OK so one is a phone. We understand that. You're not making phone calls with a Playstation Vita. And, yes, the iPhone has games that often cost less than a dollar and the Vita basically... doesn't.  And we know there are a lot of you who don't want a second device to play games on, and thus your cellphone is your primary gaming rig. 

But... but... what if you want something more than cell-phone gaming? Well Let's take a look at the Playstation Vita and see what it offers. Can $40 games really exist in this $0.99 world?
The iPhone 4S:
Apple has never been one to get bogged down with specifications when it comes to their hardware, and the iPhone 4S is no exception. Apple pretty much tells you that it's a phone, it has a nice screen, and.... it's a phone. 

Of course, with the power of the Internets and tear-down guides, we know a great deal more, but for the purpose of this write-up all of that is (mostly) irrelevant. Apple consistently gets just-as-smooth results with its iPhone hardware when it comes to general usage, browsing the Internet etc as any portable device we've tested here. And much like our need for soft, fuzzy cases to protect our electronics, we love a silky smooth phone experience. Specs can be fairly meaningless if you're trying to figure out which device is faster, because, in Apple's case, they usually tend to do more with less (RAM, CPU clock speed etc). 

Playstation Vita:

The Playstation Vita is a very attractive piece of hardware. Yes, it's very, very plasticky, but it carries with it a very classy demeanor. It simply exudes high-endness, despite it's likely-crackable finish. The twin analog sticks that poke out are easy to get on with and are very smooth, especially by comparison to the never-comfortable analog nub from the original Sony PSP. The D-pad, too, is the best of any Sony gaming device, handheld or otherwise.

That said, let's go back to that "plastic" part. Did we mention the Vita is plastic? Because it is. Even the stunning, hugely contrasty 960x544 OLED display is covered in plastic. That's right. No glass here. We guess the reason for this is due to weight, as the screen is a massive 5" diagonal slab. This positively dwarfs the iPhone's comparatively puny 3.5" diagonal screen (though iPhone features a stunning 960x640 resolution). With glass, the Vita wouldn't have come close to its impressive 260 grams (279 for the 3G model). The iPhone 4S, a much smaller and thinner device, still weighs 140 grams, mostly due to that glass front (and back). That said, the Vita has a fabulous capacitive touchscreen display (like the iPhone), and Sony even saw the need to outfit the rear of the device with a touchpad.

The Vita also features two cameras, one on the front and one (yep, you guessed it) on the back. And both are ghastly. That's all that needs to be said. Much like the rear (and to a lesser extent) the front camera on the iPad 2, they are essentially there as something to mark off on the what-can-we-shove-in-there-to-shut-customers-up checklist. 

A major distinguishing feature of the Vita is that it has 0GB of space built in (technically it does have memory for the operating system, but you know what we mean...). You can get an iPhone 4S with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of memory. The Vita has 0GB. You can (and need to) buy a memory card for the Vita so you can store digital games, patches, downloadable content and most game-saves. The iPhone, of course, doesn't have any memory card slots at all. If you buy a 16GB 4S, a 16GB 4S is all you're ever going to have. 

Aside from the memory card slot on the Vita, there's also the game-cartridge slot, too. All games thus far on the Vita that are available at your favorite retail store are also available on the digital Playstation Store, with some at a small discount (usually around 10% cheaper when bought digitally). The Vita uses cartridges that are awfully small and we foresee plenty of these lost in fairly short order. If you thought the Nintendo DS/3DS cartridges were small, well, wait till you see a Vita cartridge. 

Of course we'd be remiss to not point out that Sony has created yet another proprietary memory card type - just for the Vita. Available in four capacities at the time of writing, these aren't cheap. At $20 for the 4GB, $30 for the 8GB, $60 for the 16GB and $100 for the 32GB, the only word we have is "ouch." 

Which leads us to the cost...

The Cost:

The fact that the Vita with WiFi starts at $249.99 doesn't bother us one bit. In fact, for what you get with the Vita, - an ultra-powerful, quad-core-sporting, OLED-emblazoned gaming and multimedia powerhouse, $249.99 seems a bit, well... cheap? Don't get us wrong! $250 is not something most of us throw around with wild abandon, but for the money you're getting a lot of machine. 

The problem, however, stems from the fact that Sony's Vita accessories are so expensive to make up for it. An extra AC charger will set you back $15. But that doesn't come with the proprietary USB cable to connect it to your Vita, which will cost a further $15. The cradle? Another $20. And we already discussed the memory card pricing...

A 16GB iPhone 4S costs $649 in the USA without a contract. Add $100 to that for the 32GB model, and another $100 for the 64GB variant. Now there's another ouch! Of course, an iPhone makes phone calls among other things, but there's no way of getting the speedy iPhone 4S processing power without paying a lot for it. Even if you factor every major accessory for the Vita in there, the iPhone 4S still looks very expensive (because it is!). Of course, if you factor in a contract in the USA the iPhone 4S hardware is quite a bit cheaper ($199, $299 and $399 respectively on a two-year contract). 

