I’ve had my PS Vita, the earlier OLED model (PCH-1000), since August 2013 and have been happy with it — albeit with a few minor quibbles. The Vita was released in December 2011, and it’s proven to be a sustaining piece of hardware. Sales have not have been Earth shattering Sony, but the Vita found a place among dedicated gamers that preferred physical controls over pure touch. Sony is leading the industry with superior support for independent game developers, a cue companies like Nintendo can learn from.
Hardware and design improvements
The largest complaint I have with the PCH-1000 model is battery life. Portable devices, such as handheld gaming consoles, smartphones, or notebook computers, spend the majority of their life not plugged into AC power, thus low power consumption has to be a priority. Sadly, the Vita I bought last summer didn’t meet my expectations in this key area. In November last year, Sony released a refreshed design, launching first in Japan, with a May 2014 release date in North America.
The quad-core ARM CPU and GPU remain the same in Sony’s latest offering, however, internal memory has been doubled to 1GB. This is the only major internal hardware upgrade, which translates into the same level of performance we’ve been accustomed to. A dramatic size reduction in logic board and other internal components has allowed for a much thinner, and more comfortable to hold, console. Battery life is significantly better, as you should get at least an extra hour of continuous use from the previous iteration (six up from five hours). The move to a LED display has stirred up quite a lot of controversy since its announcement. Before anyone had the opportunity to try it out, many Vita fans denounced it as being inferior. It’s well known that people loved the deep blacks and vibrant colours of the OLED (myself included). Over the years, IPS technology has made its way into LCD panels, which has drastically improved colour reproduction and increased viewing angles. Personally, I wasn’t too worried about the move to LCD — in fact, I welcomed it. LCD panels draw less power than OLED, so I can only imagine this was the impetus behind the change in display technology. As far as the display is concerned, I don’t see a dramatic difference between the OLED and LCD variant. OLED colours are arguably tad exaggerated, so this is something I can live with.
I never found the old model uncomfortable — I’ve been able to do two hour long gaming sessions without any signs of strain. When you place the PCH-2000 next to the PCH-1000, you will be struck with awe at the difference in thickness. The old model looks absolutely gargantuan comparatively speaking.
The PCH-2000 has much better battery life and is incredibly thin, but that doesn’t mean Sony had no time to make a few other aesthetic tweaks. The PlayStation home, select, and start buttons have a nice convex shape to them, which makes them much easier to press (I found it irritating that these buttons were flush with the chassis in the 2011 model). Inputs received an update treatment as well: the proprietary “multiuse” USB based charging cable has been replaced with micro USB, which is a notable change. I admit that micro USB is much nicer, as I have plenty of extra cables lying around the house, however, as a standard, it’s a horrible connector. Apple’s lighting connector is by far my favourite design, as it matters not what direction you orient it. The infamous unused “accessory” port located at the top has also been obliterated.
The exterior edges have been considerably rounded, which is quite a stark contrast from the hard-edged, and somewhat sharp, first generation version. The build materials have changed, and while I’ll say they’re not bad, I prefer metal over plastic.
The plastics used have a quality tactile texture. It doesn’t feel cheap, but is somewhat less reassuring in the accidental drop department. The old model had an aluminium band surrounding the exterior, similar to the iPhone 4/4s design. The materials are slightly grippy, which remind me of the rear panel of the newest Nexus 7 tablet. Certain compromises were made to keep costs down, which is admirable, but those compromises have some negative impact, namely in sturdiness. My older Vita felt incredibly resilient. I could drop that thing and not worry about it. This all plastic model does not give me the same kind of confidence.
The rear touch pad has been reduced in size, which I think was an excellent design choice. Not every game supported the rear touch pad, but for games that did such as Tearaway, often I found myself accidentally tapping the pad as I tried to grip my Vita. The inset rear rubber grips have received a surface area increase, which go a long way toward adding additional comfort. Lastly, I’m pleased to see Sony has banished the glowing PlayStation home button.
Overall, there are many design improvements to like and others less so. I’m perplexed at the decision to make the edges of the display visible. The old model, in comparison to the current one, has cleaner lines; the display is hidden beneath the surface of the front plate cover. The designers have broken it up by exposing where the display starts and ends, which I’m not a fan of. Sony generally does a pretty good job with design, but I can’t help but look at their work through the lens of Apple — they continue to be the best example of obsessive attention to detail, and I expect better.
The retail price of the slim Vita is the exact same price of the previous model, which in North America is $199 for the WiFi model. With mobile gaming on smartphones taking a big piece of the dedicated console pie, I can only assume Sony wants to keep the price of the Vita in near impulse purchase territory. For pricing reasons, its breadth of quality indie and big budget game library, and remote play/second-screen functionality on the PS4, I anticipate Vita’s future will be bright.