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The Sony PlayStation Vita sets a new standard

For more serious gamers, mainly teenagers and adults who prefer more realistic games, experts point to the Sony PlayStation Vita (*Est. $250). Though it's not without its faults, many say the PlayStation Vita is the most advanced handheld gaming system ever produced. Even critics who question the utility of a dedicated gaming console when smartphone and tablet games are both ubiquitous and cheap say the excellence of the gaming experience on the Sony PlayStation Vita is hard to ignore.

Although equipped with a relatively large 5-inch touch screen, reviewers say the PlayStation Vita is comfortable to hold and use, even for extended game-play sessions. Game play is enhanced by the responsiveness of the touch screen and by the inclusion of two sets of analog controls. A touch panel on the rear of the console adds some interesting play possibilities for some games. For example, in the "Little Deviants" game included in some bundles, poking at the rear touch panel changes the contours of the playing surface. The display is bright and beautiful -- not a surprise since it uses OLED technology. Cross Play technology lets you start the game on, for example, the Sony PlayStation 3, pause it, and jump back in where you left off on the PlayStation Vita. Every PlayStation Vita is Wi-Fi enabled. A 3G-capable version is also available (*Est. $300), with connectivity provided by AT&T, but you'll need a no-contract service plan (*Est. $15 per month and up) to take advantage of that.

The shortfalls critics point to have more to do with some of the Sony PlayStation Vita's added features. Those extras include a browser, front and rear cameras and smartphone-like features, such as mapping apps. Some call the user interface easy to use and intuitive; others, such as Sam Biddle at Gizmodo.com, find it a disappointment compared to what the PlayStation Vita's screen and graphics are capable of.

However, there's no disagreement when it comes to Sony's decision to require the use of expensive and proprietary memory. Though a memory card is included in some bundles, it is nowhere to be found in the base console, and few if any games will work at all if memory is not installed. But while a standard SD card -- which Sony's memory cards closely resemble -- is a low-cost item, the cards required by the PlayStation Vita are anything but -- $20 for 4 GB, as an example. That leads to complaints from critics. CNET's Jeff Bakalar says, "Forcing customers to buy proprietary flash media is a hidden cost that needs to be considered before buying the system."

Like with any new gaming system, the PlayStation Vita's initial library of titles isn't huge, with 25 available at its late February 2012 launch, but that's better than what had been available for some other gaming systems at their debut. The Vita is also compatible with more than 250 digital PlayStation Portable (PSP) titles available for download via the Sony PlayStation Store.

Speaking of the PlayStation Portable, the bargain-priced Sony PSP-3000 (*Est. $130) remains available for now. The PSP-3000 boasts a vibrant 4.3-inch LCD display and integrated Wi-Fi. It also includes a built-in microphone, integrated Skype and music and video playback.

Even though it has been on the market for several years, reviewers say the Sony PSP-3000 offers more realistic graphics and more advanced games than Nintendo's DS line of handheld consoles. "For those who can't abide the oh-so-cute antics of a Pokemon, Cooking Mama, Zelda, Mario, or Animal Crossing title, the PSP will be a welcome breath of fresh air," John Falcone writes at CNET. Online multiplayer gaming is another plus that will appeal to serious users. Unlike the Nintendo DSi and 3DS, which focus on games for kids and teens, the Sony PSP-3000 has a good selection of adult-friendly titles.

However, users and reviewers report interlacing artifacts in the display, which become particularly noticeable during fast-motion games. According to postings at CNET and elsewhere, Sony says that the artifact -- which appears as horizontal lines -- is a byproduct of the other improvements in the display. Most reviewers are willing to forgive the lines in exchange for PSP-3000's rich colors and crisp details. Users also seem fairly forgiving: On Amazon.com, more than 80 percent of users give the PSP-3000 a 4- or 5-star rating, resulting in an overall grade of 4.3 stars. Although some are disappointed in the screen, most users say the Sony PSP-3000 is a good choice among handheld video game consoles.

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Nintendo DSi - Matte Black
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PlayStation Portable 3000 Core Pack System - Piano Black
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PlayStation Vita - Wifi
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