The Gaming:

This is the part you're most interested in (I hope). How does gaming on the iPhone 4S stack up to the Vita? Now, I personally have owned every iPhone since its launch in mid-2007. I've played countless games on all my iPhones, and also played games on every major portable gaming system from Nintendo, Atari and SEGA in the old days to Nintendo and Sony of today. 

Quite simply, if you want to play real games, you want a Vita. If you want to play throw-away games, you get an iPhone 4S. Now, before this turns ugly out there - of course there are exceptions to this. You can certainly spend tens of hours on Infinity Blade for iOS for example, but there's simply nothing out there for the iPhone that touches the depth and production values of Rayman Origins or Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the Vita. And bear in mind this is a console still in its launch period. That it has these stunning games available off the bat is a real achievement. 

Part of the problem with the iPhone for gaming is that it's far, far too limited. Touch controls on a 3.5" screen can be very troublesome. Take Angry Birds, for example. This game works infinitely better on an iPad's 9.7" screen because there's so much more room to work with. With a normal-sized finger on an iPhone screen, getting that bird to murder those pigs can be a bit tricky because your fingers obscure so much of the screen. Even one of my favorites, Cover Orange, can be tricky to play due to lack of real estate and the unfortunately constant obscuring of objects with your fingers.

This problem is exacerbated when you play games that require two thumbs, such as Age of Zombies, or Minigore. Then you have two honking great thumbs on there, obscuring your screen. Couple that with the lack of tactility that comes with touch screens today (please, give us haptic feedback?), the smudges and smears (gross!), and the input lag associated with touch screens (around the 100ms mark, apparently, which is huge!), and "real" gaming on an iPhone really starts to look awfully unattractive. And let's not forget the battery hit while gaming, which is a real problem when you suddenly need to make that long phone call with 15% battery left...

Other issues with the iPhone for gaming? Holding it in landscape mode for many games often results in covering of the iPhone's solitary tiny speaker, so you have no audible or muffled sound. And since wired headsets connect to the top left of the device, playing landscape-oriented games with your earbuds connected is a very uncomfortable affair when the earbud cable digs into your hand. The Vita has its headphone jack in the middle of the unit at the bottom, so it's never ever in the way. Excellent choice for location, Sony! Of course this location wouldn't make much sense on an iPhone, but it's yet one more way that the iPhone shows it's not completely serious about gaming. 

Gaming on the Vita is very slick. Sure it also has a touch screen to slime up (even more easily than the iPhone's), but for many games available now you need it very little, and having two analog sticks, a D-Pad, and numerous other buttons makes gaming a really visceral and tactile experience. After all, stabbing buttons is fun! It just is! 

Don't get me wrong, I've been addicted to Words with Friends on my iPhone for a while now, and I still load up Tiny Wings every now and then to try and beat those high scores, but for gaming sessions you can sit down to and play for hours, - those games with real depth, you just can't beat a dedicated handheld gaming device.

But let's get back to cost...

The Cost, Revisited:

The average iOS game costs $0.99, we'd guess, at this point. Yes there are some games that cost more. Infinity Blade II, at the time of writing, is $6.99. Rayman Origins for the Vita? $39.99. Uncharted: Golden Abyss? A whopping $50, though this is the only title at that price, at this time.  

So is it worth it? Well, Uncharted aside, the average store-bought game for the Vita is $29.99-$39.99. If I go back through my library of iOS games, I've bought so many $0.99 and $1.99/$2.99 games and apps that I've truly lost count. My computer tells me that I have 225 games in my iTunes library, and an awful lot of them I've deleted from the library, so I know there's bazillion more linked to my account but not on my computer. How many of these do I play on a regular basis? Pretty much just Words with Friends. While yes, many games are $0.99 or $1.99, how many of those have you bought but played only once? Those apps add up. I look through my iTunes library again and shake my head...

I didn't answer the question. So is it worth it? After playing the aforementioned Vita titles, among others, yes, it's worth it. They're breathtaking, dense, and polished. 

iOS and the Throwaway Generation:

Ever since Apple introduced the App Store, there have been major problems for developers trying to get noticed when they release their apps, games or otherwise. For the most part, to make any money, the app has to be good and extremely cheap. And by cheap we mean free, or $0.99. Once your game becomes a super hit and gets stuck in the top 20 games on the App Store, it's possible to raise the price a dollar or two and still maintain great sales. But still, for the most part we're looking at $0.99. At the time of writing this, every single app in the Top 50 Paid Apps in iTunes is $0.99, except for the new iPhoto (which isn't a game), Zuma's Revenge ($1.99) and Minecraft ($6.99), though this last one is for iPhone and iPad both. 

On any given day, take a look at the Top Paid apps on the App Store. You'll find Angry Birds there, the addictive Fruit Ninja, Bejeweled, Words with Friends, Tetris, Tiny Wings etc... Any time a new game enters the Top 50, you just know what you're in for. These titles likely feature birds, pigs, cute alligators, penguins or green monsters. People love this stuff. I admit, I love the adorable character Om Nom from Cut the Rope ($0.99 by the way!).

