PlayStation Vita First Impressions

It’s here! The first batch of Playstation Vita handhelds hit stores at midnight with the release of the First Edition Bundle, containing the Vita hardware, a 4GB Memory Card, and Little Deviants for the game pack-in. Not much to say about the extras, we’ll put up a Little Deviants review shortly, but man are those memory cards tiny! I swapped mine out for a 32GB since I play on trying to be as digital as possible with this device, and with potential digital only discounts that seems like a pretty good decision.

But enough of that, let’s talk hardware.

First things first, the OLED display screen on this device is absolutely gorgeous. Colors seriously pop, resolution looks as HD as a small screen can get, and the image is nice and large for games that deserve it, like Uncharted: Golden Abyss. The multi-touch display is responsive, containing similar controls to Apple’s line of products that have pretty much set the standard for touch screen devices.

Menu navigation is extremely quick, and the system boot up time is minimal. The sleep cycle will kick in pretty quick if you’re doing nothing with the device, but it comes in and out of sleep just as fast.

The initial set-up was a tad bit confusing, as the game prompted me to use my existing PSN account and then told me that it couldn’t attempt to access it without doing a system update. When you hit ok for that, it’ll kick you back a step and ask if you want to use your PSN account again, which just causes a big loop. The trick there for new users is to choose to set-up a new account, which really just has you pick your time zone and lets you advance to the main menu without actually having to set up a dummy PSN account. From there open your settings and choose the system update, which takes only a couple minutes to get installed and have the system reboot.

PSN store navigation is also pretty well streamlined for the device. You can scroll through content quickly, and everything is organized in a similar fashion to the PS3 version of the store. The store is broken down into video and game categories, and you can search by genre and starting letter. It still doesn’t have full PSP game support which is disappointing, but it does seem that some of the missing links are resolved by downloading a PSP title to your PS3 and then transferring that to the device.

There’s a tutorial game included on the system (with trophies) that’s designed to show you how to use the different functions on the device, like the touch screen, camera, and back touch interface. It’s pretty basic for anyone that’s used a touch device or handheld before, but works as a quick demo and time waster to get acclimated with the system.

The NEAR functionality, which is essentially Sony’s take on the Street Pass system found in Nintendo’s current handheld, is pretty cool. NEAR will scan your surrounding area for Vita users at different intervals, and you can do manual scans which is useful while traveling. If the users it finds are willing to share their information, you’ll get an icon that pops up to display how many miles or kilometers out they are, what they’re currently playing, and their PSN screen name if you’d like to add them to your friends list. I’ve already hit more people with this than I ever had with Street Pass, and I find myself wanting to refresh the scan every time I head out somewhere.

I haven’t sampled much of the GPS system yet, but it uses Google Maps and loads up quickly enough. The built-in web-browser is a little disappointing, it doesn’t support flash or HTML5, so major sites like YouTube are pretty much useless for browsing. The browser speed seems comparable to other handhelds and phone devices, so if you’re somewhere with a more dedicated form of online access you’re going to be better off using that.

The actual feel of the Vita is pretty solid and comparable to the old PSP-1000 model as far as weight and design goes. It has considerable heft to it, and the little indentations on the back of the system to help guide hand placement are nice. The buttons feel really great, and even the d-pad seems extremely nice. The analog sticks are responsive, and I far prefer these to the slider on the original PSP. My only complaint is that the X button and right analog are reallllly close together. I didn’t realize how close until I started to test out Mega Man Maverick Hunter X and found my thumb rubbing up against the stick every time I needed to jump.

Overall I’m extremely happy with the device in its early stages here. I’ll be spending a lot more time with it over the coming weeks while I run through a number of games for review, and I’ll have a more definitive hardware review with a score attached that’ll go up shortly. But, as an early adopter, I’m extremely happy with the overall package right out of the gate.