PS Vita Slim (PCH-2000) Review: Two Steps Forwards, One Step Backwards

By Gerald Lynch on at

The PS Vita sheds its baby fat as Sony looks to go on the offensive with its handheld console, following a surge of goodwill in the wake of the PlayStation 4 launch. This slimline version makes some worthy additions, but also removes one of the Vita’s standout features, swapping out its OLED for an LCD. It’s a compromise, and one that poses a bit of a dilemma for would-be owners.

 

What Is It?

A Wi-Fi-enabled handheld games console with a 5-inch 960x544 touchscreen, twin sticks, a rear touchpad and the ability to play nicely alongside the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 consoles. Under the hood sits a 2GHz Quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor and Quad-core PowerVR SGX543MP4+ graphics, a combination that’s powerful enough to deliver handheld versions of top Sony franchises like Uncharted and Killzone that graphically aren't too far removed from their PS3 counterparts.

 

Who Is It For?

People that want to be able to play home console-quality games on the go, and turn their noses up at the prospect of a smartphone as a credible gaming platform. Gamers who hate 3D, and by extension, the Nintendo 3DS. PlayStation 4 owners who want the complete next-gen experience. There’s nothing here for you if you already own the original Vita, though.

 

Design

The PS Vita was never the most pocketable handheld out there, with its exposed screen and sticky-outy analogue stick pairing, but the Vita Slim does make good on its promise of putting the original handheld on a diet. It’s down to 219g in weight -- a considerable 41g lighter than the Wi-Fi only original Vita, and 60g less than the 3G edition. It’s also slimmer, now measuring 15mm compared to the first Vita’s 18.6mm.

It’s a more consistent design overall, with rounded edges and a fully-black finish as opposed to the angular feel and chrome edging of the original. The rear touchpad is slightly reduced in size too, with recessed areas either side to place your fingers. There’s a handful of welcome improvements elsewhere, including the introduction of a microUSB charging port instead of the evil proprietary one found on the first Vita, and the inclusion of 1GB of built-in storage -- just enough to tick the box marked “upgrade”, but not enough to make Sony’s other proprietary curse, the Vita memory card, obsolete.

However, there’s one undeniably-contentious change in the design. Gone is the first PS Vita’s gorgeous OLED screen, replaced with an IPS LCD. The LCD is still an attractive display, but it’s not as rich as the OLED -- it’s noticeably-less bright, and the colours look slightly muted in comparison. Sony’s reasoning is that battery life is improved and the overall cost is reduced by using an LCD -- the former being seemingly true, the latter not quite so apparent, as we’ll come onto in a bit. This new LCD is affixed with a noticeable join too, compared to the flush-sitting OLED.

The D-Pad, analogue sticks, Square, Circle, Triangle and Cross buttons feel the same as the original Vita (i.e just a little too small, but comfortable enough), whereas the PS, Start and Select buttons are now more rounded than before. I felt the L and R buttons to be more pronounced too thanks to the overall tweaked shape, though it’s a barely-noticeable change.

0.3MP front and rear cameras are again included, and again you’re unlikely to use them often outside of the odd augmented reality game -- there’s a camera app, but the results are disappointing. Even more useless was the top extension port found on the original -- that’s been removed entirely here, which will upset no-one as it was never used.

 

Using It

Though to the eye the Vita Slim’s 15 per cent weight reduction and 20 per cent skinnier profile do not look like pronounced changes, in the hand they are very clearly felt. That’s thanks in part to the the newly-rounded chassis, and that the rear touchpad is now reduced in size, allowing more room for your fingers to rest without accidental-interference with the touch-sensitive areas. It's much easier on the wrists for extended gaming sessions.

Despite the downgrade, the screen is still very pleasant to view, which says more about the high quality of the original Vita display than it does any apparent lack of quality in this new LCD revision. Viewing angles are good, and while the brightness isn’t enough to combat the glare of a sunny day, it fared well under harsh office lighting.