What do those games have in common? You can play them for just a few minutes at a time, and be done. There's no huge commitment needed, and no great involvement required. And that's exactly why they're brilliant. I'm quite unlikely to grab my Vita during the day and play on the train or bus. I'm just as likely to grab my iPhone and play a round of Words with Friends. It's right there. It's convenient. It's always on me.

But on a long trip? On the plane? Sitting in bed? Sure, I'll play a few Words on my phone (my father continues to murder me at that game, the meanie), but for when I want a real gameplay experience, I'll reach for my Vita (or my Nintendo DS/3DS). 

Is there anything wrong with an iPhone for gaming? Well, aside from some of the obvious issues already mentioned, no, no there isn't. It's gaming for a very different gamer, and that's fine. Because myself I'm a very different gamer during the day, rushing around, than when I have a bit of time to sit down and play. I'm sure many of us are the same way. That's why we play on our phones, and why I rarely see someone playing on their DS or Vita when I'm out and about. I see an awful lot of casual phone gamers out there!

So what does this mean?


The Playstation Vita will succeed. iOS (and Android) will succeed. They will all do well for very different reasons. I don't believe iPhones will replace a "proper" handheld like the Vita in the near future because quite simply the iPhone needs to be a communications device first, and a gaming device second (or third, or fourth?). I'm very careful not to play too much on my iPhone because, among the other issues, battery life just gets thrown out the window if I do.

So there you go. Much like the iPad and the desktop computer, the Vita and iPhone will continue to co-exist for now. In the future.., who knows..?

Other Things to Note:
The 3G+WiFi Vita costs an additional $50 ($299.99). We personally don't see the point of a 3G Vita, but some of you may. In our testing, the only usability differences we noted between the two models is that the 3G unit weighs 19 grams more than the WiFi unit. Also, and more irritatingly, with 3G turned off in Settings, the 3G model shows the words "NO SIGNAL" the entire time in the top left of the display when on the home screens. Why this couldn't be hidden when 3G is turned off is beyond us...  On the WiFi model there's no such message of course. 

But More Worryingly:

A trend on Apple's App Store getting a little out of control is the concept of in-app purchasing (IAP). In a bid to get consumers to jump into a game without risk, some publishers release their games completely free or for $0.99, despite the huge amount of time and resources used to create their title. Take Capcom's Smurfs' Village for the iPhone/iPad, for example. Completely free... except, if you want to actually progress in the game, there will come a time when you need to spend real money to buy smurfberries. Yes, smurfberries. These smurfberries come in 10 different quantities, from the handful of smurfberries for $0.99 to the wagon of smurfberries for $99.99. Yes, $100. And you willneed to spend some of that money to get into the depths of the game. I personally tend to avoid games with IAP like this. Others have called it a scam. While I wouldn't go that far, it does tend to play into people's compulsions and addictions. This is a very successful title for Capcom. Did we mention it's really successful? And because the game is "free," that success truly comes completely from IAP... Scary!

Now, Microsoft and Sony are certainly not IAP-free by any means on their consoles, but what I call compulsion IAP doesn't seem to be there (yet) like it is on iOS. A quick glance in iTunes at the Top Free Apps confirms this. Pretty much every free game has packs of IAP content that ranges from $0.99 to $100, for coins, "leafs", smurfberries etc. It's often not even possible to figure out if you can actually beat a game without downloading it, playing it for many hours, and seeing if you hit that digital brick wall known as You Need to Buy IAP, NOW!

Your Thoughts?

Do you think Sony can succeed with the Vita? Is iOS (and Android) the death of dedicated gaming machines? Can giraffes scratch their own necks? All these are questions, - that we can say for sure!

Kitty Lord
3/21/2012 12:07:52 am

I still think the iPhone is better. Mainly because I dont want to go around with a pouch full of my vita games.... and the iPhone look sexier

3/21/2012 03:09:40 am

You don't need to go around with a pouch of games. All store-bought games are available digitally. And sexiness.. well, - I'll give you that one... :-)

4/25/2012 06:12:21 pm

Yes that's your information is correct it is look like more beautiful and using the memory sticks are good capacity.

4/13/2012 04:20:15 am

Vita will take off beyond everyone's imagination when we get a full, no compromise Call of Duty or Battlefield title and maybe something like Skyrim with few compromises coupled with a hardware price drop. The appeal of a true top-tier home console title that plays just as well on a portable will be impossible to pass up for just about every gamer. I think the day is coming soon.

5/6/2012 08:37:48 pm

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4/13/2012 04:53:33 am

Couldn't agree more. Just a matter of time. But who knows what Apple/other competitors have up their sleeves, too?

6/27/2012 11:07:54 pm

I'l prefer Iphone...
It have good games on cheaper rates...
And it is A PHONE another advantage :)

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6/25/2014 07:43:22 pm

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