Reader Review: PlayStation Vita Software

It has to be said -- this is one of the most in-depth reviews I've seen in the history of reader reviews. BlueMaxima has already talked about the PS Vita itself, this time he's discussing the software itself -- how everything handles, the user interface, etc. If you're thinking about picking up a PS Vita, this is a great resource. Nicely done Mr Maxima!

PlayStation Vita Software

So you’ve heard my opinion on the Vita’s sleek black soul sucker of a shell; now it’s time to hear about that lovely touch-friendly side, the software. Does it gleam and zoom like a Formula 1 car or does it beep its horn as it drives by as a Volkswagen Beetle?

Loved

UI Usability: While the Vita's LiveArea interface looks like something a 7 year old would whip up, I'll lose multiple bets if the thing isn't usable. The screen is an absolute dream to whisk your finger across, multiple screens of apps can be scrolled through in a breeze, multitasking is easy and other actions in general are crystal clear and natural.

Media Playback: Photos look amazing on the screen of the Vita. Music can be played in the background of almost any game, something that we've been doing on our mobiles for years. And 360p videos downloaded from YouTube and upscaled on the Vita's screen look better than DVDs. The video player can even handle 720p video without choking up. It's just amazing what the Vita can perform.

PlayStation Network: The friends list is simple and approachable, Group Messaging is easy to get your head around, it's incredibly easy to check your trophies and compare them to another player's, and there's plenty of fun to be had in Parties. Individual games have lists of activities so you can see what your friends have been doing in that game, from setting highscores and finding loot to getting trophies. And most of this performs surprisingly well over a Vita's 3G connection.

PSP Games: Over half the PSP library on the PSN works on the Vita, and with impressive results. Graphics look better and games run faster on the Vita, the ability to use the right analog stick as a replacement for the face buttons or D-Pad is a godsend, and battery life is surprisingly longer when playing a PSP game. Now if only they'd get around to fixing up PS1 classics...

PS Store: The Vita has its own form of the PlayStation Store and it's easy to navigate, purchase and download content. It's slick and easy to use, and strips it down to the bare basics - you're given the option to browse by category, new releases or most popular downloads, everything is sorted simply and easily, and downloads (at least on Wi-Fi) are generally a lot faster than the PSP ever was.

Welcome Park: As the initial "game" that comes with the Vita Welcome Park does a good job in showing off the system. Simple but enjoyable graphics, easy to understand tutorials, covering every set of controls (except for the buttons) and collectible trophies to introduce new players to the concept are all included, and combined correctly in a way that makes this one of the best introductions Sony could have made for the Vita in general.

Near's Non-Proximity Features: While the main purpose of Near falls flat on its face (see Hated) there are parts of it that work genuinely well based off your PSN friends list. You can see how many people are playing what (I had 19 people playing the Unit 13 demo and 8 playing Lumines, for example) and they / you can add differing emoticons describing their experience, and you’ll see it in a little pie chart. You’ll even get the opportunity to share “Game Goods” with your friends, which are little goodies that you can download for your games (for example, parts for Modnation Racers, ghosts to challenge in Rayman Origins, extra costumes for Marvel vs Capcom, etc.) Kinda sucks that they expire after a few days.

Hated

Near’s Proximity Functions: Let's get one thing clear - I am a fan of what Near tried to do. But, it failed in its execution. Very badly.

To explain why the main idea of Near fails, especially for Australians, I am required to explain a few things. Near is advertised as a form of social network where you can not only hook up with your friends, but with people near you who own a Vita. However, for this to work on WiFi-only models, the Vita uses a system called Skyhook, where nearby wireless LAN hotspots are used to calculate your position.

While there may be wireless hotspots in the big capital cities that are registered on Skyhook, in a backwater country town like mine there are pretty much no hotspots to speak of for this to actually work. You can "register" your own hotspot as part of the Skyhook network...but this takes weeks. So your only option is to go outside on an extremely sunny day and hold your 3G Vita to the sky similar to that famous scene of the Lion King, and pray that it picks up the GPS signal, at which point you can’t see the screen due to lots of glare. The days it did pick up a GPS signal, it put me several streets away from where I actually was.

Doesn't matter though; there were no people with Vitas around there anyway. (foreveralone?)

