The PS Vita's quadcore processor is a whizz, powering through spectacular graphical feats with rare slowdown. Audio is strong, though just as with the PSP, is best played through headphones.
The iPhone 4S-alike 512MB RAM isn't huge, and it's noticeable that while it can multi-task on the lesser services, each game has to be shut down to open another (at least it means you won't find someone quietly deleting your files in the background because you've carelessly left every game you own running simultaneously).
While some reports have stated three to four hours for batterylife, ours didn't first conk out until we'd reached five hours of constant triple-A gaming across several titles, which while not being earth-shattering we found impressive considering the demands on the system.
Sony PS Vita: Verdict
Sony has really surprised us with the PS Vita, a dedicated gaming portable at supposedly the wrong time that could be so much more. Perhaps that's why it's dropped the 'PlayStation' logo from its belly - to signify a planned convergence with the app-heavy smartphone and tablet world that many thought would destroy it. We can but hope.
But while the hardware is frequently beyond impressive, with a hardcore launch line-up to keep committed gamers' thumbs busy for months, slight concerns remain with Sony's avoidance so far of producing more quality casual fare and non-gaming standouts at a price that will satisfy the expanding end of the market.
If it can sort out its pricing and nail PlayStation Suite and PSN support once it hits the UK, this could raise the PS Vita above a mere gamers' machine to a true crossover media platform to justify a current price tag that's already crippled the 3DS. For now, it's just a fantastic, if pricey portable games machine, and as fantastic, pricey portable gamers, that will certainly do us.
Sony PS Vita availability: Out now on Japanese import, or from 22 February in the UK
Sony PS Vita price: £230 for Wi-Fi-only, £280 for 3G model
When Sony announced its PlayStation Vita handheld games console back in spring, it was throwing down a gauntlet for the next 12 months.
The release of Nintendo's 3DS was imminent, smartphone and tablet gaming was on the rise, and the dark spectre of the as-yet-unannounced iPhone 5 - which turned out to be the Apple iPhone 4S - even then hung menacingly over the next year, threatening to take it even further. Sony's move was very calmly saying one thing: wait.
So when we sat down with the PlayStation Vita (then known as the 'NGP'), knowing the public would not be able to play it properly till the end of the year, we were intrigued to see whether this confidence was justified. Arguably, we came out with more questions than answers.
Sony PlayStation Vita: Build
The PlayStation Vita is undoubtedly an impressive piece of kit. Looking rather more like an old PSP than you'd perhaps hope (we actually always had a soft spot for its design aesthetic), it's surprisingly 1cm taller to accommodate its really rather lovely 5-inch OLED screen (double the resolution of the PSP, in case you wondered), making it a fair old size for a portable.
This won't be squeezing in anyone's pocket any time soon and is made to dominate part of your man bag.
However, it was noticeably very light despite its size, although the dev kit we had time with was running off the mains without a battery pack, so we reserve judgement on its luggage-denting abilities.
What is clear is that the structural bulk allows Sony to make a hand-held that is truly comfortable to hold. No smartphone control compromises, no utilitarian square edges - this is an ergonomic star.
Sony's taken stock of the PSP's many flaws and fixed them - the horrible bevelled analogue disc has been replaced by quite incredible dual analogue sticks that are responsive and a joy to use, the harsh lines of the unit rounded to fit nicely in your hand, the PS buttons smaller and less clunky.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss plays as close to the PS3 original as you could wish to hope for, long-distance gunning against multiple enemies from behind cover very effectively translated due to the combination of the impressive screen resolution and the tactile joysticks. Call of Duty and FIFA are going to play like a dream.
Sony PlayStation Vita: Controls
There are also control inputs aplenty - the familiar Sixaxis button and motion controls supplemented by a touch screen, a rear touch panel and cameras front and back.
Initial implementation of these seems quite gimmicky on the whole, and not at all intuitive – naturally tilting the Vita instead of pushing the rear touch panel to control a rolling Marble Madness-esque character in Little Deviants springs to mind, or trailing a finger on the touch screen to climb vines in Uncharted when the usual buttons are more instinctive.
But then there are always teething problems adapting to new functions, and Sony is also clearly aiming at new audiences. It’s amazing, in a way, that we already take accelerometer control for granted.
The most impressive showing was Reality Fighters, a fairly hum-drum sub-Street Fighter beat-em-up on paper that is elevated to must-play due to its technological armoury.
Taking its lead from augmented reality and reminiscent of Face Raiders on the 3DS, you are able to create your own character (cue scarily accurate face scanning) and have it battle in whatever location you choose to shoot on the Vita's camera in real time thanks to AR cards.
But one producer told us that they're trying to make it so you can do a 360-degree pre-shoot of your own locations (bedroom, office, Coco de Mer outlet) and then send them to other players for personalised fisticuffs.
Coupled with geocaching prize battles via Sony's Near online network, it's the template for what a modern portable game can be. Potential oozes out of the system.
Sony PlayStation Vita: Games
The Vita has also clearly been optimised to pair with the much-maligned PlayStation Network. The PSP's UMD software has been thankfully scrapped for Flash-based storage cards, but as well as physical products, the Vita will also be download driven.
HD movies on the move will look great on that screen, and it's no surprise that several of the launch titles are PSN games given the touch-screen treatment.
With Sony telling us that Wipeout 2048, the latest in the futuristic racing series, will support Sony PlayStation 3 vs Vita play, there will clearly be much crossover on these arcade games that don't demand the full big-brother console grunt and 3D bells and whistles.
Although, tellingly, while the dev units supported HDMI out to show the games on larger screens (resolution surprisingly impressive, since you asked), the finished units will not, presumably to prevent it from being used as a standalone console and eating into PS3 sales.
Yes, we're getting that close. Review continues after the video...
Sony PlayStation Vita: Price
We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Vita and are very keen to play with it some more, but our head kept turning to the potential price.
Make no mistake, the graphical fidelity and the tightened controls are aimed squarely at the hardcore gamer, but Sony needs this to be a mainstream hit, which makes pricing more key than usual.
Nintendo's 3DS sales have been relatively lacklustre despite heavy discounting (£160 and counting, down from £199, at certain websites), due to a number of factors, but predominantly because ever-more powerful smart phones are doing quick-hit games so well, and so cheaply.
The Vita browses the internet, takes photos and plays all sorts of media, but its size and control inputs will undoubtedly limit its portability and, in turn, its function, so regardless of its intentions, it will still be referred to primarily as a games machine.
Is this the reason standalone portable gaming systems are a dying breed?
With US and European pricing announced at E3 ($249 and 249 Euros for the WiFi model, $299 and 299 Euros for the 3G version, respectively), we'd say that Sony has done well to keep at least the WiFi model under the £250 mark.
For context, the PSP debuted at £179, you can currently buy a PS3 for £199 and the iPod Touch 32GB, our current go-to PMP from the usually fairly pricey Apple which you can slide in a suit jacket pocket, is £254.
The Vita is a hugely powerful, very impressive system, but it needs to recognise what it sacrifices as well as what it offers.
The portable gaming world has never been more competitive, and the needs of gamers on the move and the audience it caters for has changed unrecognisably. Exciting times indeed.
Sony PlayStation Vita UK release date: February 22nd 2011
Sony PlayStation Vita price: £279 (3G/Wi-Fi model) I £229.99 (Wi-Fi model)