Hardware Review: PS Vita Slim - Screen if You Wanna Go Faster
Posted by Damien McFerran
Slimmer, lighter, better?
Hardware revisions are a fact of gaming life; as manufacturers find new ways to cut costs and reduce their overheads, we invariably see new iterations hit the market in the hope that new consumers can be drawn in by the allure of fresh tech and hefty discounts. However, such revisions can come with significant drawbacks; Sony's refresh of the PlayStation 3 famously removed backwards capability with the PlayStation 2, while the PSP E-1000 did away with wireless functionality, making it the handheld that no one bought (or, it could be argued, even remembers).
With this in mind, it's clear that Sony is taking a risk with its redesign of the struggling PlayStation Vita handheld. The console hasn't been the commercial smash-hit that the company had hoped for, although there's still time to turn things around, PSP-style. The Vita is popular with indie developers, and the appealing design, excellent interface options, and powerful technology contained within all make for an alluring product, even this long after launch. A hardware refresh that shaves off both weight and cost is just what the doctor ordered, right?
Sony has certainly ensured that the PS Vita Slim lives up to its name. It feels almost impossibly svelte when compared to the comparatively plump original, and has shed over 40 grams during its remodelling. The overall design has changed, too – gone are the sharp, faux-metallic edges, replaced by a soft-touch matte finish with rounded curves which make the system a lot more comfortable to hold. These reductions in size and weight – along with a change of design – make the Slim easier on your arms when gaming for prolonged periods.
In terms of buttons, things remain largely the same. The power, start, and select keys are now circles as opposed to ovals and are slightly raised, making them easier to locate in a rush. Every other element is pretty much identical to how it was on the original Vita – the rear touchpad feels a little more awkward to interact with thanks to the thinner nature of the console, but that could just be our own personal experience – depending on the size of your hands, you could well find this model makes it easier to reach this under-used aspect of the system.
When it comes to media ports, Sony has tinkered quite dramatically. The memory card slot is now located on the bottom edge of the device, while the game card bay remains largely where it was originally. Replacing cards is still a fiddly process, and not something that you'll want to do on a busy train or bus, but at least you know there's little danger of your precious games being accidentally ejected and lost – something which is always a frightening possibility on Nintendo's rival 3DS system.
A thoroughly welcome change is the removal of the proprietary data and charging connection, and its replacement by an industry-standard Micro USB port. This is the same connection that is used on practically every mobile phone and tablet device out there that isn't made by Apple, and potentially means you could leave the house with just a single charger for all of your mobile tech. Another addition is 1GB of internal storage, which remedies that irksome issue with the original Vita model where the console was essentially useless unless you purchased a memory card with it.
Finally, there's improved stamina to consider. The original Vita is still an impressive slice of cutting-edge tech, and as a result it's something of a battery drainer. Sony insists that the Slim adds an additional hour of play time – despite the reduced size of the bodywork – and our tests seem to support this. The original console would usually give up the ghost after about five or so hours, but the Slim was able to make it past the six hour mark, and – in some cases – even go beyond that. Battery life is still clearly an issue for the hardware (gone are the days when handhelds like the Bandai WonderSwan could happily operate on a single AA battery for 40 hours), but it's good to see that some advances have been made in this revision.
For all of the positive elements that Sony has included in the Slim, there are some major drawbacks to consider. The most glaringly obvious is the screen – gone is the jaw-droppingly gorgeous OLED panel which graced the original version, and in its place is a comparatively drab IPS LCD display. The reasons behind this change are sound – OLED tech is still expensive, and to cut costs Sony clearly had to consider swapping the panel for a cheaper alternative. The issue here is that the LCD screen – while perfectly acceptable when compared to the vast majority of portable devices – is vastly inferior to its OLED counterpart. Colours are duller, blacks aren't as deep, and motion isn't anywhere near as smooth. Viewed on its own the Slim's display is fine, but when placed alongside a Mark I Vita, the difference is like night and day.
Another problem actually lies with something that Sony has added to this iteration – that 1GB of memory. This might sound like a generous figure compared to the "zero" amount of space showcased by the first Vita, but it's almost criminally tight-fisted in this day and age. We live in an era where even the cheapest Android smartphone or tablet can muster at least 8GB of memory, yet Sony feel its consumers can make do with just a single gigabyte. This is useful for save games and small indie titles, but is totally inadequate for retail downloads, which often take up two or even three times that amount of memory. Taking this into account, you'll still need to pony up the cash for a memory card – so Sony hasn't really solved that particular problem at all.
Sticking with the topic of memory, Sony's choice is almost unfathomable —–the Vita is becoming a real hotbed of download goodness these days, with the likes of Hotline Miami, Spelunky, and Thomas Was Alone all being essential downloads. The console is competing with the likes of the iPad and Nexus 7, both of which have large amounts of on-board memory, so why not build that into the Vita and make it a download gaming behemoth to be reckoned with? Cost will be one reason, but memory is so cheap – and the benefits so considerable – that it would have been worth doing. As such, the Slim's new RRP of around £180 should really be pushed up to over £200, as you're duty-bound to buy one of Sony's expensive proprietary memory cards practically at the point of purchase.
Speaking of the retail price, £180 doesn't seem like a big enough drop to justify losing the OLED display – irrespective of the on-board memory and slimmer, lighter chassis. While retailers will discount that price and add in free bundled items, something closer to £150 would have arguably made more sense, given the Vita's lacklustre position in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market. You could argue that with the technically inferior 3DS XL currently selling for around the same amount, Sony's price tag is bang on – but the 3DS is riding the crest of a wave right now, and isn't desperate to gain the attention and support of disinterested players. The Vita needs to win people over, and a significantly lower cost would have done that to a degree.
As it stands, the PS Vita Slim is still an attractive machine, with an excellent form factor, lightweight body, and an impressive library of titles – some of which are the best indie efforts currently available in today's market. What makes this refresh such a disappointment is that Sony has removed one of the best elements – that lush OLED screen – and has once again forced players down the road of having to buy expensive memory cards that can only be used with this console. Moving forward, it's hard to see how the Slim is going to win over unconvinced buyers – especially at this price point – and ironically, it could end up pushing the value of the original model, which is sure to become a sought-after product thanks to its superior screen.
Are you planning to upgrade to the latest iteration of the Vita, or will you be sticking with the original model for the foreseeable future? Shed a stone in the comments section below.