Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve no doubt heard rumblings about a new PlayStation Portable. Originally codenamed the NGP (Next Generation Portable), Sony’s new handheld was officially revealed as the PlayStation Vita at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2011. The new handheld gaming system claims to be almost as good as a current generation console in your hands, and it definitely seems to be a valid claim so far.
The handheld looks very similar to the design of the original PSP, but sports new interactive functionality. Most notably these include a front and rear touchscreen, and a long awaited second analog stick. The 5-inch OLED (organic light emitting diode) touchscreen looks fantastic, and is definitely a sight to behold. After a couple of hours with the device, you will start to feel like your smartphone screen is too small. The 960 x 544 resolution panel allows for touch interaction via the capacitive touch method, as does the rear touch panel, which is what you find in current smartphones. in comparison, Nintendo’s 3DS and DS use the resistive method, meaning you can use anything to interact with the screen rather than requiring skin contact.
On the right side of the screen you’ll find the standard PlayStation face buttons, the start and select buttons, a front-facing camera and a right-analog stick. On the left hand side you’ll find the d-pad, the left-analog stick and the PlayStation button. The face buttons and the d-pad are now digital buttons, meaning they are can be either on or off, unlike the original PSP and PlayStation 3 controllers where the face buttons are analog. This means that they feel “clicky” like the buttons on the PSPgo, and the RB and LB shoulder buttons on the Xbox 360 controller. It takes a while to get used to this feel, but it doesn’t feel too bad. The shoulder buttons on the Vita still have an analog feel, so if there is a use for this feature, it will most likely be mapped to this button, for example in racing games.
The analog sticks have also been improved, rather than being a small, flat nub, you now get two fully featured analog sticks, albeit very small sticks, but sticks nonetheless. The only problem here is that the sticks protrude quite a bit, so you won’t be carrying the device around in your (extra-large) pocket without a carry case. The face buttons are all a lot smaller too, but they won’t hinder the gameplay in any way. It is also worth noting that the start and select buttons are a little too small, and are quite difficult too press when you are in the middle of a game. However, if you do need to pause a game, the PlayStation button does provide similar functionality. There is a power on/off button on the top, as well as PlayStationVita game card port, an accessory port and the volume buttons.
Sony has gotten rid of the sliding power on/off and Wifi buttons that you found on the PSP, and the alternatives are much better. You can simply hold the power button for a few seconds and select switch off on the Vita’s touchscreen in order to switch off the device. Wifi can be switched on and off through the operating system at a software rather than hardware level. Although these changes seem minor, they make a huge difference to the way you play games, because there were times when you would play the PSP and accidentally switch off the device due to the unfortunate placement of the buttons. Talking of improvements from the PSP, the speakers are now on the face of the handheld, rather than at the bottom, giving a much more clear audio experience.