Playstation Vita console: An impressive piece of hardware, but is it enough to topple the 3DS?

In the first of two pieces, Jack Bromley previews Sony's upcoming handheld console, the Playstation Vita - looking at how it will fare in the current market compared to Nintendo's rival handheld - the 3DS

PS Vita Console

A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to get hands-on with Sony’s upcoming Playstation Vita. In these two pieces, I’ll be covering the hardware itself, as well as the games available at the preview event. This piece will focus on the console itself, its features, and how it compares to the 3DS both in the current market, and as a piece of hardware.

Initially picking up the Vita, I turned to my friend, bewildered, exclaiming: “What!? How light is this?”. For the Vita, for its size, is unexpectedly light. In comparison to my 3DS, the 3DS felt slightly heavier, and considering that it is relatively smaller than the Vita, Sony have done a great job of constructing a console that is lightweight, and comfortably portable.

In my hands, the Vita sat very nicely. The two sticks, touchscreen, face buttons, and back touchscreen could be reached with ease. The whole layout of the console is impressively ergonomic, and, unlike the 3DS, fingers aren’t uncomfortably positioned or forcibly cramped together. The only problem I found with the composition of the buttons was the analog sticks. Never a fan of the PS3′s convex sticks, the Vita has, unfortunately, adopted the same design. Except this time, they’re smaller. I find that the 3DS’ ‘circle pad’, whilst not the greatest ‘stick’, is of a perfect size for a handheld console. The Vita’s sticks are minuscule, and this results in them being particularly insensitive. The face of the console has clear enough space for larger sticks, so why a ‘nice’ stick size was compromised isn’t apparent.

PS Vita Screen

The Vita boasts a glorious 5″ OLED screen, which is the most beautiful, vibrant, and stunning screen I’ve seen on a handheld console. Its clarity and depth echoes that of even the best HDTVs, and is consistently amazing. When coupled with the graphically capable games, it makes for a beautiful, lag-free, smooth-edged visual experience. The one problem I felt with the screen was that, unlike iDevices, the touchscreen is awfully prone to fingerprints. The Vita only exaggerates this problem, too, as it forces touchscreen use on any and every menu. No DPad or stick navigation. Such a flaw is fine with devices like the 3DS, as it uses a stylus, but with a broad, finger coaxing screen, it’s a wonder why it isn’t a little more resilient. Aside from that, the screen is perfectly responsive, and feels smooth to the touch.

In summary, the console is exceptionally solid, and easily the most impressive handheld I’ve used. With only tiny problems holding it back, there’s nothing major to detract from the playing experience, and it feels just great.

After enough groping and glaring, I finally decided to make a start on the available games. My impressions of which can be found in the second preview article.

Vita vs 3DS

So, with a launch lineup only slightly stronger than the 3DS’, how will the Vita fare against its main competitor? If recent Japanese sales figures are any indication, not particularly well.

In a previous article, I mentioned how the Vita had “no chance” against the 3DS, despite it being, admittedly, the stronger piece of hardware. Even after previewing the console, and being mostly impressed with its composition, I still stand by that powerful statement. Mostly because, just like the 3DS, the Vita will have a rocky launch; its games are weak, but also because it releases at completely the wrong time, almost minimising appeal to its target audience.

PS Vita vs 3DS

Any console launching just after Christmas is going to have a troubled start. Everyone has already spent their money on Christmas presents, and countless people will have gotten a 3DS as a present. So not only will a lot of people not be able to afford the expensive (£230 average) Playstation Vita, (which would be the case at any launch date) but a lot of the potential customers will already be in posession of a strong, current generation handheld, which arguably has the better, more unique titles now that its flagship games are coming through.

Is that much different to the 3DS, though? Not really. Although, the 3DS was and is affordable, launching at a time when people did have money to spend on these things and weren’t already owners of a new handheld console. Sure, it had to wait a while for decent games to release at a consistent rate, and the price drop surely helped sales figures; whereas the Vita launches at a high price, and will likely remain at that. Even as gamers wait for new games to release, the price of the console isn’t going to drop, and the £35 – £40 per game on top of that means you’re looking at a serious investment. Whilst you’re paying for some incredibly powerful and amazing hardware, it just doesn’t have the mass audience appeal, or affordability (games and all) the 3DS has.

Conclusion: 

The demise of the handheld console has been speculated many times, and while I don’t think it will ever disappear from the market altogether, I do believe that it could become a less prominent force. Unlike Nintendo, Sony act in many, many markets, and so do not need to rely on two current generation consoles like Nintendo do. Sony could easily drop from the handheld market without any major repercussions; and that could, theoretically, happen, all depending on how the Vita succeeds.

The rise of the mobile industry and casual games is unavoidable, and whilst the games don’t boast the quality of AAA titles, they do make excessive amounts of money for the companies. Recently, Sony debuted their first major mobile gaming platform, the Xperia PLAY at around the same price of the Vita. Could this be a sign of things to come should the Vita not do as well as Sony may hope? As the handheld market declines, the mobile market expands, with Nintendo outright refusing to enter mobile areas, will Sony be so stubborn, or accept the unfortunately inevitable changes? But do we even need two competing handheld consoles, or will Nintendo, who have proven to be the best in the business, suffice?

Xperia Play

Sony's gaming-oriented Xperia PLAY

Overall, the Vita is a significantly impressive piece of kit, technologically blowing all other handheld consoles out of the water. However, with a poor launch lineup, high prices across the board, and a rival that’s at the top of its game, the Vita will indefinitely struggle at launch. Whether Sony will be able to redeem the console after the struggle will need to be seen, but the console itself is hands down the best handheld to come onto the market, but simply not for everyone.

If you’ve had the opportunity to test the Playstation Vita, let us know what you think in the comments below. Do you think Sony would fare better if they focused more on the mobile market? Is Nintendo the only company we need in the handheld market? Or should Nintendo stop living in the past, and embrace the inevitable changes the future holds?

You can pre-order the Playstation Vita at various retailers, including:

Amazon: (Wifi £219, 3G £269) Toys’R’Us: (Wifi £215, 3G £260) Zavvi: (Wifi £220, 3G £270)

Jack Bromley is an avid gamer, spending most of his time wrapped up in virtual worlds. You can follow him on Twitter @JackBrommers, and indulge in his slurry of complaints and unpopular opinions.