A week with the Playstation Vita: how does it hold up?

Last week I shared my 'out of the box' hands-on thoughts about the Playstation Vita, Sony's new handheld gaming device which is launching today (an early bundled package has been available since last week). Today I wanted to update those thoughts based on a week of ownership.

There's no getting around it, the biggest issue with the Vita is the cost. The Vita itself will set you back $250 (WiFi only) or $300 (3G/WiFi). These prices seem reasonable considering all the features stuffed into the Vita, but you're not getting out of the store until you spend more. At the very least you're going to need a memory card, which will set you back at least another $20. That's for a 4 GB card and it should be OK if all you want to do is have a place for your save game files, but if you want to download digital software and carry around media with you, you'll want to spend more. $30 gets you 8 GB, $60 gets you 16 GB and $100 gets you 32 GB. They aren't cheap.

(It's worth noting that there's a launch bundle that includes a 3G/WiFi Vita and and 8 GB memory card for $300, so you're getting the memory card for free. But supplies are limited. Some retailers are also putting together their own bundles, so do your research before buying. I believe Amazon is giving away a 4 GB card with the WiFi Vita, for instance.)

Of course you're probably going to want a game to play, and that'll cost you $15-$50. A case will cost you $20 or so, though I know folks who've improvised on that. One guy says he's using a sock and it works great! If you want to get really fancy you might want a cradle ($20) or the official Vita earbuds/microphone ($20).

Bottom line, a 'no frills' WiFi Vita/game package is going to cost at least $300 and if you want a really nice 3G Vita setup with lots of storage space, a case, a cradle and a couple of games you can easily hit $500. In my case I spent $350 on the First Edition Bundle that released last week, $60 on a 16 GB memory card, $20 on a cradle, $20 on the 'official' earbuds and $15 on a second USB cable to leave connected to my PS3 and/or PC. Those last 3 were all definitely optional but I was going for the full-on Vita experience (it's been years since I had the fun of buying a new console), but any way you cut it the Vita isn't cheap.

The good news is that a few outlets, including Amazon, are offering buy 2, get 1 free deals on Vita games, and that's a great way to jump start your library.

My other big concern with the Vita is wireless speed. Downloading content from the Playstation Store seems incredibly slow. How slow? A demo of Unit 13 was going to take at least 2 hours on the Vita (I say at least because that "120 minutes remaining" wasn't going down as fast as it should) but took 5 minutes on the Playstation 3. I don't have a large enough sample size to talk about this authoritatively — it might be something specific to my wireless router — but it's something to be aware of as a possible issue. If you own a PS3 it's an easy problem get around. Download on the PS3 and transfer to the Vita.

[Update: Over on Google+ a user told me it took him 10 minutes to download that Unit 13 demo on his Vita, so this looks like it isn't a systemic problem. For the record I'm using a Verizon FiOS-supplied ActionTec router. Would love to gather more data from Vita owners on this issue.]

Let's move on from the negatives. Regular readers know I'm a gamer and playing computer & video games is my main leisure activity. Since buying the Vita I've been using it almost exclusively for my gaming (I snuck in one session of Kingdoms Of Amalur on the PC Saturday evening, went to bed at about midnight and fired up Uncharted: Golden Abyss and played until almost 3 am). For the most part I've been playing Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Lumines: Electronic Symphony and Mod Nation Racers: Road Trip. I'm loving the Vita enough that I take it to work and sneak off at lunch to play a bit. Clearly in the course of a week I haven't finished any of the three, but so far I've found that they're all really enjoyable. Plug in a decent pair of ear buds and find a cozy dark corner to relax in and you will lose yourself in Vita gaming. Whether that's good or bad, I can't say. I've been suffering with sleep deprivation for the past week, myself: "Just one more game/level/race" has kept me up far too late.

What's really surprising is that I have 3 really good launch games to play and there are others that I'm told are worth playing and that I haven't had a chance to try. I've used Amazon's deal to order Rayman Origins, Hot Shots Golf and Wipeout 2048. The launch lineup is really incredible with something for nearly every gamer out there and a couple of solid choices for most of us.

Of course will the strong launch lineup lead into a strong and consistent release schedule? That we won't know for a while. But these six games (seven if you include the charming Escape Plan that I downloaded for $15) will carry me for a long while.

Beyond the games is the social system: Near. Despite the name, Near works its magic with your friends list as well as people nearby. I've been trading collectibles in both Uncharted and MNR with the few people on my Friends list who have their Vitas and I'm really looking forward to launch and to see how this all plays out when there are more units out there. Near does also work with gamers in your area; mine seems to seek people up to 6 miles away. Privacy concerns? Don't worry, you can turn that all off. Near really deserves a post of its own so I'll refer you to Chris Smith of Levelcapped who has done a nice write-up of the service.

I haven't done any head-to-head multiplayer on the Vita yet, but I'm appreciating asynchronous multiplayer aspects like leader boards. Lumines in particular does a nice job with this. They have a 'World Cube' community-game that can result in bonuses for all Lumines players if the community as a whole can beat it (basically by playing lots of Lumines).

I still don't have the Netflix app (it hit the Playstation Store overnight and I haven't had a chance to install it) but I have downloaded a few videos to the Vita and that OLED screen does an awesome job of playing them back. I can't wait to get some good Netflix-delivered sci-fi playing on the handheld.

So bottom line, should you buy a Vita? That's hard to say. You're going to spend a lot of money for one of these things and we all know that as a console ages the prices drop and the library gets better. It pretty much depends on how much you want a Vita. If you're really itching for one, then I say go for it: I don't have the slightest shred of buyer's remorse and I'm having an absolute blast with it. Gaming is all about having fun and the the Playstation Vita is definitely delivering the fun.

On the other hand, if you're on the fence, well, the Vita is a serious investment and it never hurts to wait; I have a hunch Sony will do something to goose sales for the Christmas season, whether that be an actual price cut or (more likely) some sweet bundle deals. By then the launch games I'm enjoying now will have enjoyed a price cut, too. If Vita ownership is too rich for you blood now, the Fall might be a better time to buy.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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