So I eventually just had to default to my friends list; there were a lot more people I could test it with over the internet…which kind of defeats the purpose of the proximity functions, doesn’t it? I mean, the main idea of Near was that you could hook up with local gamers, but I eventually just dropped down to net friends. I have no words to describe this. This probably works perfectly in Japan and somewhat well in the US, but Australians, as always, get shafted. I’d like to point out that turning on the auto-update function may have been responsible for my Vita crashing a couple of times as well. Just saying.

Content Manager: Sigh, long gone have the days where it's possible to just plug a PSP in and move MP3s and photos to the memory stick willy-nilly. But no, I have to go and download software on PC just to get some movies onto my Vita.

I’d also like to point out that not only does your Vita need to be the latest firmware to use the software, you have to be on the internet at the time to actually transfer content on said PC, so it can confirm this. Surprisingly I can back up savegames and such on the memory card to my hard drive - I thought Sony would be a little more paranoid about this - but it still doesn't beat the PSP's USB connection mode.

Browser: In an age where my phone's browser can get a browser test score equal to my PC's web browser; surely a more powerful device than my phone would be able to at least somewhat match the performance. But no, loading is slow, scrolling is sluggish and it fails to support even basic HTML5 and Flash functions making it unable to do something like browse YouTube. Sony really should fix this right away. Either that or offer me a dedicated YouTube app. I want my videos!

Remote Play: Attempting to hook this up to my PlayStation 3 was quite easy; however the performance and quality of the experience was not even close to what I would expect. None of my PS3 games would work, nor would my PSN games. The only game that I got to work was the PSX classic Syphon Filter, and it was cropped to an annoyingly small window with obvious quality degradation comparable to 360p streaming video, and a lot of input lag. The distance between my Vita and my PS3 was about (unobstructed) four feet. Unacceptable.

With the unfortunate mis-step of having Near’s main idea tripping over our little island and some other slightly crippled areas of functionality, the Vita’s strengths AND weaknesses seems to want to focus us on the portable gaming and not using this as a global media device. I can’t say I have too much of a problem with this - this is supposed to be a portable console after all - but while there are issues that do need to be sorted out, everything else on the Vita glides along without a hitch, and using this software for gaming and purely gaming can’t really get more of a recommendation from me.


Comments

    So now that this is published, I'm willing to answer questions about stuff I haven't covered in the Vita hardware and software reviews. Ask away!

    And also, the next review will be Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but after that I'm not sure. I have the following games:

    -Lumines Electronic Symphony
    -Wipeout 2048
    -Hot Shots Golf (also known as Everybody's Golf)
    -Dungeon Hunter Alliance
    -Rayman Origins
    -Super Stardust Delta
    -Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
    -Unit 13 (I'll be picking this up launch day)
    -Motorstorm RC (same with this one)

    Let me know what you want a review of!

      Being a big fan of Rayman Origins, I want to see how it compares on the PS vita.

      Everybody's Golf.

      They've always been a good pick up and play game, so i'm just wondering how the Vita version holds up.

      Hey the vw beetle is a fantastic car, should have used a commodore for your analogy

      Unit 13 (I’ll be picking this up launch day)
      -Motorstorm RC (same with this one)

      So i take it your running off the US store.

      Since Motostorm RC is already out here(Since it's download only) Should be up in the states after the PSN goes back up from its currently down state

    Is the Vita locked to only ONE PSN account, and that you need to perform a factory reset to change accounts?

    Thanks for the great hardware/software review!

      Yes, it is, but thankfully switching only takes something like 5 minutes and you don't have to format your memory card to do so.

        Thank you! This was the question that was preventing me from buying a Vita overseas or on release date. So changing accounts is easy and doesn't require formatting? Looks like I'll be getting a Vita after work today!

          Yup. It takes five minutes, and you lose settings and some icon arrangement, but other than that everything stays intact as long as you don't press the format button when it asks you to. Enjoy your Vita!

    I usually comment on Kotaku's US of A website, but did want to read this review and I do thank you for it.

    I love my PS Vita, and even though it's not perfect, it's the best handheld console in my opinion currently available - in regards to hardware. This early it is too early to say what the console will do and how popular/great it will be, for in the end, it's about games, games, games.

    I don't agree with the browser under the "Hated" section, for I really don't think it is that bad, works fine for me and use it for Kotaku and iGoogle all the time.

    I think it's worth noting that many of the software elements can be opened while you play a game. For example, say you unlock a trophy, you can then go and view it, and your other trophies, with your game in stasis in the background. Similarly you can use near.

    However, it does raise another concern with the browser: it closes off whatever game you have running to open. This means that to view websites, including the official ones attached to the games you play, you have to stop play.

