New Sony PlayStation Vita's second-screen features bring a lot to the game

Sony released a new, slimmer model of the PlayStation Vita, its handheld game console, earlier this month; you can pick up the new model for $200 in a bundle with the game Borderlands 2 and an 8GB memory card. The new Vita has some great new features—but its new display is not so great.

The original Vita was released as a competitor to the popular Nintendo 3DS. The first Vita could deliver similar visuals to the PS3 and Xbox 360. It could also do a lot more than just play games: The Vita has many of the features you’d expect from a smart phone or tablet, including music and video streaming, as well as messaging and e-mail apps.

The Vita was conceived as a sidekick to the PlayStation 3, though many of its second-screen capabilities were not well implemented; the good news is that they work much better with the PS4. When you don’t have access to the TV, you can wirelessly connect the Vita with the PS4 and stream compatible games to your Vita screen. The new Vita is a welcome facelift to keep the product fresh while maintaining the functions of the original. There are some tradeoffs in display performance though.

What's new in the new Vita?

The most noticeable change in the Vita is that it’s lighter and slimmer than the original, helping to make the device more portable and comfortable for long gaming sessions. Also, the pads on the back of the device are larger, giving you more area to rest your fingers comfortably: This is a big benefit, because on the original Vita, it was difficult to place your fingers on the device without accidentally hitting the touchpad.

Sony made a few other design changes. All the basic controls are still there and just as comfortable to use, but the Start, Select, and PS buttons on the front of the device are larger and more circular. This makes them slightly easier to press (though they aren’t used much during gameplay, so the benefit here is negligible). Also, the PS button no longer lights up to indicate the power status of the device: That function has been taken over by two lights on the top of the device.

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There was a port on the top of the original Vita that was never used—and apparently never will be, because it has been removed from the new model. This leaves more room for the game card slot, which is now centered on the top. And a micro USB port at the bottom of the device has replaced the proprietary port on the original Vita—handy because it’s a much more commonly used connection.

The most noticeable drawback of the new design, though is the screen: The original Vita used an OLED display, but the new version uses an IPS LCD. The resolution is the same, so images still appear sharp—but colors aren’t as vivid, and contrast doesn’t pop as much as it did on the original display. There wasn’t a noticeable difference between the sound performance on the two units; if sound is important to you, I would recommend using headphones.

As for games: While the Vita boasts a growing library of games made for it, including Uncharted: Golden Abyss, The Walking Dead, and Killzone: Mercenary, it can also play older PSP games and PSone games as well.

Bottom line

Despite the new display, the Vita is still a great handheld gaming console. And if you own the new PlayStation 4, now is a great time to consider picking it up for its second-screen capabilities. If you own the original Vita, though, there isn’t much of an incentive to upgrade.

—Matt Ferretti

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