PlayStation Vita Slim review: PlayStation Vita Slim: Sony's handheld gets a welcome redesign

Sony does offer a 4GB Vita card for £10 (about $12 in the US), but like the 1GB of on-board storage, that won't last you long once you download a game or two.

Vita Slim vs. Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL

The Vita Slim doesn't exist in a vacuum -- there are plenty of other gaming gadgets competing for your cash. So how does Sony's system fare against the competition?

Nintendo's 3DS console is considerably cheaper -- the original version is a little harder to find online, but can be yours for around £133 from Amazon UK, or $186 on the US site. The larger 3DS XL version (which sports an upper screen that's similar in size, if not in resolution, to the Vita) is available to brits for roughly £150, or $200. You might also save some money on memory as, unlike the Vita's pricey, proprietary cards, the 3DS stores data on regular SD cards -- the kind used by most digital cameras.

The 3D effect offered by Nintendo's system works remarkably well, and doesn't require glasses -- but in our experience it doesn't add a huge amount to gameplay, and there's every chance you'll switch it off after a few minutes' gawping.

The Vita Slim must fend off Nintendo's 3DS XL, as well as gaming on smart phones and tablets.

The 3DS has some other things going for it however. The House of Mario's system is similarly comfy to grip and play with for long stretches of time, and battery life on the 3DS XL was around 4 to 7 hours in our tests -- an improvement on the 3DS' 3 to 5 hours (though not significantly better than the Vita Slim which, as noted above, managed a little under five hours of non-stop intensive gameplay).

In terms of games, CNET's sister site GameSpot charts a healthy 28 3DS titles that have scored eight out of 10 or higher. Only 20 Vita games rank in that same category. That doesn't tell the whole story though, and anyone considering splashing out on either system would do well to check out a list of exclusive titles -- if you're a Mario, Zelda, or Phoenix Wright fan, the 3DS is a no-brainer, but if Spelunky, or the warmly-received Persona 4: Golden tickle your fancy, consider the Vita.

Both systems offer an online shop where you can purchase games for download, but Nintendo's system falls short when it comes to apps. The 3DS has an Netflix app, but is missing social networking basics like Facebook and Twitter apps. The Vita has these, plus Skype, and its higher-resolution touch screen makes Web browsing a much more pleasant experience.

Vita Slim vs iPod touch, smart phones and tablets

Dedicated gamers will spurn the lack of physical controls that gaming on a touchscreen-only gadget offers, but for more relaxed players, you could save yourself some effort -- and plenty of cash -- by turning to your mobile.

Both iOS and Android offer an almost endless array of downloadable timewasters, many of which are free, and almost all of which can be yours for under a few dollars. From disposable 30-seconds-at-a-time titles like Ridiculous Fishing, Temple Run 2, or Candy Crush to more ambitious PC-conversions like Xcom: Enemy Unknown, or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, there's enough out there to ensure you're never bored at a bus stop again.

These mobile games are the biggest threat to traditional handhelds like the Vita Slim and 3DS XL, and for good reason -- for most folk, a dedicated gaming gadget isn't really necessary when a vast ocean of cheap games can be downloaded directly to a smart phone or tablet.

Vita software and processor

Internally, the Vita Slim hasn't changed. It's running the same software as the older model, so existing Vita users among you will feel right at home. All your apps, services and installed games are shown as colourful, rounded orbs on your home screen -- simply prod one to load up a game or menu. To go home, poke the physical PlayStation button to the right of the screen.

Tapping

It's a very simple interface and won't take long for new users to get used to. Playing a new game simply requires you to pop in the cartridge and the console will do the rest. You'll need to log in with your PSN account if you want to use the store or any social sharing services, but otherwise the interface is relatively hassle-free -- less time spent messing with settings means more times fragging your foes.

The Vita Slim uses Wi-Fi to connect to the internet, granting access to the web browser and allowing you to browse the shelves of the PlayStation store. The store offers classic older titles such as Final Fantasy 7, or Coolboarders, but you can also download recent releases like Killzone: Mercenary. If you don't fancy waiting for a physical game to be delivered or just don't want to leave your cosy flat, buying from the online store is a great option. Just make sure you have enough available storage space.

The Vita Slim's rubbery frame hosts the same quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor as its forebear, along with a quad-core GPU, which seemed every bit as powerful in the slim model as it did in its chunkier predecessor. Its power made short work of graphically demanding titles like the aforementioned Killzone: Mercenary, which ran very smoothly, even when bullets and explosions were flying.

PlayStation Now

Sony has promised to bring streaming gaming service PlayStation Now to the Vita, following a launch on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.

Eventually, this will mean gamers will be able to stream games over the Internet. This may not sound a natural fit for portable handhelds like the Vita -- which will spend much of their time away from a Wi-Fi connection -- but it could provide a broader range of games to play before very long.

CNET/James Martin

Importantly, because graphical processing in streaming games happens elsewhere, PlayStation Now could open up the Vita to games that its processor couldn't otherwise handle. Sony has also promised access to TV and movies via PlayStation Now.

The problem with this service is that it's not live yet, and we don't know how much it will cost, how well it will work or whether the list of available games, movies and TV shows will be in the least bit compelling.

As such, we can't consider imminent PlayStation Now access a point in Vita Slim's favour, but it's reassuring at least to see that Sony has some more ambitious plans for its handheld. rest assured, when PlayStation Now does launch later this year, CNET will be on hand to let you know if it's any good or not.

Conclusion

The Vita Slim's lighter, skinnier frame is a welcome design tweak, and it's reassuring to find that the new LCD screen isn't any worse than the previous OLED offering.

Elsewhere however, some of the same gripes we had with the original Vita remain, particularly around the pricey, proprietary memory cards. 1GB of on-board storage is a step in the right direction, but will be quickly exhausted by game saves and the odd download. In the face of stiff competition from smart phones and tablets, we'd have liked to see a more aggressive update from Sony, that offered customers better value-for-money.

The Vita Slim is a powerful, capable console however, and if there are Vita-only games you're desperate to play, it has the power to do those titles justice. Our recommendation is to peruse a list of the Vita's best games. If there are plenty you want to own, the Vita Slim is a wise choice. If nothing captures your imagination, ask whether you'd be better off with a Nintendo 3DS XL, or the cheaper, almost-infinite array of games on a mobile gadget such as the iPod touch.

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