    I'm almost convinced its so that you can't have gamefaqs open in the background.

      Yeah, what this guy said. The browser is a bit weird like that; having to close off your game and all, but it's not that good of a browser so it might be interrupting RAM being used by the game itself, who knows?

    What about the bundled AR cards? How are the AR games? Are they similar to the ones on the 3DS?

      The AR games are free downloads on the PlayStation Store. But I have one word for them...BORING. Cliff Diving is a rhythm game you can play with your eyes closed, Table Soccer I couldn't even get working, and Fireworks was a little bit of fun but something that I wouldn't play more than once.

      The main game that's supposed to show off the AR features is probably Reality Fighters, but I tried the demo of that and I'm not too impressed by it either. Maybe it's just me, or the AR thing is just one gimmick after another.

      Although I found a weird thing in Hot Shots Golf where the camera can be the background for the current hole you're on, but it disables network functions, so it's probably a battery drainer.

    Nice review and I would like to add my thoughts to one aspect of the review...

    Re: Content Manager - OMG this is one of the worst and pointless programs ever created, I honestly don't know why Media Go wasn't updated to work with the Vita. They better update it or provide a whole new program in the short term.

    I love the Vita hardware and games, but the default software and parts of the interface are just awful.

    Near - Forget whether or not the 3G works properly, what the hell is going on? Are the people displayed on the radar online right now? What the hell are those footsteps? I just want to see who is online nearby and start games with them. Why does it look like Mickey Mouse threw up a whole lot of icons on my Vita? These questions should be answered in "help" or somewhere in the user guide. Alternatively, make the damn thing easier to use.

    Why do I have to reconnect to the playstation network every single time I swap between near, trophies, friends, etc? Why are they even separate apps? This will be very hard to follow, but my typical experience goes like this:

    *Connect to PSN*
    Near opens > look for nearby users (takes a while) > click user > click trophies
    *Connect to PSN*
    Trophies opens > look at trophies
    Back to Near
    Search nearby again (takes a while, no idea why it can't just keep the search results from 30 seconds ago) > click user > add to friends
    *Connect to PSN*
    Friends opens

    …you get the idea. I think they should all be a part of the one app called "social". Rather than 5 app swaps and reconnects to perform basic tasks like messaging and viewing trophies, they should all work together. I can't see why this wouldn't be doable.

    We also need a battery percentage indicator, and a lot of the other suggestions mentioned here would be nice:
    http://www.reddit.com/r/vita/comments/qbtxm/official_rvita_os_suggestions_thread/

      Yeah, I managed to figure it out by myself but having nobody nearby kinda hampers what I'm able to do with the review. Apparently my town only had 4 Vita pre-orders, and I was the only one there to actually pick up a Vita. Like, damn. I can agree with all the points made in the Reddit topic but it works OK the way it is.

        Every time I use it at home, it picks up more and more people. The last time it was over 50 people. Yet when I view the radar I can only see about 10 people max. I'm not sure what the deal is with that.

          Really can't help you with that. Maybe it's so 50 don't clutter up the screen.

            Maybe. Or the rest of the 50 might be outside the 2km radar range. But I don't know why they'd tell you 50 people are nearby if that information is of no use.

            I find it very hard to believe that 50 people within a few kms in suburban Melbourne have Vitas.

              In regards to the icons, near will show you the closest 10 that share their ID, etc... After that, there are the brownish default icons that represent groups of 10. See here...

              http://manuals.playstation.net/document/en/psvita/near/flow.html

              I assume the players you see near by also count in those groups, for me it's just a touch off, I have 9 (x10 icons) on my screen (at work), but the popup states 87 people.

                Ahh ok, thanks for that. I thought those icons represented single players who have chosen not to share any info. Maybe I'll re-read the Near section of the manual and see if I can get my head around it.

    Regarding Near, I work in Southbank in Melbourne and I'm generally seeing 40-60 people nearby on it. Have a 3G system but no SIM, I'm currently piggybacking on my phone's 3G via internet sharing but it's a bit frustrating because the phone disables sharing if it's idle for more than five minutes, and sharing the 3G chews the phone's battery faster than the Vita's. So my plan is to grab a SIM at some point soon. Haven't tried doing Near any other way yet.

    I don't like the fact they've got the friends list and messaging in two separate programs, and I feel like some of the stuff shouldn't have a livearea and should go straight into whatever, eg settings.

