On Monday, Sony’s PlayStation Vita showed up for review. I unboxed the system, popped in the cartridge for Uncharted: Golden Abyss and settled on my couch for a long night of handheld gaming (or rather, about three hours of gaming, which was all the Vita’s battery allowed).
Like my colleague Matt Peckham, who already wrote a full PS Vita review, the Vita’s gaming prowess hooked me. This was not the couch-bound tablet gaming to which I’ve grown accustomed since buying an iPad nearly two years ago. This was real gaming, the kind that grabs your attention for hours.
And yet, tablet gaming has spoiled me, not just on the iPad, but on Samsung’s 7-inch Galaxy Tab, which I bought on an impulse last year. Although the games on Sony’s Vita are several cuts above the quick-hit fare of Android and iOS, playing the Vita mostly left me hungrier for something else–a bona fide PlayStation tablet.
No, I’m not talking about Sony’s Tablet S, which was a middling Android slate with a tiny library of old PlayStation One games. I’m talking about a powerful tablet that plays the same modern video games as the Vita. Give me a tablet that plays Uncharted, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom and Rayman Origins, and I promise I’ll buy the heck out of it.
With a tablet, you’d get a bigger display, which means instead of having to hold the device within a foot of your face, you could rest it at arms length and still have a clear view of the action. A larger footprint also means more room for internal components, such as a bigger battery. Those power-hungry Vita games could certainly use one.
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Of course, a bigger screen and better internal components would raise the cost of manufacturing, but tablets are becoming more like secondary computers, with a wide range of apps and support for external keyboards and mice. I’d be willing to pay more for a proper tablet than a dedicated gaming device, because I’d get a lot more use out of it.
You might argue that part of the Vita’s allure is its physical controls–its buttons, thumb sticks and triggers–that a touchscreen tablet doesn’t have. But this is a solvable problem. Sony could offer attachable controls, resembling the winged controller wands on Razer’s Project Fiona, or it could support the PlayStation 3 controller via Bluetooth. That way, it’s only a gaming machine when you want it to be.
Fortunately, my hope for a PlayStation tablet is no pipe dream. The latest tablets, such as Asus’ Transformer Prime, are using a similar (or perhaps the same) type of quad-core processor as the Vita. And Kazuo Hirai, Sony’s incoming president and CEO, has said that the company may some day bring the Vita software to smartphones and tablets.
Bringing the Vita experience to tablets without incorporating a more popular OS, like Android, would be a mistake, because no tablet can survive without lots of non-gaming apps. But at least Sony’s mind is in the right place. The appeal of a standalone gaming device is limited and dwindling thanks to more versatile tablets, but awesome video games will never go out of style.