When you finally power up the PS Vita you will be welcomed by an incredibly simple and intuitive user interface. It’s not going to convinced Android users who are obsessed with customisations and widgets, but compared to the current UI on the PS3 it’s easily the best Sony has ever come up with, but it’s not without its faults.
The layout is made up of multiple homescreens that increase the more software and games you installed. Games and apps are represented by oval pebble-shape icons, which at first look a little naff, but it’s the sort of design you’d expect from a Japanese company.
As you open apps, you’ll be taken to a themed holding page a la PS3 where you can actually load the app, once you’ve finished with an app you press the PS home button and then you can close it by peeling the app off the screen from the top right to the bottom left with a simple swipe – it’s an incredibly satisfying and intuitive way to close games or apps.
There are a few apps currently on the PS Store including Facebook, Livetweet (Sony’s own Twitter Client) and Flickr. Apart from that apps are very thin on the ground. There’s no iPlayer, Lovefilm or Netflix – but you can bet Sony will try and get more apps on the OS as soon as possible.
The PS store is easily the best feature you’ll find on the PS Vita – it’s jam-packed full of content. You’ll find a full catalogue of digital versions of the entire launch lineup of Vita games. You’ll also find 300 PSP games and a couple hundred PS Mini games that can be purchased using your PS wallet and downloaded over Wifi.
The other basic pre-loaded app are; ‘Friends’ which is quite self explanatory – as it allows you to communicate with you friends on the Playstation network; ‘Party’ which is a cross-game chat system (something the PS3 never managed to achieve, due to lack of memory); ‘Near’ which allows you to find fellow gamers in your vicinity and see what they’re playing; ‘Photos’ which allows you to take pictures and video using the albeit mediocre 0.3MP cameras and ‘Browser’ which enables you to clunkily browse the web.
One area of the software that really does cut it in a world 21st century internet-enabled devices is the Web Browser. There’s no support of Flash or HTM5 – even more annoying is the quality of browsing. Attempts to scroll through sites simply reveals a blank screen as you wait for the Vita to catch up. It’s not what we’ve come to expect from Sony, frankly and we were expecting it to be patched out before the UK launch.
Another interesting feature is Remote Play, while it’s works well, on the face of it, there aren’t any games that we’ve tried that actually work. Apparently it’s a case that the games developer themselves will need to update their games in order to make it work. It’s essentially allows you to play you PS3 through your Vita over WiFi. Latency looks to be the main sticking point at the moment. So far we’ve managed to browser our PS3 UI using the PS Vita, but until we’ve played something we can’t give you an idea of how the latency stacks up, but it took less than 30 seconds to set up and there’s no wires whatsoever.
Another bugbear is the lack of support media formats, you’ll find the usual Mp3 and MPEG 4 for video and audio – but any thoughts that you’ll be able to watch avi or xvid are out of the window at the moment. Sony did add them later for PS3 – so fingers crossed they’ll come a little later down the line. It would have been good to see Sony be a bit more proactive, though.
We’re not going to lie to you about the battery life of the PS Vita: it’s not great. We’ve managed to get a around 4-5 hours of constant gaming with Wi-Fi enabled and brightness set to full. If you own an iPad you’ll know that this isn’t great. The iPad can easily handle 10 hours of play time regardless of what you are doing. We haven’t had enough time to see which features are battery intensive, but the battery drain seems to be the same whether surfing the net or playing a game. So you should always get a minimum of 4 hours.
But it’s not all bad news, it’s probably one of the fastest charging devices we’ve come across, and the sleep mode is fantastic. If you turn the screen off and leave it, it will consume almost no power at all even if you pause mid-game – we left a game on and came back to it the next day and within a second were backing playing at the exact same point where we’d left off with no loss of battery life at all. The battery cannot be removed or replaced either, so don’t be thinking you can keep a spare in your bag – that’s out of the question. The charger itself consists of three parts, the wall socket and power lead, a small transformer and a proprietary USB 2.0 lead – you can’t charge the device of a laptop like you can with an iPad or iPhone – which is slightly annoying.
Overall the PS Vita is an incredible piece of hardware, and, on the whole, the software side of things doesn’t let the side down too much. Sure there are a couple of strange design decisions and there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to apps and the web browser – but ultimately it’s probably the best, most complete, gaming device Sony has ever created. If you’re looking for device to keep you occupied on the way to work you can’t go wrong with a PS Vita.
Next week we’ll do a comprehensive round-up of the launch lineup – so keep your eye’s peeled. If there’s anything you’d like to know that we’ve haven’t covered, please let us know us know in the comment section and we’ll do our best to answer your questions.