I feel like I'm falling in love with the new PlayStation Vita. Having spent the last two years playing games on smartphones, the Vita is a huge breath of fresh air. Its OLED screen is a gem, its weight and size feel great and the controls are (mostly) well thought out. Gamers should seriously give the PS Vita some thought, especially those with a bit of cash to spend and a long commute from home to work or school — but should you choose the 3G model or the Wi-Fi-only version?
(Credit: Vodafone blog)
Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida has gone on the record saying that the 3G radios in the Vita "future proof" the console, although he admits that the feature is not so important at launch. I agree with the latter, but as to whether Sony has successfully future proofed the Vita is yet to be seen. Right now, the 3G radios are completely underutilised.
Before using the Vita 3G, there were three tasks that I was hoping to perform using mobile broadband: multiplayer gaming, PS Store downloads and basic web browsing and social networking. Having played with the Vita now, it turns out that it only performs one of these tasks satisfactorily — and that's web browsing. The games that I've attempted to play online so far (Everybody Golf, Wipeout 2028 and Reality Fighters) all require a Wi-Fi connection for online play, and the Vita refuses to download files larger than 20MB unless you have Wi-Fi connectivity, as well.
This file-size limit will be familiar to iPhone owners who are also restricted to a 20MB file size for downloads over a 3G network, a restriction that most likely originated with its telco partners in the US that have a habit of offering "unlimited" data and then finding interesting ways of limiting its use. In Australia, Vodafone is the exclusive telco partner for the Vita, and is offering it on a range of plans with an included monthly data allowance ranging from 1.5GB to a whopping 18GB per month, and although we don't imagine that Vodafone has anything to do with the file-size restrictions, it too will sell Vitas that simply cannot use that much data in a month.
So, you're basically left with web browsing, Facebook and Twitter, and I already have an excellent browser on my phone and the TweetDeck app to cover all of my social-networking needs. In fact, if you're considering the Vita 3G for its web browser, then we'd strongly recommend that you reconsider. The Vita browser won't play back Flash, doesn't support HTML5 and, as you can see in the chart below, it scores badly on the same BrowserMark benchmark that we conduct on all new phones and tablets.
In a way, the absence of multiplayer over 3G isn't too surprising; 3G networks are hamstrung by poor latency, and online games live or die by the game's ability to send and receive packets of data quickly. Typically, the latency over a 3G network is about 200 milliseconds (ms) — and this can fluctuate quite a bit due to a number of factors — while online games require latency well below 100ms.
In short, Sony's ambition to pitch a mobile online gaming platform to hardcore gamers was never going to work over 3G networks. It would probably have worked well over newer 4G networks, where Telstra is advertising latency of between 35ms and 50ms, but that isn't going to help gamers who pick up the Vita 3G. The concept of mobile broadband powering online gaming is very likely part of the future of this system, but it's certainly not what the Vita is about right now.
Perhaps the only reason to choose a 3G Vita over its Wi-Fi-only counterpart is the soon-to-be-released Music Unlimited service. Sony has said that its Entertainment Unlimited platform would be available to Aussies with Vitas soon (movies are already available), and, if you like the Music Unlimited streaming service, then you'll want 3G connectivity to make the most of it. Video rentals might also justify Vodafone's huge 18GB per month plans, though the same could be achieved by downloading video files over Wi-Fi before you leave home.
If you decide that the 3G version is for you, then we strongly recommend Vodafone's prepaid option. The console is AU$419 outright, and you have absolute control over how much data you pay for, and whether you want to discontinue paying for it. Vodafone's cheapest plan is AU$55 per month over 12 months, which will cost you AU$660 all up and includes 18GB of data in total.
This isn't yet another jab at the Vodafone network, mind you. The Vita supports Vodafone's fast 850MHz network, and we've had no issues with data speeds. It's just that there isn't a lot that you can do with the 3G radios in the Vita, and it doesn't look like this will change too much in the near future.