Sony PlayStation Vita handheld games console

Sony PlayStation Vita review: a big, beautiful gaming machine

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Sony PlayStation Vita
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Light and durable design with excellent controls
  • Big, beautiful OLED screen.
  • Rear touchpad works well, permits unique gameplay

Cons

  • Overpriced proprietary memory cards.
  • Onboard 0.3 megapixel cameras are terrible
  • Middling battery life

Bottom Line

When it comes to pure performance, the PlayStation Vita is the best dedicated handheld gaming console you can buy.

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Obtuse Interface

When you turn on your Vita for the first time you’ll need to log into the system with your Sony Entertainment Network account, or create one if this is your first Sony device. Choose carefully, because you can’t switch between multiple SEN accounts without formatting the Vita’s onboard memory.

Sony PlayStation Vita review

Once you’ve configured your system language and time zone you’re presented with the lock screen, a ticking clock atop what appears to be wallpaper; tap and peel the lock screen away to access the Vita home screen. The Vita dispenses with the venerable Sony XrossMediaBar (XMB) interface that graces the PS3, PSP and select Sony HDTVs in favor of a new touch-based interface. It pins up to ten application icons to a series of pages that you can scroll between by swiping your finger up or down the screen. Tapping an icon will open that application’s LiveArea, a sort of middle ground between the Vita home screen and the actual application where you can accomplish application-related tasks like adjusting settings, reading the digital manual or checking for software updates. You can have up to six LiveAreas running simultaneously, though Sony may increase that limit in a future firmware update.

While you’re likely to spend the lion’s share of your time with the Vita playing games (which can be either downloaded from the PlayStation Network Store or installed directly from a Vita cart) the device also offers a robust suite of applications. For the full rundown of system software check out our guide to what you need to know about the PlayStation Vita. In brief, there are built-in apps for sharing game activity or chatting with friends, watching movies, playing music and viewing photos, as well as a Content Manager application for transferring files back and forth between the Vita and your PC.

To transfer files you’ll need to install the Content Manager Assistant software on your PC. It seems a little silly to require Vita owners to use proprietary content management software instead of just treating the Vita as an external USB drive, but the Content Manager Assistant software is simple to use and may help stem Vita software piracy.

Of course to actually store media on your Vita (which only has 512 MB of onboard RAM for running system software) you’ll need to invest in a proprietary PlayStation Vita memory card, which (at the time of this review) are ridiculously expensive. Our Vita review unit came with a 16 GB memory card, which currently retails for $59.99. If you’re strapped for cash you could pay as little as $20 for a 4 GB Vita memory card, but if you want enough space to store more than a few songs or saved games (some Vita game cards allow you to save data directly to the card, but not all) you could spend as much as $100 for a 32 GB Vita memory card.

These prices are tantamount to highway robbery, especially given that a standard 32 GB SanDisk SDHC memory card costs roughly $30. Sony’s decision to design the Vita to use a proprietary format of external memory and then charge inflated prices for Vita memory cards is a blatant bit of profiteering that directly harms the consumer, besmirching an otherwise laudable piece of gaming hardware.

There’s also a built-in web browser that functions reasonably well. It utilizes touch for navigation and onscreen keyboards for text entry, and resembles an oversized Android browser. The Vita browser supports neither HTML5 nor Flash as of this review.

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