Though it is not without some controversy, when it comes to game play the critics are nearly unanimous: The Sony PlayStation Vita is a tour de force -- pretty much the best handheld gaming system ever released. That doesn't stop some from questioning its value, especially given the rise of mobile gaming on smartphones and tablets. Still, if you demand the most immersive console-gaming experience while you're on the go, there's little question that the PlayStation Vita should be at the top of your short list.
The center of attention is a big, beautiful and responsive 5-inch OLED touch screen that draws your gaze and keeps it riveted as you play. Despite the large screen, reviewers say the PlayStation Vita is lightweight but not flimsy, making it easy to hold and use through long gaming sessions. Complementing the touch screen are twin analog game controls and an innovative rear touch panel that can add interesting control options to some games. One oft-cited example is the game "Little Deviants," in which the shape and contours of the gaming surface can be changed by using the touchpad.
The game library of PlayStation Vita titles was large at launch compared to those of other recent handheld gaming consoles, though by no means extensive. It is also backward compatible with titles for PlayStation Portable consoles, such as the Sony PSP-3000 (*Est. $130), which remains a viable option for those who want serious game play without laying out serious bucks. The 3D-capable Nintendo 3DS (*Est. $170) drew its share of compliments when it made it debut, and a price cut (from $250) made it a better value. But while the 3DS benefits from access to a huge library of titles, the notable lack of many Mature-rated titles and its lower-end graphics (despite the presence of 3D) probably makes it most suitable for younger users.
In an age where smartphone gaming is making many question the need for a dedicated portable gaming console, Sony has added in many extra features and functions, including a browser, music player, camera, mapping apps and more. Connectivity via Wi-Fi is standard, but a version with a 3G radio (*Est. $300) is also offered, though you need to spring for an AT&T data plan (starting at *Est. $15 per month) to take advantage of 3G.
Criticisms of the PlayStation Vita don't revolve around the game play, but around those extra features, and the value of the console itself. Some -- but not all -- reviewers say that the extras don't integrate well with the console, and that they don't work as well or as smoothly as their smartphone and tablet equivalents. Some note that in an effort to combat piracy, Sony has made getting movies or music onto the PlayStation Vita a bit of an ordeal.
The biggest complaint, however, concerns Sony's use of proprietary memory. Though the memory card looks exactly like a standard SD card, it's not, and it costs considerably more -- starting at $20 for a 4 GB card (compared with less than $5 for a similarly sized standard memory card). Further, the card is not optional -- one is required to play almost all titles -- and is not included in the box except in some bundles. That leads critics to say that this is a "hidden cost" on top of what's already the most expensive handheld gaming system available. Even so, reviewers that praise the console say that for those who demand the best on-the-go gaming experience currently available, the Sony PlayStation Vita is unbeatable at any price.
Just about everyone who covers electronics and gaming has weighed in on the Sony PlayStation Vita. That includes technology sites like CNET, PCMag.com, Gizmodo, Digital Trends, PC World and ArsTechnica.com. You also can find coverage at general interest sites and publications like Time Magazine, The Washington Post and The New York Times. Early owner reviews can be read at Amazon.com.
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Taking a long, detailed look at the Sony PlayStation Vita, Jeff Bakalar is among the many who speak disparagingly of Sony's decision to use required proprietary memory. He also complains a bit about battery life and some of the steps Sony has taken to prevent piracy. However, he is impressed by nearly all other aspects of the console and adds that despite the price being a little deceiving (because you also need to budget for the memory) "gamers are getting an impressively complete package right out of the gate."
Review: Sony PlayStation Vita (Wi-Fi), Jeff Bakalar, Feb. 13, 2012
A video "prizefight" puts a Sony PlayStation Vita in the ring against the Nintendo 3DS. Through six rounds comparing aspects including performance, value and design, Sony wins the decision for the site's panel of three judges.
Review: Sony PS Vita vs. Nintendo 3DS, Brian Tong, March 1, 2012
The Sony PlayStation Vita earns an Editors' Choice award here. Battery life and the cost of the memory card are seen as negatives, but those are offset by positives such as a beautiful and responsive OLED touch screen and the raw power of the rest of the gaming hardware.
