A quad-core processor and quad-core graphics processor power the impressive graphics, which show up wonderfully on the 5-inch display, which is the best looking handheld gaming display I've ever seen. Everything looks good on the Vita -- the operating system, the games, movies streamed from Netflix, or photos viewed on Facebook (the Vita has apps for that).
Flickr, Foursquare, and Twitter (through a Sony-built LiveTweet app) can be found on the Vita as well. The presence of these apps, of course, is a nod to the growing influence of smartphones on gaming. Consoles, portable or not, have to incorporate social networking options, and the best example of this on the Vita is Sony's Near app.
Tap open Near on the Vita's home screen and you're taken into an app that can map out other Vitas nearby so you can see what others are playing and saying about games. Want to find someone to race with in Wipeout 2048? Near can help.
But the Vita isn't all innovation and upside. The biggest drawback is the entry price.
The Vita itself starts at $249. Want 3G capability? The price goes to $299, and data plans, which are only available from AT&T, run $15 a month for 20 megabytes of data or $25 a month for 2 gigabytes of data. That might seem like a fair price for a brand-spanking new console that's only been in U.S. stores for a few weeks.
But that's not where the costs end. Every Vita needs a proprietary Vita Memory Card. A 4-gigabyte card sells for about $24.99; a 32-gigabyte card goes for $99.99. Many games require a Vita Memory Card to store your progress, and the card stores downloaded apps, movies and TV shows from the Vita's built-in PlayStation Store.
If you load music, photos and other media onto your Vita from a PC, that data also goes onto your Vita Memory Card. Games vary in price, from $25 to $50, depending on whether you're downloading a game or buying a title on a game card. While downloadable games are cheaper, they're stored on the Vita Memory Card.
These memory cards are going to fill up quickly -- that's a scary thought at $100 apiece.
Battery life is another low point for the Vita. In using the system over the last couple of weeks, I got between three and five hours of battery life depending on what I was playing. That's fine for me, considering on most days I don't have much more time than that to play the Vita after work. But on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, you'd have a dead Vita before you land. That's a limitation that makes the Vita a lot less portable than I would like.
And the built-in cameras, while awesome for augmented reality games such as Little Deviants, aren't good for taking photos or shooting videos. With just 0.3-megapixel resolution, every photo and video I captured was muddy, low resolution (640 x 480 pixels) and either too dark or overexposed. The Vita won't replace your smartphone camera or point-and-shoot.
Every one of the launch titles I tried -- about 15 of the 20 available -- had painfully long load times. Though there are some fantastic games available, it remains to be seen whether Sony can sell enough Vitas to keep developers making great games. If they can, I expect load times to lessen as developers learn how to take advantage of the Vita's hardware.
The best portable?
The bottom line is that terrible cameras and overpriced memory cards aren't enough to hold back the Vita's innovative controls, cross play feature and PlayStation 3-rivaling graphics. This is a device that the hardcore gamer will love and that the avid smartphone gamer should appreciate as well.
Overall, the Vita is the best portable gaming system I've ever used.