PS Vita: does Sony want it to succeed?

PS Vita brings new life to handheld gaming devices but it has some problems as well.

If you are reading this blog that means that you are into video games. If you are into video games then you know that Sony released the PS Vita last week. These are my first impressions about Sony’s new handheld and whether it lives up to the hype. Obviously with the Vita, Sony is trying once again to rule the handheld market, a goal they failed to achieve with Vita’s predecessor, the Playstation Portable. Will Sony succeed this time? It’s entirely possible, but some changes have should be made, and fast!

The Vita should be compared more to the PSP than to the PSP Go. Me, myself I never owned a Go, so I have no point of comparison. I owned the PSP since it came out in 2005. I always enjoyed it, but I found myself using it less and less as time went by. I am hoping for Vita to change that pattern. Let’s take a look at what Vita has to offer so far and what it could stand to improve on to make that hope come true!

Opening the box you find the system itself, some quick-start guides and the charger/USB cable. The Vita comes with ¾ battery charge. As soon as you turn on the system you notice the sharp and vibrant colors of the OLED display. The screen is a thing of beauty, and touch is fast and responsive. Sony went with a new GUI, abandoning the XMB in favor of the Live Area. Every app, game, settings, etc has a bubble that you tap to open. They open fast and take you straight to it. Although it takes some getting used to, once you do it is a nice GUI. Nothing out of this world but also not the disappointment I expected.

The multitasking is fast and efficient: press the PS button and it takes you to a list of open apps. To close an app, slide your finger on the top right corner like trying to turn a page on a book. Simple enough. The volume is loud and the sounds are clear. It has a screen capture option, perfect for showing off that impossible move you just performed in your favorite game.

Although the Vita is a solid, powerful device, I also believe that Sony introduced it with a few nails in its coffin already. Let’s talk about those.

First and most importantly is the price. There are two versions of the system, the WiFi for $249 and the WiFi/3G for $299. With the 3G version you have to include the monthly AT&T plan starting at $15 for a paltry 300MB of data. The good news for those bought the 3G version is that there is no contract. Service is month to month, so you activate and cancel it as you wish right from your system. I chose the WiFi since I know I don’t want or need another internet bill in my life.

With the 3G Vita you get an 8GB memory card. But with the WiFi version, you get nada. Zero. Zilch. This means, of course, that before the system is really very usable out of the box, you need to spend even more money, at least $20. Come on Sony, you could have given us at least a 4GB card, this is 2012. Even Nintendo’s 3DS includes a 2GB card, and they’re charging $90 less for the system.

That brings me to another topic: memory cards. Sony has a bad habit of trying to introduce proprietary storage for their devices, and they have always failed. Humanity should learn from their mistakes, but apparently not Sony. They fail with one and introduce another. At the top of my head I can think of Betamax tapes, Mini Discs (although awesome they never caught on), UMD, Memory Sticks and now the Vita memory card. Why couldn’t they go with a universal storage solution like SD or even stay with their Memory Stick Pro Duo as used by PSP? Because they are Sony, that’s why. Don’t even get me started on the price, $100 for a 32GB is purely insane. By way of comparison, I can buy a 32GB SD card for 3DS for $39 at Micro Center, or a MicroSD version for only $10 more.  More importantly, the Vita’s memory cards are actually slower than equivalent MicroSD cards ranging from class 6 to 10. All things considered, Sony has to lower the price of their Vita memory card ASAP if they want a bigger success, or at least include one in every box.

Now on to the games! They are also pricey, ranging from $40 to $50 per title. You have the option of buying the actual game, which comes in a totally different, yet once again proprietary, cartridge, or downloading a digital version for only $5 off the actual physical copy. What? Really Sony, you have to do better than that. I want the Vita to succeed and I am pretty sure you do too, but shaving a meager $5 off the digital copy is just not adequate. The company no doubt saves far more than $5 per copy when they don’t have to provide anything physical, and that should be passed on to the consumer–especially if we’re going to be forced to buy overpriced memory cards.

In summary, out of the box the Vita is almost useless. You do have a camera to play with, as well as a few apps such as chat, map (unnecessary in my opinion–it’s a games console and media player!), a web browser and a few others. But you can’t download anything from the store because the Vita does not have any available internal storage. Yes, you read that right, no available flash memory whatsoever. You have to spend extra for a memory card, unless you buy the 3G version. Once you get the card, downloading is as easy as it is on the PS3. Log in into the PSN, chose your game or app and download away.

The charger is an antiquated three-piece charger. The USB cable, the actual charger and the cable from the charger to the wall. I wish they would have included an Apple style of charger, the USB cable and the little plug, easy and convenient, not to mention commonly and cheaply available.

As I said, these are my first impressions with the new contender in the handheld war. Should you get this amazing yet possible failure unless Sony gets their act together device? I would say, with regret, wait, wait for the inevitable price drop of both the system and the memory cards, if not an outright revision. Sony always produces a “slim” version, and often it winds up with more features at a lower price. By then you will also find the launch games in the bargain bins of your local store. Don’t get me wrong. I love my Vita and I don’t regret getting it, otherwise I could easily return it, I just know that you will get a much better bargain if you are patient.

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