When Sony's PSP successor was announced last year, it was met with a lot of excitement and anticipation. This fervour was readily apparent at last year's E3 trade show in Los Angeles with extremely lengthy lines to play the system at Sony's booth. While we were fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with the black beauty, it wasn't enough to come away with anything more than a vague feeling of what the machine was capable of.

After a brutal six month wait for the Japanese launch on 17th December, we grabbed ourselves an import PlayStation Vita system and a selection of games to go along with it. Having spent the past four weeks putting the system through its paces, we've gotten an opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the system and exactly what it can do.

Out of Box Experience

There aren't a lot of bells and whistles when it comes to the box contents. The system is the bulk of the package and will likely surprise most people with its sheer size: it's a beast, and substantially larger than the PSP. You'll also get the standard AC adapter and USB cable that serves as both the extension of the AC adapter that charges the system and the connection between the Vita and your computer. Mac owners are once again out of luck, as the content manager is required to even connect the system to the computer, let alone move content to and from the system, and this program is only available for the PC.

Last up is the documentation, which is mostly just a couple of quick-start sheets. This isn't too surprising since many companies are moving over to digital manuals nowadays: the English PS Vita manual is online now.

Nice Hardware

There's no two ways about it: PlayStation Vita is a sexy piece of hardware, a fact that's perfectly evident from the moment you remove it from its protective sleeve. While it closely resembles the PlayStation Portable in terms of form factor, it does have a much more rounded appearance to it that Sony's calling the Super Oval Design. Even with its added size, it still remains surprisingly light, something that makes extended playing sessions much easier on the hands.

If there's one aspect of the system that inspires awe, it's the system's 5" OLED screen — no games console has ever had such a clear and vibrant display. Even with the brightness turned all the way down, the screen's still easy to see. All the better to see the Vita's 960x544 high resolution output, meaning you'll get some absolutely striking visuals to behold. As impressive as the screen was on the original PSP, it pales in comparison to Vita's.

Another new addition to the Vita comes in the front and rear cameras. Not only can you use these cameras to snap photos, but they're also quite effective when used by the various augmented reality games. Having played around with the cameras on the DSi and 3DS systems, we were quite impressed with the step up in quality of the Vita cameras.

As far as ports go, there's a port on the bottom of the system that's used for connecting it to the AC adapter and the USB port of your PC. The cartridge port is on top of the unit and features a flush cover that can be rather tricky to get open, especially for those with very short fingernails. The memory card port is on the bottom of the system and features a nice little ridge that makes gaining access to it much easier than the cartridge port. If you thought the Vita cartridges were small, wait until you get a load of the microscopic proprietary memory cards.

Control Freak

When it comes to controls, there's a lot to like with the Vita. For starters, the D-Pad has received a major overhaul and now has a much more indented curvature to it that not only makes it more comfortable on the thumb, but also far more responsive. Fighting game fans will be especially pleased as executing the rolling directional movements required to pull off special moves is extremely smooth now. Sony has also finally answered the pleas of PSP owners by adding not only a second analogue stick, but this time choosing to go with a more traditional tilting-style stick. It doesn't take long to realise what a great decision this was once you start putting a few games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Gravity Rush to the test using these sticks. Even with their shorter tilt range, they feel so much more comfortable and responsive than the PSP's nub.

Two more brand new control features on the Vita revolve around touch controls. The 5" OLED screen serves as a touch screen and exudes a solid level of responsiveness, even allowing for some very pinpoint touching. It takes a little getting used to having to navigate the Vita menu exclusively using the touch screen, but once you get a grip on it, it proves to be quite efficient. The system also features a touch pad on the back of the system that's every bit as responsive as that of the front touch screen. This inclusion is probably the one new feature that will take people the longest to come to grips with, but once you get a taste of how developers are making use of it, you'll begin to understand the potential it brings to the table.

As large as the Vita itself is, it's worth pointing out that the analogue sticks are rather close to the D-Pad and action buttons. While it should feel good for gamers with smaller hands, it might not be as functional for gamers with larger mitts. The same thing can be said of the rear touch pad as it takes up quite a bit of rear real estate, leaving your fingers no place to go but the small rubber indentions on each side. Much like other facets of the system, it's more about finding what method of holding the unit works for you and sticking with it. In truth, it's a small price to pay for what amounts to a wealth of control options that developers will hopefully fully exploit during the system's lifespan.