I waited on the Nintendo 3DS until my wife got it for me for Christmas several months after it had released. In fact she nabbed it for me not too long after the price drop made it a more affordable option. I was interested in the 3DS from the beginning, but questioned the $250 price point it released with.
I have also been following the Sony PlayStation Vita since its initial announcement. Recently my wife picked me up a Vita bundle an additional memory card. It felt to me from day one that the Vita was going to be a more impressive system in terms of hardware, and its price point of $250 and $300 (for the 3G version) seemed a direct threat to the Nintendo 3DS.
It was inevitable that these two handhelds would get compared to one another. Both are trying to dominate in a market that has seen phones and tablets encroach on the mobile gaming market, while releasing around the same time at similar prices. I will be primarily reviewing my impressions of the Vita now that I have had a week and change with it, while probably drawing some parallels to the 3DS as well.
The Vita bundle we got was the Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified one. It comes with a game and a 4GB memory card. The memory card is no small detail as the system needs one - you cannot rely on internal memory. This does widen the price gap between the Vita and the current 3DS pricing. Of course you can get memory cards for the 3DS but you do not need one. More importantly, the 3DS allows you to use any brand of card where as the Vita requires you use a proprietary memory card that is quite expensive - so the $250 and $300 price points can be a bit misleading if you are not aware of the memory card situation.
Personally, I see no real gains in this type of memory card over a more generic one, so I find the cost to be annoying - and it probably kept me from getting a Vita several months ago as opposed to now. I will review the Call of Duty game in another post, but this and the Assassin's Creed bundles are getting harder to find (Gamestop in our area was sold out at all of their stores on both - carrying only the PlayStation Plus bundles). My wife eventually went to Best Buy to nab one of only two remaining Call of Duty ones - they were out of Assassin's Creed as well.
A quick note on the PlayStation Plus - this is an incredible way to start right off with a Vita game library. Between games like Wipeout, Uncharted and even some of the mini and PSP games I have acquired for free, I started with a very large collection of games. I got the 32GB memory card (which is down a couple of gigs for operational space right off of the bat) - and it is a good thing as I have only 13GB remaining at this point.
So - the system itself. The operating system is nice, with an app-like view that will be familiar to anyone who uses tablets or smartphones on a regular basis. With the sheer number of games I have alread, I have filled up most of the pages on the Vita, which could be a concern down the road if you are a cyber pack rat like me. Eventually you can fill those pages up and have to pick and choose what you want to have installed on the system.
The operating system is fast and intuitive. I never read any directions, and immediately started using it before I made use of the app/game that teaches you how to use the touch screens (front and back) as well as other perks of the system (like the camera). The way it ties into the PlayStation Network is very nice as I can receive messages and see friends online, just like I would if I was using my PlayStation 3 instead.
The layout of the Vita should look familiar to anyone who has used a PlayStation DualShock controller. The sticks are a bit lower to the device than a controller, which makes it just a bit uncomfortable for some games that try to have you doing a lot of things at once for a long period of time, but it is certainly no less comfortable for me than using a 3DS. The buttons both on the face and the shoulders seem very sturdy and responsive. The touchscreens both work well as you swipe and poke your way through some games. I am not the biggest fan of poking my gaming screen, but at least when you do it works well - but the front screen picks up on smudges really easily.
Like the 3DS, the Vita also has motion tracking built into it. I really do not get much use out of that functionality in my 3DS to this point, so I have a hard time seeing this being a big selling point for most people using a Vita. The technology behind it seems solid, but developers will have to be creative in implementing uses for it.
The screen, while it can smear somewhat easily, is gorgeous. I mean, absolutely gorgeous. The Vita is incredibly detail, bright and vivid. The 5 inch OLED display is far superior to any other gaming device. The 3DS has smaller screens - but also can difficult to view at times. A television is generally set into place while a mobile device gets moved around in relation to your body and position. The 3DS as a result often requires strict viewing angles - especially if you play your games with the 3D setting on. When I brought my Vita into work for coworkers to look at, they were all very impressed with the clarity and the wide range of viewing angles it presented.
The audio is excellent. Even with the volume only about halfway up, I had people commenting on how nice the music sounded from about four or five feet away from where another coworker was playing Wipeout at my desk over lunch.
I only have the Wi-Fi model, but it picks up the internet in my house as easily as any other system, seems snappily responsive with online functionality and was very easy to set up on my wireless network.
The camera is of middling quality, really. It is not as good as the one on my iPhone 4 and honestly does not even seem as good as the one found on my 3DS. It is not necessarily a bad camera, but unless a game integrates the camera's use specifically, I cannot see myself using the Vita for any kind of photography when I have a smaller, better device in my phone.
Battery life is pretty solid. The first night I got it, I used it out of the box without charging it for about three hours while constantly downloading and installing games and apps. Since then, i would say the fully charged Vita lasts for about four to five hours of heavy gameplay and it charges rather quickly on top of that.
I work for a software company and the people in my department enjoy their electronic toys and gadgets. There are a lot of very heavy cell phone users, gamers and tablet owners in this group and the Vita was a hit with all of them. That being said? The price point is still a substantial barrier for entry as at least two-thirds of them said they thought it was sweet - but not something they could justify dropping nearly $350 on.
That said, my coworker who was playing Wipeout went and bought one the next day - and is selling his 3DS on Ebay to help recoup some of those costs. I will be keeping my 3DS and Vita of course, but I have to say that the Vita feels like it has better long term potential than the 3DS for me personally.
I never put a review score on my thoughts on the 3DS earlier this year, but if I had I would probably have given the system an 8. The games that were out at the time were excellent however, giving the 3DS a strong library to choose from right out of the gate. I would score the Vita's hardware a 9 - I think it is better than the 3DS on that front. Unfortunately the game library is not there yet after roughly the same time between when it released and when I acquired it. There are some standouts so far, but there is room for growth as well.