    The PSN Store interface is awesome, should be ported to PS3 as well.

    Not being able to mount your memory over USB is a straight-up anti-piracy measure, same as the fact it's a proprietary memory format in the first place. It was a security hole in the PSP and I'm not surprised they fixed it. Wish they hadn't (wish it supported standard SD memory or something!) but I understand why they've gone the way they did.

    I wish the video player had support for streaming video off a personal DLNA server eg PS3 Media Server. I'd get an enormous amount of use out of that. I assume you can load your own video in if it's the right format but haven't found out what to re-encode into to make that happen.

      The GPS unit works without a 3G connection, getting the SIM won't help unless you plan to use data on the Vita as well.

      Agree with you on that but if they didn't have a LiveArea how would one close those programs?

      You have to encode it into a specific MP4 (H264 video, AAC audio) to get it to work on the Vita. It doesn't annoy me as much as it used to but it's still a little bit of a chore. Have you tried using Remote Play and streaming video to your PS3 then your Vita? It might work for you better than it did for me.

    Well that sounds like a top review overall. Not bad

    BUT

    HAHAH Sony please!!! They are going down the path of Apple, you need to download a program to get songs on and off the console?? Farrrrrrrrrk that's a fail. We all know iphones an ipods suck BADLY all because of this.

      iTunes and Content Manager are on two different levels. iTunes came from Satan's backside, and works just as well as trying to get Antarctica on fire. Content Manager actually works for what it's supposed to do.

        Plus MS does it with Zune for WP7, but arguably is a significantly nicer program than iTunes

    haha nicely said.....

    Still not a fan of this stuff though, drag and drop please, its my console and my music.

    I am also under the impression that the VIta can only use Sony storage cards and not standard SD Cards? Can anyone confirm this?

      Yeah, proprietary Vita Memory Cards only. They won't work in anything but the Vita.

        And i think this is my point, It has its own "SD" card and music program (which i also noticed that you need to be online to use....). Why do this stuff? These are the small things that really, REALLY count to me.

        Let's face it Apple has created a huge, deep burning anger within me. I just want to be able to update my music on more than 1 computer!!

          The one and only reason is anti-piracy.

            We both know that it doesn't do anything to stop piracy./ I can still covert a cd in itunes and simply drag and drop the mp3 files onto a portable hard drive and BAM. send it around the world. So this proves they are dumb.

              But that's because you could do that with WMP or any other program.

              Instead by ensuring all data has to go through the content manager. It helps prevent average joe dropping some executable onto his Vita and hitting run to get some custom firmware

                Cool, i like to hear the reasons behind it all, still sad that they have to go to these lengths when really its going to be hacked anyway, They just make it a little harder and in the process punishing those who use it normally by make it NOT user friendly. Also, why do you have to be connected to the internet?

                  It's a crosscheck to make sure you're using the correct firmware.

          It's not Apple that influenced Sony, but the rampant piracy on the PSP.

    i cant believe no major media outlets have any big storys yet out about the false advertising that sony used to sell the vita about how the remote play was going to work. ex. killzone 3. they said and you can see the comericial and ads saying you could play games on your ps3 like killzone 3 walk outside and pick up on your vita where you left off. sony needs to fix this and lg. media outlets need to speak up. just check out youtube alone there are so many videos about this

      It is a false bit of advertising, but I never really got into my PS3 to begin with so it didn't affect me and this review as much.

    An analysis as crystal clear as the delightfully manicured swimming pool here at the Desert Inn Motor Lodge.
    The pool boy, a Mexican chap with the finest pencil-moustache, conducts something of a rousing cleaning regime at sunrise; sometimes I watch him through my apartment window.
    It would be remiss of me not to mention that the man with the pencil-moustache is also the receptionist, an officious fellow, and I suspect he is unhappy with me after I carefully removed one of the pool-deck sun lounges to my room on the second floor; I like to watch the sunset in the evenings.
    I was later informed that the poolside furniture is, and I quote, “for everybody”. A most unhelpful development.

    I hardly think we’re gathered here to discuss sun lounges! Sometimes - as all men who wander are not lost - a detour is the shortest distance between two points, and a sun lounge is most certainly not “for everyone”.

    The PS Vita is a more pressing concern at this particular crossroad, and - like the deer - we are to be lost inside headlights on lonely highways.

