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The word 'Vita' means Life and with this console, Sony have breathed new life into their handheld market. The Sony PSP had died a death, with most high street retailers not stocking new releases, nor consoles. Their final attempt at the PSP model was the ill-fated PSP Go! which boasted a flip-screen and internal memory to download games from the PlayStation Store, rather than using UMDs to play games. The failure of this console proved that the game-playing public wanted a handheld device that not only had online-support and the ability to purchase games online, but also support physical copies of video games which could be bought from traditional retailers.
The Vita manages to strike this balance with its use of WiFi + 3G networks to promote online gaming & purchases, but it also continues to use physical media in the form of it's Vita game-cards, which can be bought in your local retailers. I personally prefer to use the game-cards for the larger releases, but purchase smaller app-sized games to store onto my machine.
Another way that the Vita improves upon its predecessor (and its competitor, the Nintendo 3DS) is with the inclusion of a secondary thumbstick, which gives the control system a more closely aligned fit to the current home consoles. Playing third-person adventure games with both analog thumbsticks allows the player to direct both the camera and their character seamlessly. Gone are the problems of auto-camera angles giving the player the most awkward point-of-view of their surroundings. These thumbsticks also allow first-person shooters, along the lines of Call of Duty and Battlefield, to be played without compromising on the controls. I'm surprised it has taken this long for a handheld console to be designed this well.
The Vita also boasts touch-screen support, with both a front and back touch-screen area. The back touch-screen seemed to be overkill, in my opinion, before I actually got a hands-on with the machine, but playing through games like, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, I realised how useful it can be to zoom in on areas, without obscuring your view of the actual screen. With the addition of touch-screen, there is the increased risks of fingerprints and smudging, so I would recommend investing in some cleaning cloths to maintain the condition of your screens. I wouldn't use plastic screen-protectors personally, as these tend to make the screen look cloudy and smeared anyway, but this is a personal preference.
The console has a nice silver finish along the top, where the volume buttons are housed, as well as the power button. These look similar to the iPhones buttons and are sturdy and secure, ensuring that there won't be any problems with broken buttons anytime soon. There is also a stand-by button that uses the Playstation logo and glows blue or orange, depending on whether the machine is on charge or not, and this allows you to suspend the game's progress and also acts as a 'home' button to return to the consoles menu.
The menu system on the Vita differs from the XMB crossbar used on the PSP & PS3, and looks reminiscent of a mobile phone handset, with customisable menus and bubbles containing your apps and installed games. Each screen can hold 10 buttons, and multiple screens can be created for you to scroll across. I have tried to organise my screens by app types, but some people might be happy to let them all jumble together. I think I prefer the XMB approach, as it looked cleaner and was easier to locate my items, whereas this has the potential to become cluttered once more games are released, plus it took some getting used to where certain settings were.
Some of the pre-installed software that comes with the machine is NEAR, which is a way for you to connect with local users and transfer game goods (which are unlockable extras for various games) as well as discover new friends. I've found this to be a bit temperamental in use, so far managing to download a handful of game goods, but it tends to result in error messages moreso than successes, but this could be my Wi-Fi causing issues.
There is also an app for the PS Store, which features Vita-exclusive products to download, such as classic PSP games and minis, which are app-sized games for a pocket-money sized budget. I have used the store to download some demos for upcoming releases, Unit 13 & Rayman Origins, but these did take a long time to download, again possibly due to my Wi-Fi. There is also a Video Store, where you can rent or buy new film releases or TV shows, but the prices leave a lot to be desired. I probably won't use this function, unless the prices begin to drop or there are special offers on certain films. This high-priced content is not exclusive to the Vita, as all consoles offer this extortionately priced movie downloads.
Luckily, if you aren't prepared to pay over the odds for your movie content, you can transfer data from your PS3 or PC to playback on your Vita. With so many Blu-Ray releases featuring digital copies, you can copy your new release onto your PC for easy-transfer to the PS Vita to watch on the move. There is also the ability to transfer music and photos to use onto your Vita, which allows for more customisation of the machine, including wallpaper screens.
The battery life is fairly long, lasting between 6 - 8 hours, depending on whether you are using the Wi-Fi elements a lot, or playing games non-stop. I can get two or three days commute out of the machine, and have even found a way to access the Wi-Fi using my mobile phone's Wi-Fi hotspot function, thus bypassing the need for the 3G support that the higher model possesses.
Overall, I think this is a near-perfect games console that bridges the gap between portable and home consoles, both in terms of graphics and controls. This is everything that the original PSP should have been, and I hope for Sony's sake that they can maintain the developers support and push this console into the limelight and make it succeed.