The Vita’s “LiveArea” UI is lovely too. Apps, such as Facebook and Skype, can be downloaded from the PS Store, and are represented by circular orbs alongside games on a series of vertically-swiping homescreens. All can be navigated either through touch, or through the sticks or D-Pad. Horizontal swipes or directional pushes, after a press of the PS button, access apps left open whilst multi-tasking. It’s a fluid and responsive system, which makes jumping around the Vita’s many functions a breeze.

As for the games themselves, there’s something for everyone, from big-hitters like Killzone: Mercenary to indie smashes like Hotline Miami. While the breadth of smartphone gaming content is wider, and the Nintendo 3DS game library is a little more consistent in its quality, the Vita has its hits too. With Sony repositioning it as the go-to platform for indie developers, the Vita’s gaming line-up looks healthier going forward than ever before.

 

Tragic Flaw

Far more than the screen, that 1GB of storage space is terribly disappointing. It’s positively stingy, barely able to house an indie game plus saves, and not enough to store something like Uncharted: Golden Abyss alone. For that, you’ll need to fork out extra for one of the proprietary memory cards, and they are pricey -- you’re looking at £65 for a 32GB card, £25 for a 16GB card and £10 for 4GB. Comparably-sized microSD cards are less than half those prices. With Sony looking to push its digital download titles, more substantial storage space or a move to microSD would have been really appreciated. As it stands, it’s a half-hearted addition.

 

This Is Weird

The PS Store is well stocked, from classic PS One titles to brand new Vita games. But there’s a lack of attention to detail here -- certain views don’t show up pricing, while at first glance some free demos seem to have a price tag attached. Also the distinction between “Mini” titles and “App” games seems perfunctory, while some of the more well-known apps, such as Facebook or Skype, are so well hidden that you wouldn’t even know they were available unless specifically searched for. There’s good content here, but it’s not always clear where to find it.

 

Test Notes

-- Battery life is definitely improved. Sony’s quoted 4 to 6 hours is fair and a marked improvement over the 3 or so you’d squeeze out of the original model. Simply watching video with Wi-Fi switched off, or playing music, will see you get you considerably more than 6 hours out of it too.

-- Remote Play with a PS4 is, for the most part, great. It feels very futuristic to be able to beam a next-gen game to a handheld, and there was no significant input lag in my testing. However...

-- ...Remote Play is hampered by the rear touchpad. I hate the rear touchpad. It’s unresponsive, confounds a comfortable grip and requires a weird claw-like grip to use with any degree of accuracy. If you’re using Remote Play, the PS4 controller’s R2, R3, L2 and L3 buttons are mapped to the touchpad, and it’s a hit-or-miss affair. There was an opportunity here to ease the annoyance a little by making the Vita sticks clickable, but that’s an opportunity missed.

-- There's no sign of a 3G-enabled PS Vita Slim. If you want to play multiplayer games or browse the store away from a Wi-Fi hotspot, you're going to have to hunt down one of the original 3G models.

 

Should You Buy It?

That’s a tough question, once you factor in the Vita Slim’s £180 price tag. Though battery is improved, the screen is a bit of a downgrade. Though there’s the convenience of microUSB charging, the 1GB of storage space onboard is menial.

It’s a good machine then, but not massively improved right across the board over the original Vita. And that two-year old original can now be picked up for around £170...with 10 downloadable games and a 16GB card included in the box. It’s slowly being phased out with the introduction of the Slim (which is admittedly £50 cheaper than the original Vita’s launch price), but for now it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which is the better deal.

 

PS Vita Slim Specs

Price: CIRCA £180
Processor: 2GHz Quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor and Quad-core PowerVR SGX543MP4+ graphics
Screen: 5-inch IPS LCD 960 x 544
Memory: 512MB RAM, 128MB VRAM
Storage: 1GB (supports proprietary memory card expansion)
Camera: 0.3MP rear and front cameras
Battery: 2,210mAh