing, and augmented reality, make gaming really exciting -- if only the PS Vita had a bigger screen.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: ****

Note: All photos in this post were taken by Wally Bahny for TechRepublic.