    The PS VITA, to wit, reminds me of that scene in Backdraft where Kurt Russell and William Baldwin are racing up the stairs - just as fast as they can - to the very top of the building in something of a “training scenario”.
    Tragedy strikes when Kurt Russell falls over after attempting to push William Baldwin out of the way on this the narrowest of staircase ascents.

    Kurt Russell is the PS VITA: trying to push William Baldwin out of the way to get to the top, but trying too hard and falling down the stairs instead.
    William Baldwin is like . . . the sound of one hand clapping, or a tree falling in the woods.

    What does this mean? Truth be told, I don’t know. Nobody knows; it’s like William Baldwin, yo. Something provocative. Something unsaid.

    But it’s mainly like Kurt Russell, everything is.
    The smart phone has a greater potential, like William Baldwin circa 1991, but who here is brave enough to suggest Kurt Russell was not a Hollywood success story? I dare you! I double dare you!!
    That’s Hollywood, baby! And do you know the only thing more Hollywood than Hollywood? That’s 90210, yo, like Rivers Melrose.

    90210.

    I didn't have any issue with Content Manager. It's quite limiting, but it wasn't difficult to use.
    Your comments on the GPS in the Near section might give the impression that the GPS in general isn't up to scratch. HAve you had trouble with the Maps software? GPS and 3G have worked very nicely for me. The only issue I'm having at the moment is WiFi, but that's a router issue and not the Vita.

      It's easy to use, sure, but the fact that it EXISTS is what annoys me.

      Maps is pretty slow at finding and loading maps, which is strange, but I have absolutely no need for the Maps feature in a portable console of all things.

      What problems have you been having with your WiFi?

        Yeah, that's true.

        Maps seemed to work really well for me. Better than my phone at least (I think... Might check it out again later).

        I have no idea what's wrong with my WiFi, but it's affecting all devices, not just the Vita. Should probably just reset it all to factory settings and start again.

    I don't think I've actually seen this mentioned anywhere.
    Does the Vita still have the same sleep function as the PSP?

    Nice review :)

    Still a few things that are holding me back from picking it up anytime soon and hopefully you can answer some of these questions for me :)

    1) How much space are updates taking up on the memory card so far? In fact has there been any Day 1 updates?

    2) How big (file size) are the games that i am going to buying - like Uncharted, Wipeout, Unit 13? As a follow on should i be concerned about space on the memory stick. Personally i was hoping to get away with just an 8GB memory card for $40 instead of forking out an extra $30 for the 16GB as it is already expensive enough on top of the Vita itself and the games i plan to buy with it but a little redundant if i don't have the space for all the updates and 2-3 games.

    Thanks!

      Updates are barely anything, I think the biggest update I have was a 68MB update for Wipeout 2048 that added a new song.

      File sizes for them are 3.4GB, 1.7GB and Unit 13 doesn't have a filesize yet. I'd recommend getting a 16GB card because there's a fair few good PSP games you can get as well.

    Near has been a killer for me. It picked up where I was once out of about 50 attempts and then went straight to an error which now comes up every time I go to find my location. It's appalling and has put me on the brink of wanting to return it for a refund.

    Near works for me... picked up 15 ppl in the city i went too.
    and I find remote play good quality

    Thanks for the detailed review, BlueMaxima. It brought some points to my attention I wasn't aware of before. I really hate the syncing through software thing. Nothing beats drag and drop >_<

    Before the Vita was released, there was some chatter on limiting the users of the device to one. At first, they said that only one user (and thus one PSN account) per memory card. After that, they said only one user per device, period. And that you would have to do a factory reset to change the username to another. Could you please shed some light on this? I currently have two PSN accounts on my PS3 (US & JPN) and would love to be able to access both on the Vita. Is that at all possible?

      You can access both by factory reset every time you want to switch, but the factory reset process takes about five or so minutes and you have to do that every time you swap accounts. It's quite annoying. (I have 4 accounts, Aus/Jpn/USA/Hong Kong so I have tested this)

        Thanks for the info.

        What about the content? Are games downloaded by one account accessible by others? If I downloaded a game from JPN PSN , for instance, and then reset to the US PSN username, can I access the game from there or do I have to convert to the JPN PSN account in order to play it?

          The only pieces of content that can be played across accounts is demos, and even then it's sketchy. Everything else requires the original account.

            Thanks for the prompt reply.

            I suspected so but it was worth asking... I guess it's better then to keep separate memory cards for each account so that I would just pop the respective card in when switching. Helps in the differentiation process for me :)

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now