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Handheld consoles are in a tricky spot, with mobile phones and Apple gadgets stomping all over their portable gaming territory. Sony's not fazed though -- the PlayStation Vita is a brash, massive handheld that packs a frightening amount of hardware into its not-so-slender frame.
Is Sony showing Apple and its new-school friends the way gaming should be done, or is it stuck in the past?
Should I buy the Sony PlayStation Vita?
The Vita is an absolute monster on paper, with a quad-core processor, 5-inch touchscreen and dual analogue controls making it more powerful and hardware-heavy than all its rivals.
But power isn't everything, and the Vita's excessive bulk, strictly average battery life, high price and expensive games mean that unless you're a hardcore fan of the titles headed to this console, Sony's latest effort is tough to recommend.
Those hunting for accessible, on-the-move gaming kicks would do well to consider the, with which you can find, purchase, download and play a game in under a minute and for less than a quid.
To look at, Sony's latest effort is essentially an engorged PSP. A massive black oval, it measures 182mm across, 83.5mm tall and 18.6mm thick. It's slathered with buttons and ports but still looks fairly slick. The glossy black chassis doesn't feel too plasticky.
There's no getting away from the size of this beast -- it seriously stretches the definition of a portable console. It'll probably fit in your jeans pocket, but not comfortably, and the resulting bulge could make you look more than a little ridiculous. We also worry about the sticking-out analogue sticks getting damaged if you're dragging the Vita in and out of your pockets.
If you're carrying this around with you, you'll need a bag. A handbag, satchel or rucksack would see you clear. Comparing it to its rivals, it's a lot bulkier than the Nintendo 3DS and more than twice as thick as the iPod touch.
The better news is that the Vita isn't as heavy as it looks. It weighs 279g for the 3G model, and a slightly lighter 260g for the Wi-Fi-only version. We wouldn't call it impressively light, but it won't weigh you down if you're carrying it around all day, and it's not uncomfortably heavy to hold.
Controls and connectivity
The Vita has more ports than Fishing Island, a fictional island we just made up, and it's covered in so many buttons that there's probably one around the back we haven't found yet that turns our toaster on.
To the left of the 5-inch touchscreen there's an analogue stick, a four-way direction pad and a PlayStation button. On the right is a second analogue stick, Start and Select buttons and the four iconic PlayStation face buttons. There's also a front-facing camera nestled here.
Along the top are two shoulder buttons, a power button, volume keys and two plastic covers. One of those conceals the slot where Vita games are inserted, the other is an accessory port.
Along the bottom you'll find the main port, which handles charging and USB connection (though the slot itself is proprietary, not USB, mini or micro-USB), and a memory card slot. There's also a 3.5mm headphone port, and the 3G version sports a SIM card slot tucked into the side of the console.
Along the back, roughly mirroring the touchscreen on the front, is a touch-sensitive trackpad area that you'll use for an extra control option in games. How frequently you'll use this will depend on how many developers make games that take advantage of it, but as it doesn't take up any extra space we don't mind having it on board.
Around the back you'll also find a rear-facing camera, though unfortunately it doesn't boast a very high resolution. The photos it takes came out looking fuzzy, and none too colourful.
This is a console with plenty of kit on board. But what kind of gaming experience do those controls actually get you?
Once you're into a game, we don't have any complaints about how the console actually looks or handles, with the Vita's quad-core processor ably handling graphically demanding titles, even if we did spend a lot of time staring at loading screens.
Based on our experience you can expect a smooth, consistent frame rate, even when loads of polygons are being chucked around on screen. We also didn't notice the Vita getting too hot after long periods of playing.
The controls are comfortable, and the Vita slots into your hands snugly. If you've got big hands you might find your thumbs naturally rest slightly to the left of the four PlayStation face buttons, but we imagine that most folks won't have any problems here.
The shoulder buttons are particularly slick because they can be triggered from any point along their length, meaning you won't have to twist your fingers into an uncomfortable position. We played Wipeout, which requires you to hold down the right trigger for long periods (because it's the accelerator, natch), and we didn't experience any discomfort.
As for those dual-analogue sticks, their movement was smooth and responsive. They won't give you the control or precision that you'd get on a full-sized console controller, and because they're small and sensitive you'll have to use very subtle thumb motions in games like Uncharted that ask you to use both sticks at the same time.
Reaching the centre of the touchscreen could prove something of a stretch if you've got small hands, and we also noticed that with our index fingers glued to the trigger buttons, switching to poke at the rear trackpad was a little tricky.
These are niggling points though -- crucially we never found the Vita's controls interfering with our game, or taking us out of the moment. The controls aren't perfect, but everything feels well constructed and every button is pleasingly sensitive.
In terms of control, the Vita compares favourably to the Nintendo 3DS, which is occasionally fiddly to hold because it's a lot smaller. The 3DS Circle Pad analogue stick isn't a patch on the Vita's either, though the trade-off is that because the 3DS stick is flat, it's protected by the folding top screen when you're on the move.
Compared to its touchscreen rivals, the Vita is more comfortable to hold than your average smart phone -- again because it's bigger, and so will fit more comfortably into both your mitts.
The touchscreen is sensitive and accurate, while the 5-inch screen is colourful, crisp and generally looks a treat. We've seen better displays, and those who are fussy about faithful reproduction may find the saturation levels a bit garish, but broadly speaking, we have no complaints. The viewing angle is also respectable, meaning annoying siblings peering over your shoulder will still get a decent view.