Handheld gaming hasn’t had a serious grudge match since the days of the Nintendo Gameboy and Sega’s ill-fated Game Gear, so we’re psyched to see Nintendo and its 3DS stepping back into the ring with Sony’s plucky newcomer, the PS Vita. With the Vita now according to the latest rumour won’t land in the UK until March next year, Nintendo will have had a full year to secure its hold over the handheld market, but after a tricky six months of price cuts and slow sales, will another six months be time enough to pull away from Sony’s more heavily-specced handheld? Let us walk you through the contenders in a virtual head-to-head.
Sony PlayStation Vita vs Nintendo 3DS: Dimensions
OK, so technically with enough forearm exercises just about anything could be called a ‘handheld’, but for the 3DS and the Vita, portability is a key selling point. The 3DS currently pushes the upper limits of what comfortably fits into a pocket, measuring in as it does at 13.4cm long by 7.3cm across (while closed). Certainly the Vita is the heftier of the two devices, measuring a chunky 18.2cm long by 8.4cm across. Again, the pluses and minuses of a bigger build come down to personal preference, but if you value portability over screen size, then the 3DS trumps the Vita.
Sony PlayStation Vita vs Nintendo 3DS: Price
Once upon a time, the Nintendo 3DS and the PS Vita were going to cost you the same amount, with Nintendo’s handheld and the WiFi version of the Vita each setting you back a tidy £230 at launch. However, the 3DS has taken a major tumble down the price ladder since it launched in March, currently holding steady at around the £120 mark. That said, the aggressive price-cutting on the 3DS has less to do with deliberately undercutting the Vita and more to do with the 3DS’ poor sales at launch, which was at least in part down a less-than-thrilling catalogue of launch games.
From what we’ve seen at E3 and the Tokyo Game Show, the Vita isn’t going to have this problem, but £230 is still a massive ask (a full-sized PlayStation 3, for comparison, is a full £40 cheaper than the Vita at £190). Finally, handheld gaming is no longer a two horse race – both the 3DS and the Vita are gadgets that modern smartphone users are going to struggle to properly justify to themselves if their interest is only in passing the odd tube journey.
Sony PlayStation Vita vs Nintendo 3DS: Screen
Unless 3D is a deal-breaker for you, the Vita wins out in the display stakes, with a five-inch OLED screen for scorchingly bright colours and contrast. By comparison, the 3DS offers two smaller screens, one measuring a little over three inches and the other just over three-point-five. The Vita tops the 3DS in resolution, too, packing in 960 x 554 pixels to the 3DS’ 800 x 240 main screen. Furthermore, because parallax technology works by showing a different halves of the screen to each eye, the actual resolution of the 3DS in full-3D mode is effectively halved, meaning what you’re seeing on the 3DS is actually only a 400 x 240 pixel display. It’s not terrible, but it does mean what you’re paying for is a smaller, lower-resolution screen than your average smartphone.
Sony PlayStation Vita vs Nintendo 3DS: Battery Life
Until the Vita actually launches and we put it through its paces, we’re hesitant to put blind faith in Sony’s pre-release specs. That said, the battery life estimate released by Sony is a less-than-ideal five hours. By comparison, the 3DS clocks in at a little over four, although it’s worth mentioning that with the backlight and the 3D effect turned on we’ve seen it drop to a little above three. Neither of these handhelds, then, are going to be reliable companions on mammoth car journeys or plane rides (unless perhaps you buy both), but if battery life is paramount in your considerations, at this stage the Vita just creeps ahead.
Sony PlayStation Vita vs Nintendo 3DS: Games
The 3DS still hasn’t really fulfilled its promise with its games catalogue. Launch titles were average, and even though the number of games now available has passed the one hundred mark, many of the big-name titles (Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Starfox) still haven’t arrived to help the 3DS out of its perception as a casual gaming device. The Vita, meanwhile, could potentially suffer from the reverse problem. Sony has locked down some serious franchises and developers for the Vita (Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Killzone, LittleBigPlanet, Silent Hill, and Uncharted, to name a few), but for the moment the Vita is pricing itself out of the casual gaming market. That said, the previews we’ve seen of Vita games like Uncharted (above left) look spectacular, so perhaps Sony is on the right track focussing its efforts away from Nintendo’s traditional stomping grounds.
Sony PlayStation Vita vs Nintendo 3DS: Special features
The 3DS’ whole existence revolves around its glasses-free parallax technology. Despite some initial hysterical reporting, the 3D effect won’t burn the retinas out of your children’s eyes, but from our time with the console we’re still undecided on how much the effect adds to the gaming experience. We’d recommend giving the 3DS a trial run in the shop before parting with your cash – there’s no point paying a premium for a 3D effect if you’re going to spend 90% of the time with the 3D slider set to ‘off’.
The Vita doesn’t offer 3D technology, but does pack that bigger OLED display for better visual quality overall. The Vita also offers the more detailed controller setup, with two analogue sticks to the 3DS’ one, the traditional PlayStation shoulder buttons and a touch-sensitive backplate. The Vita is also the only of the two handhelds to offer a 3G model for mobile web usage, although you’ll have to fork over and extra £40 for the privilege.
Sony PlayStation Vita vs Nintendo 3DS: Verdict
If these handhelds were still priced the same, the Vita would comfortably stroll away with our recommendation. But that’s the thing: the days of the 3DS’ £230 price tag are long over. Now that Nintendo’s offering undercuts Sony’s by over one hundred pounds, it’s a very different playing field.
Both handhelds have their own hurdles to overcome. The Nintendo 3DS trades heavily on its 3D capabilities – without these, it’s at a significant hardware disadvantage compared to the Vita. Furthermore, navigation through its OS is finicky, the screens are small even by smartphone standards and the games available aren’t yet living up to the 3DS’ potential. Worse still, the parallax 3D effect can cause headaches and eye-strain in some people. Although the rumours that this can cause permanent damage to users have now been put to rest, try before you buy.
On the other hand, Nintendo’s speciality is sewing up the casual gaming markets (the Wii dominates the current console generation in sales figures, despite lacking the graphical oomph of Sony’s PlayStation 3). If the 3DS takes all the casual gamers, then the Vita will have to carve a niche for itself out of the gaming hardcore, and its first trick will be explaining to them why they should spend £230 on a Vita instead of £190 on a PS3. The Nathan Drakes and Solid Snakes of this world may look good on the Vita, but they already shine on Sony’s home console.
Piece adjusted to clarify release date is rumour