First Impressions of the PlayStation Vita

The store clerk’s eyes went wide when I told him I wanted to buy a PlayStation Vita. To his credit, he was very friendly and helpful unlocking a Vita for me and getting me checked out in no time flat. As soon as we started walking over to the PlayStation case, he was asking me why I was buying one of these. He said he’d been working there for almost a year and had never sold one.

I explained myself briefly, my decision was based on a few things:

  1. PS4 Remote Play looks incredible
  2. I have a ton of games already in my PS4 library that were cross-buy with the Vita, so I already have some games for it
  3. I miss having a portable gaming machine in my life
  4. Possibly, maybe getting some NES/SNES ROMs on it

Those were my intentions, but 24 hours later I wanted to share a brain dump of some first impressions.

PS4 Remote Play is so good!

This almost feels like magic. If you don’t know, Remote Play lets you link your Vita to your PS4 and it mirrors the PS4 to your handheld console. You have full control over the PS4, including the ability to play games. In theory, this means your handheld Vita has all the processing power of a PS4.

The reality is almost as good as I had hoped. My biggest obstacle is the Vita controls. The Vita has 2 (or 4, depending on how you’re counting) fewer buttons than the PS4 DualShock controller, so the R2 and L2 buttons are mapped to the back touch pad, which is taking a bit of getting used to. Additionally, the analog sticks on the Vita are very small and are taking a little getting used to. Everything I read says I’ll get used to them and feel more in control, but it’s taking some getting used to.

That said, the technical quality of this feature is better than I had even hoped. There is very little lag between me and the PS4, and the stream quality is very high. No it’s not 1080p like it is on a television, but it’s pretty darn good.

Pro tip: If you have really good WiFi, you should turn on high quality streaming in the Remote Play settings. It raises frame rate and resolution and is totally worth doing if your wireless can handle it.

The Vita user interface

The Vita was originally released in the United Stats in February 2012, which means its competition in the mobile market was the iPhone 4S running iOS 5, Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0, and the then-new Nintendo 3DS. I give that context to simply state that the UI on this thing feels pretty dated. It’s not bad, but everything just looks like it’s out of another time period.

It really reminds me of early versions of OS X. Steve Jobs once said that one of the team’s design goals for OS X was to make it look so good you wanted to lick it. I’m not saying I want to lick my Vita, but I could see someone out there going for it.

One weird note is that there is a welcome video that plays when you first start up the Vita and all the images in that video depict the old version of the Vita. I have the new 2013 model (PCH-2001, if you were interested) which looks noteably different than the original 2011 edition they’re showing off in the video. I guess that’s nitpicking, but it’s an odd oversight.

Build quality

The Vita is lighter than I was expecting. It’s made of a combination of hard and soft-touch plastic which keeps the weight down, but still feels premium. This thing costs $200, which is a higher price than most handhelds, but you definitely feel like you’re getting something nice.

Buttons

I’m in love with the buttons on this thing! They have a very satisfying click to them, and it’s just a reminder of how much better physical buttons are for most games than touch controls.

The one thing that holds me up are the analog sticks. They are quite small and take some getting used to. All new controllers do, so I’m not too worried, but I had to note that I didn’t take to them quite as quickly as the rest of the controls.

Memory is this thing’s Achille’s Heel

You can expand the Vita’s storage with a memory card, and you’re really going to want to get one. The Vita comes with a paltry 1GB of storage out of the box. How small is that? Well, I installed Rogue Legacy and a demo for Hot Shots Golf, and that’s all I could fit. Yikes!

You can get around this limitation two ways:

  1. Buy all your games on physical cartridges. This means games won’t take up much space at all, but it also means that you won’t be able to download PSN titles, which are often deeply discounted or even free. This option kind of sucks.
  2. Buy a proprietary memory card and get 4-64GB of extra storage. This is a far better solution, although Sony’s memory cards cost anywhere from $20-$115, which is just insane.

Final (first) thoughts

I’m still in the early stages of the “new tech device” emotional roller coaster, so I don’t have much more definitive to say yet. Suffice it to say I’m happy with my purchase, and once I get used to the analog sticks and get an overpriced memory card for this thing, I think I’ll fall in love. More to come on this device.