Review: Sony PlayStation Vita Review, Ryan Fleming, Feb. 13, 2012
The Sony PlayStation Vita gets an Editors' Choice award. Grouses are the same as elsewhere -- battery life, proprietary media and a "clunky media manager" used by Sony to protect media content from piracy. But even if some things fall short, Will Greenwald says that based on game play alone, "The Sony PlayStation Vita is one of the best handheld game systems to date."
Review: Sony PlayStation Vita (3G/Wi-Fi), Will Greenwald, Feb. 16, 2012
Sean Buckley gives the Sony PlayStation Vita a generally positive review, saying it outclasses the Nintendo 3DS in many ways. Blemishes are found, however, most notably the short battery life. Price is also a concern. The game selection, while generous for a console at launch, might not yet resonate with everyone. "Still," Buckley concludes, "it's hard to shake the Vita's siren call: adopt early, it says, I'm worth it."
Review: PlayStation Vita review, Sean Buckley, Feb. 13, 2012
Roughly 170 mostly happy Sony PlayStation Vita owners team up here to grant the portable gaming console a 4.4 rating out of 5. Those less pleased offer criticisms similar to those of professional reviewers, such as price, short battery life and the need to spend extra for expensive memory.
Review: PlayStation Vita, Contributors to Amazon.com
The Sony PlayStation Vita handheld gaming system gets a rating of 7, which means "very good but not quite great." Chris Kohler is fairly impressed with game play and notes that the inclusion of two analog controllers means PlayStation 3 users can play their games the same way they do on bigger, stay-at-home consoles. The biggest gripe is, again, the extra cost, proprietary memory that's required to play most games.
Review: Sony PlayStation Vita, Chris Kohler, Jan. 26, 2012
Sam Biddle questions if people really need a dedicated portable gaming system. Along the way, he notes that the Sony PlayStation Vita packs in a lot of features that make it more than that, but he says that those features are implemented in such a way that is "irritating." Game play is generally complimented but touched upon only lightly. Biddle concludes that the PlayStation Vita is only really necessary for "the most devout of devout gamers."
Review: PlayStation Vita Review: You Don't Need Another Beautiful Smart Gadget, Sam Biddle, Feb. 13, 2012
9. The Washington Post
The Verge's Joshua Toplosky says of the Sony PlayStation Vita: "Playing games on the Vita is as close as you'll get to holding an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 controller in your hand when you're out and about." But while he calls it the best portable gaming system he's ever used, he says that it's not enough of an improvement over the gaming experience you can get on smartphones and other devices to make it worth lugging around.
Review: Review: Sony PlayStation Vita Handheld Gaming System, Joshua Topolsky, Feb. 12, 2012
10. Time magazine
The title of this review pretty much sums up Matt Peckham's take on the Sony PlayStation Vita. Put him in the category of reviewers who find the handheld gaming system's extras to be worthwhile and occasionally compelling. For serious gamers, game play is sure to satisfy. Battery life is disappointing, but it's also in the range of what Sony promises. Upfront cost and the cost of the memory cards are the major gripes.
Review: Sony PlayStation Vita Review: Beautiful, Expensive and Worth It, Matt Peckham, Feb. 13, 2012
11. The New York Times
Seth Schiesel calls the Sony PlayStation Vita "the finest mobile gaming system yet made for adults." The OLED screen is the best he's seen in a mobile device (though this review was written before the release of the new iPad).
Review: At Sony, Portable Games Just Got Bigger, Seth Schiesel, Feb. 28, 2012
This is a multipage and highly detailed report on the Sony PlayStation Vita. Kyle Orland calls it "a stylish, comfortable system that packs a beautiful screen and a wide variety of features into a well-designed unit." A number of negatives are noted, including its relatively large size and, of course, the use of proprietary memory. The rear touchpad is also dinged for being awkward to use. Battery life here is described as "decent" at four hours.
Review: A New Standard in Design: In-Depth With the PlayStation Vita, Kyle Orland