Sony PlayStation Vita Slim review

The PlayStation Vita Slim contains no enormous upgrades, but it is a modest improvement to an already strong handheld.
The PlayStation Vita Slim contains no enormous upgrades, but it is a modest improvement to an already strong handheld.
The PlayStation Vita Slim contains no enormous upgrades, but it is a modest improvement to an already strong handheld.

Highs

  • Lighter and slimmer
  • Longer battery life
  • Better access to touchscreen and touch pad

Lows

  • OLED screen replaced by LCD
  • No major upgrades
  • Still costs $200
  • Forcibly bundled with Borderlands 2
  • Forcibly bundled with 8GB card

DT Editors' Rating

Going up against Nintendo in the handheld wars is like being an adventurer in an old-school RPG off to slay a mysterious monster in a cave — at some point there must be a voiceover from an old man who tells you solemnly “Many have tried, all have failed.”

For in that dungeon lies the corpses of many rival handhelds who sought to duel with Nintendo’s monolithic systems, from the Game Gear to the N-Gage, the Atari Lynx to the Gizmondo. Most recently the PlayStation Vita has dared venture into that perilous cave, and so far is faring up well enough as it does battle with the Nintendo 3DS.

Most gaming commentators would say that, with the power of their top franchises of Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, and other games such as Bravely Default, Nintendo have their noses in front — but the Vita is having a strong year, with titles such as Killzone: Mercenary, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, Borderlands 2, God of War Collection, and MLB: The Show all out or coming out. Throw in indie games like Fez, Luftrausers, and Guacamelee! and we smell blood in the water.

Keeping the pressure up in the handheld wars, Sony has released a new version of the PlayStation Vita – the PlayStation Vita PCH-2000 series, also known as the PlayStation Vita Slim. Does it breathe new life into the console, or is it merely a minor upgrade?

Vita on a diet

The first thing to notice when picking up the new Vita for the first time is just how light and thin it is. The Vita Slim is 15 percent lighter than its predecessor and 20 percent slimmer. This makes an enormous difference. The redesign allows the console to be held higher for longer periods of time, and also makes gameplay significantly easier when using the gyroscope functions.

The Vita Slim is 15 percent lighter than its predecessor and 20 percent slimmer.

The touchscreen on the front and touch pad on the back are both now more accessible, thanks to the slimmer form factor. As the console can now be held much easier with one hand, it allows other hand to access the front touch screen more easily. As for the back, the slimness of the redesign allows the whole of the back pad to be reached even by smaller hands (women and kids should find the Slim more comfortable).

A matte finish has also been applied to parts of the console. While this gives no gaming or portability advantage, it adds an aura of quality to the system, and feels very nice on the fingers during loading times.

Tweaks and mods

After we spent more time with the Vita, other small upgrades became apparent. For instance, larger grips at the back of the console mean that your fingers are less likely to drift and accidentally tap the back touch pad. This becomes much more important when using the Remote Play function, where the back touch pad acts as L2 and R2 triggers respectively.

The D-pad has been remodeled and moves a lot nicer now, the Start and Select buttons are bigger and easier to access, and the PS button has been reshaped and no longer glows bright blue to let you know power is on. Instead, there are now two very subtle light strips at the top of the system that glow different colors depending on whether your system is on, powering, or low on battery.

Sony PlayStation Vita Slim review top left buttons macro

Finally, a new Micro USB port has replaced the old awkward charging port that was part of the old Vita. This makes charging a lot easier, and also means the charging port takes up a lot less room on the console.

Worse screen, but better battery life

One of the trade-offs of the new model is that an LCD screen in the new model has replaced the OLED screen from the first Vita. It’s a definite downgrade, although one that can only really be noticed if you compare the two models side-by-side.

Games still look glorious on the PS Vita, but not as hot as they used to.

Games still look glorious on the PS Vita, but just not as crisp as they used to — which is a great shame considering that the quality of the graphics is one of the console’s unique selling points.

On the upside, battery life is now a little longer. Officially, the battery life has been extended from about four hours to about six, and in my experience that estimate seemed about right. Some games and apps will drain the battery less; meanwhile, using Remote Play with the PlayStation 4 will drain it quicker. But the fact remains that the Slim has a noticeably longer battery life than its predecessor. Two hours may not be a game changer, but it could help you in a pinch if your train is delayed.

Bundle Me

At $200, not including games and the necessary internal memory card required, the Vita was considered very expensive when it first debuted.

PlayStation Vita Slim goes some way to fixing this, but not all the way. The price point is still $200 for the Wi-Fi version (3G is no longer available). However, now it includes Borderlands 2 bundled in, as well as a 8GB memory card, which will hold about four standard retail games on the system.

On the upside, the Vita is now good to go straight out of the box, which fixes a major problem of the original. Also, Borderlands 2 is a strong title, being a port of the 2012 classic released for PS3 and Xbox 360, complete with a DLC library later released for it.

Borderlands 2 is probably going to be one of the hits of the console, so there’s no doubt it’s an exceptional bundle.

The downside is that the bundle is non-negotiable. If you want a PS Vita Slim, but don’t want Borderlands 2, or already have an 8GB memory card with your old Vita, tough — there’s no cheaper version without the game or memory card.

This also wipes out a whole group of parents looking to buy the Vita for their kid’s birthday. Borderlands 2 is what we could describe as a “very M-rated game.” While perhaps a sign that Sony is targeting hardcore adult gamers exclusively, the bundle is definitely a barrier to younger gamers.

Sony PlayStation Vita Slim review front screen angle

It leads to a curious moment of recommendation. If you are over the age of 17 (Borderlands 2 is M rated), and if you need a memory card, and if you do really want Borderlands 2, then the Vita Slim bundle is a really good deal. If not, then you have to endure the extras to get your hands on the shiny new console.

Conclusion

The PlayStation Vita Slim is not a game changer in the console wars, nor will existing Vita owners sprinting down to the store to grab one right away. The new Vita is a good, conservative, upgrade. With the exception of the replacing of the OLED screen with LCD (which is barely noticeable), all the new changes are positive. Slim is a lighter, tighter, more attractive proposition with little mods all over the place that make the already sexy console that much more attractive.

While the lack of bundle options is disappointing, the Vita is a solid console with a great collection of games. The new version only serves to make the system more enticing to (adult) gamers who haven’t already picked one up.

Highs

  • Lighter and slimmer
  • Longer battery life
  • Better access to touchscreen and touch pad

Lows

  • OLED screen replaced by LCD
  • No major upgrades
  • Still costs $200
  • Forcibly bundled with Borderlands 2
  • Forcibly bundled with 8GB card
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