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PS Vita Hands-On Impressions

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Posted January 11, 2012 - By Adam Rosenberg


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PS Vita

The PS Vita, Sony's latest handheld, isn't available in the US yet but we know you want our PlayStation Vita impressions, so PS Vita impressions you shall get. I have an imported PlayStation Vita sitting right next to me as I write this. It came as part of a "Value Pack" that included Uncharted: Golden Abyss and a set of official Sony accessories. We're not going to talk about how much it cost, but this is, for all intents and purposes, the very same handheld gaming device that United States customers will be able to buy as of February 22.

I should note as well that this wasn't something Sony sent over. My brief preview sitdowns with the Vita were more than enough to convince me that it would have to be mine. So I set out to wrap my hot little hands around an imported unit, and at considerable personal expense. So here's my unfiltered opinion of the PlayStation Vita. Not a review, but rather a hands-on look at one consumer's initial exploration of the new hardware.

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Form And Function, Together At Last

The Vita is a sexy piece of hardware. It may be a physically larger object than the PlayStation Portable, but the moment you pick the thing up and hold it next to its older sibling, it becomes clear that you're looking at a flat-out better design. The seams are nearly invisible and the unit itself is quite sturdy, not klunky in any way.

It fits comfortably between your two hands and can easily be held in a loose-ish grip that keeps your fingers clear, but in easy reaching distance, of the rear-mounted touchpad. The two miniature analog sticks are nothing less than adorable, as are the tiny face buttons and D-pad. My moderately sized meat hooks have only rarely slipped up as I've become accustomed to moving my fingers between the various controls.

That accessibility extends to the touchscreen as well, with its left and right fringes in easy reach of your fingers. Virtual controls assigned to the touchscreen are easily adjusted to, particularly on the right side of the screen. It's like you've got access to a second set of vertically oriented face buttons. I've seen plenty of games make use of it in previews, and after spending multiple hours in Golden Abyss, I am happy to confirm that those touch-mapped controls work well.

XMB No More

The operating system for the Vita adopts an entirely new interface for Sony, and a big departure from the PlayStation 3 and PSP's XrossMediaBar. Think more along the lines of an iOS or Android interface. Your app icons are considerably larger than what you'd see on a smartphone, and they're arrayed in a more "fun" manner (rather than making the most of the screen space, as smartphones do), but the function is pretty much the same. You can even reorganize the layout of things but tapping and holding your finger on one icon until the Vita goes into edit mode.

The main section of the OS allows for up/down and left/right page swapping. Swiping through the vertically oriented pages gives you access to the main "desktop" area and the app icons it contains. Swiping to the left from any of those pages gives you direct access to any currently open apps. You won't have FULL multitasking support -- the web browser can't launch unless whatever game you're playing closes first, for example -- but you can do things like tweak settings and access media.

You can also quit out of any open apps from these multitasking pages. Tapping the center of the screen launches you back into whatever the app was doing at the time you dropped out to the main page. Closing the app is a simple matter of swiping down and to the left from the screen's upper right corner, like you're tearing away a page (the visual effect supports that as well). The same motion is used to unlock the device whenever you power it on from Sleep Mode.

Overall, the interface is clean and easy to navigate. It's tough to speak about the actual content at this point, since there's a lot of social integration going on and those features won't be available in the U.S. until launch. Everything works though.

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Managing Your Media

The first time you connect your Vita to a PC via the provided USB cable, the handheld will prompt you to install its Content Manager Assistant. This is an entirely automated process; you tap the on-screen icon when you’re ready and the Vita takes care of the installation. All you really need to do is set folders for your photo/music/video/app content. The installation process automatically builds databases for your content.

Once that’s done, you tap the Connect with PC icon on your Vita screen and you’re in. You can then copy any compatible files from the PC to the handheld, or from the handheld back to the PC if you so choose. Interfacing with a PlayStation 3 to access content stored on that hard drive is a similar process, though there’s no app setup process. Your PS3 is hardcoded (probably via a recent update) to recognize the Vita.

As of now, I’m unable to access any game-related content on my Vita, which is registered with a U.S. PSN ID. Even though I have LittleBigPlanet PSP and Killzone: Liberation on my PS3 hard drive, that content isn’t recognized by the handheld. This is probably due to the fact that the Vita portion of the PlayStation Store isn’t live in North America yet. Once the handheld officially launches here, I’d be willing to bet that those problems will cease to exist.

Accessorizing Your New Toy

The accessory pack included with the Value Pack bundle that I got included a 4GB memory card, wrist strap, screen protector, cleaning cloth, game case and Sony's official Vita carrying case.  Most of that is pretty self-explanatory. The game case contains slots for up to eight cartridges and two memory cards. I'd like to take a moment to comment on the carrying case though.

Some thought was clearly put into designing this thing. It's not the most inspiring thing to look at, with the case covering the front and rear of the unit while all sides are left completely open. The Vita snaps onto a plastic mounting clip which is secured to the rest of the case by the same soft, thick fabric that lines the inside of the case. There are also three soft bumpers on the inside of the case that keep the screen safe while preventing the case from caving in around the two raised analog sticks.

The Vita is easily removed from the aforementioned mounting clip, but the intent is for the case to simply dangle loosely from the bottom of the unit while you're playing. Having played plenty on the subway so far, I'm happy to report that the case has never gotten in the way, even though it's constantly just hanging there when the Vita is out in the open.

There's obviously plenty more to consider about the Vita, factors that will be impossible to judge before its official U.S. launch. That said, there's no denying that we're looking at a sturdy and well-designed piece of tech. Despite early claims that the Vita is essentially a PSP2, you'll immediately see the first time you pick one up that the truth is a bit more complex than that. Stay tuned for a full review next month.

PS Vita Hands-On Impressions
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