One week with the Vita: It's the little things

So I've had my Vita for about a week now and I decided to to make a blog with my impressions of the hardware, software and games so far. I ordered the 3G/Wi-Fi US version that came with an 8GB stick. I also bought copies of Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 and a digital version of Lumines: Electronic Symphony.

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Hardware

The Vita is one sleek piece of kit. There's no anodized aluminum bands or gorilla glass here, but it's still very sleek and it doesn't look cheap. The most striking feature is the 5-inch OLED screen. The colors are incredibly rich and vibrant and the screen is bright. In fact I'd go so far as to say that it's a bit too bright, even on the lowest brightness setting. It definitely strains my eyes a bit when I'm playing in a dim environment. The touch screen seems as responsive as the ones on my iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, so no complaints there. Sony says the back touch pad is the same as the front, but I haven't really used it enough to form an opinion so I'll have to take their word on it.

The biggest sticking issue about the Vita after the memory card prices has been the battery life, but honestly it has not been a problem for me at all. After playing Uncharted for about 5 and a half hours on the lowest brightness setting (which like I stated before is still very bright) with maximum volume and with 3G/Wi-Fi on, I still had about 15-20% of juice left.

The buttons are a different issue. On the whole, they just seem too small, even when compared to PSP's. In fact I'd say they're closer to the PSP Go's buttons and also have a similar "clicky" feel. The face buttons are really small, and worse, very close to the right stick. This means that holding down the X button (in say Wipeout) without bumping the stick on accident is either very hard or very uncomfortable (usually both). The d-pad also seems like a step back because it's no longer segmented like every other Playstation product circa 1997, and that's a damn shame. Also while the triggers are miles ahead of the PSP's analog nub, they have a much shorter range of motion than you might expect on first glance. However they do have a nice rubberized feel to them. Finally, the Start and Select buttons are tiny and since they're flush with the rest of the faceplate, they're rather hard to press.

One thing the unit lacks is any sort of a lock button like the PSP. It's pretty weird that they didn't include one, considering that any slight brush of the power button or PS button wakes up the system from sleep. Also means you can't turn off the buttons so you don't accidentally hit them when you're watching a movie or something. A nice touch is that the PS button glows Blue/Orange depending on if it's plugged in or not.

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As you can tell, the cameras are also nothing to write home about, though I don't really care since I never planned to use them anyways. Still, don't expect much there.

Software

The OS is by far, extremely underwhelming and incredibly disappointing. It's missing basic usability features and it includes a lot of the same problems that have plagued the PS3 and PSP (or dare I say more).

For starters, I sure hope you like to wait...

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For a handheld system, the Vita expects you to have a lot of time on your hands. It's a bit disgusting actually. The problem stems from the fact that each bubble is basically it's own app, that needs to load and start whenever you want to use it. So if you want to use, say, the Settings bubble, you have to first launch the app and wait the 2-3 seconds till it launches. Combine that with the fact that you can only have 6 apps open at a time and there's basically no multitasking supported whatsoever apart from the music player and background downloading (though you still need to wait while it loads/installs) and you can end up spending a lot of time staring at a loading screen.

The general look of the UI is also an issue. It's ugly. You have bunch of icons Sony calls bubbles (though they look morel like M&Ms to me) arranged in this awful oval pattern. There doesn't seem to be any AA and while the screen resolution is pretty high, you can still see the jaggies. The customization is also lacking. There's no themes a la PS3 and PSP. All you can do is change the background to one of 23 standard PS backgrounds or a custom image. However if you choose to use a custom image, the system compresses the shit out of it (just look at the left side of Jensen in the Deus Ex image below) and it just doesn't look very good. Also while you can change the image of the lock screen, you can't change the blue background behind it, so unless you pick some kind of complementary image to the blue color, it ends up looking awful:

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But the thing that bugs me the most is the little things. For example there's no battery percentage indicator and you can't group bubbles together. Also while you see a bunch of lightning bolts when you plug the Vita into the charger, you don't see them when you charge it through USB. It sorta makes you wonder if it's even charging at all.

Plugged in the charger - notice the lightning bolts in the battery icon
Plugged in the charger - notice the lightning bolts in the battery icon
Charging through USB (?) - no lightning bolts
Charging through USB (?) - no lightning bolts

The browser is also a mess. Sony's Eric Lempel stated that it was a browser built upon HTML5, so it's weird that it does not support any sort of HTML5 video. Here's what happened when I visited Giant Bomb:

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It's a trap!
It's a trap!
OH GOD!
OH GOD!

Other apps are decent, though they all suffer from extended loading issues like the rest of the OS. I have more thoughts but I'm tired of writing so here's some screenshots instead:

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Games

Hardware and OS aside, games are why I'm here. Thankfully the games are pretty good.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

I'm a huge fan of Uncharted. The first one is the reason I bought a PS3 and I haven't looked back. So it's not surprising that Golden Abyss was one of the reasons why I bought a Vita.

I finished it a few days ago, and although flawed, it's still an enjoyable experience. The aiming is definitely a bit odd (the entire ballistics model from the PS3 versions seems to have been severely stripped down) and I had to turn on the Auto-aim feature. The touch minigames are fucking shit and the worst part of the game. I'd score the game a whole star higher if they weren't there.

Graphically the game looks decent in most parts and absolutely stunning in some (Lake of Ghosts anyone?). The character of Drake is present in full force and Nolan North delivers another award-winning performance. And man do I love Sully! The game features some of the best banter between the two.

3/5

Limines: Electronic Symphony

I love Lumines and this is the best version yet. Also, you bitches need to man up and put up some higher scores already. It's like I'm playing against toddlers...

Ding Dong - a true hero.
Ding Dong - a true hero.

11/5

Wipeout 2048

I also love Wipeout, but I'm conflicted on this one. The MP is downright broken. I can't even load the leaderboards or enter my Online Pass, let alone race online. Also because of the placement of the Vita's buttons, my hands get cramped while holding the X button (Wipeout controls) for extended periods of time. And Jesus, are the load times long. I clocked one at 98 seconds!

On the other hand, there's a lot to love. The game is gorgeous and I love the changes they've made like splitting-up weapons pads into offensive and defensive pads, allowing you to spin your ship 180 degrees and the 3 ship classes. I also really dig the new engine sounds and track designs. It's pretty weird that there's no Racebox mode, but overall there's more to like than not to like. I just wish I could get online...

Need to play more before I can rate it.

Overall Impressions

I can't say that I'm not disappointed with the Vita, but I wouldn't go as far as to say that I regret my purchase. To quote Jeff, the Vita needs another 7-8 firmware updates before it's usable, but as far as games go I'm having a lot of fun. Near is still confusing as hell and the browser needs some serious overhaul, but watching Futurama episodes on that screen is a fucking experience you need to have.

That and Gravity Rush comes out in June!

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