Power in the palm of your hands

After staring at photos of Sony's upcoming Playstation Vita system for the past few months, there was a certain level of excited anticipation at the prospect of actually getting some hands-on time with the unit at this year's E3 show in Los Angeles. And while I had a wealth of questions about how the unit would feel and perform, my time with the system on the show floor was more than enough to answer the majority of them.

For starters, let me just say that seeing the Playstation Vita system in pictures and witnessing it in person are two completely different things. As sleek as the unit appears in photographs, it's even more dynamic in person. Its larger size was probably the first thing that stood out to me, but finally seeing that second analog stick ended up being every bit as welcome a sight as I had hoped it would be.

When you first pick up and hold the Vita, you immediately notice that, despite the system's larger size, it's actually fairly light in your hands, not to mention features a much smoother and more rounded feel to its form factor. The system also features an indented recess on both the left and right sides of the back of the system for your fingers to grip the system with. But given how close they are to the edges of the system, they're obviously going to be far more useful to gamers with smaller hands, much like myself.

Now we're talking!

While there are quite a few similarities to the layout of the traditional controls, Sony has made quite a few tweaks and additions to the system. For starters, the D-Pad now has a more recessed feel to it and feels quite a bit smoother and more responsive than those found on previous Playstation consoles and the PSP system. And after years of pleading, Sony also finally answered the call and added a second analog stick, even going so far as to make them the tilting variety of analog stick like those found on the Dual Shock controllers. Both sticks have a very smooth action and prove to be extremely responsive, although they are a bit soft as far as resistance goes, something that will likely require some getting used to.

If there's one aspect of the Playstation Vita that stands above the rest, it would have to be the system's absolutely gorgeous 5" OLED screen. Not only is it extremely sharp and bright beyond just about anything I've ever seen on a portable device, it also has an amazing degree of contrast to go along with it. The two Vita titles I was able to demo really jumped off of the screen and looked every bit as good as many of the Playstation 3 releases we've seen to date. And let's not forget that the screen is also a touchscreen, and a very responsive one at that.

Going into the E3 show, one of the biggest head scratchers would have to be the system's rear touch pad. Many people, myself included, wondered how effective a touch pad on the back of the system would be, so it was nice to see Sony showing off a few titles that made good use of it. The touch pad itself is very responsive, but getting used to using it can be a bit tricky, especially since many times you have to remove one of your hands from the system in order to have full access to the entire pad. Some games made better and more efficient use of it than others, but it does show some serious potential for developers who are willing to get creative with it.

Touch and go!

The perks of the system just seem to go on and on as you're playing the unit. The motion controls are outstanding and the graphical capabilities put it easily on par with the Playstation 3 and make it one of the most powerful handheld gaming devices in history. When you toss in the solid launch lineup of games and the extremely affordable $249.99 retail price for the wi-fi unit, you've got a portable game system that should not only appeal to gamers looking for a console-quality experience in the palm of their hands, but also gamers who don't want to spend an arm and a leg for a good dose of gaming on the go.

To say that I came away from my test drive of the Playstation Vita impressed wouldn't truly do justice to the excitement I felt at the prospect of owning such a phenomenal portable gaming device. And if Sony can do a better job of getting games and content on the system that take advantage of its wealth of capabilities, we should see the system give Nintendo's 3DS a run for its money. As impressive as the PSP hardware was back when it was first introduced, the Vita absolutely blows it away.