Sony Corp.’s Playstation Vita is a hardware beast that pummels a full console experience into the portable space. With enough technology to compete with a home system, the handheld incurs some overall damage in a battle for hardware supremacy.

The PS Vita yields a super oval design that is wider and thicker than the PSP. The front is dominated by a gorgeous 5-inch 960 x 544 qHD OLED touch-screen display and flanked by an agile D-pad, four face buttons, left and right analog sticks, left and right triggers, and front camera. The back is covered with a glossy rear touch screen and small indentations to notch the left and right fingers.

Playstation Vita

At 9.2 ounces for the Wi-Fi SKU and 9.8 ounces for the 3G SKU, the hardware is lightweight and fine to hold with one hand for touch-based games.

The PS Vita is armed for battle with a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore CPU, quad-core GPU, 512MB RAM, 128MB VRAM, along with a gyroscope, accelerometer, and Bluetooth. The 3G SKU offers a SIM Card slot and GPS functionality. Flash-based games and memory allow the entire unit to yield a firm and solid stature.

The PS Vita LiveArea OS is the best operating system software developed by Sony on any electronics device. The UI offers large icons, touch-functionality, multitasking, and integration to online services like the Playstation Network and Playstation Store. New apps create a new icon on the home screen, and all icons can be rearranged or deleted with a hold-down press.

From the home screen, the PS button will display up to five active applications. Active applications can be paused with the PS button and an intermediate screen allows users to reenter the app, close the app, or swipe to other active apps. Each open app will relay an icon at the top status bar for a quick indicator of active applications.

In addition, each app has a sub-menu to smartly access other options, including the instruction manual, DLC content, or a related website.

Built-in apps like near and Party offer new social functionality, though the Friends and Group Chat functions only connect online when the app is in use and does not prompt with live notifications. The Playstation Store at launch offers an impressive array of PS Vita launch games for download, from full retail SKUs to demos to video content.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

With some original and port launch titles, the PS Vita deftly offers a full console experience in a portable. First-party title Uncharted: Golden Abyss by Bend Studios is the definitive PS Vita launch title, with near-PS3 graphics and gameplay that utilizes all hardware functions, from touch-based melee battles, rear touch panel climbing, gyroscopic shooting, and dual-analog shooting action.

Third-party titles like Capcom Co.’s Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 demonstrates how publishers can port full console titles without breaking a sweat.

All that processing power comes at a cost. The PS Vita battery life is between only three to five hours with consistent use between games. It fares far worse when downloading content from the Playstation Store, with Wi-Fi functionality that drains battery life with each downloaded megabyte.

The 5-inch capacitive touch screen is very accurate and perfect for casual touch-based games. Though the super wide shape of the PS Vita makes it difficult to swipe or type near the center of the screen with either thumb. It’s also not built to withstand scratches unlike today’s smartphones built with Gorilla Glass.

Other faults include a cheap game card cover that needs some force to pull open and a clunky three-part AC adapter.

The largest weak point for the PS Vita at launch is its price tag. At $249.99 for the Wi-Fi SKU and $299.99 for the 3G SKU, the hardware is currently a must-have for core game fans only. Though the hardware offers impressive touch-based titles, there is nothing in the current lineup that would justify a casual consumer to ditch their smartphone or tablet for a PS Vita.

With declining sales in Japan, a slow global economy, and cheap smartphone and tablet titles, the PS Vita has an uphill battle to fight. The hardware is slick, the interface is smart, and the console-like experience is unparalleled. But it will take a hefty supply of core content, cheap casual titles, and swift price cuts for the PS Vita to be a true gamechanger.

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