For those that didn’t snatch a pricey $350 special edition PS Vita last Wednesday, cheaper versions of Sony’s powerful gaming portable will launch in the U.S. tomorrow (technically midnight tonight) along with the final launch games and accessories.
Whether you’re in the market for one or just a dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo-head, you have to hand it to Sony — the handheld is mighty impressive under the hood, and beating the odds, the launch games lineup actually packs more hits than misses.
Assuming you’re planning to snag the $250 Wi-Fi or $300 Wi-Fi + 3G version of the handheld, here’s a quick list of optional accessories (some less optional than others) to consider.
A protective case. The Vita sells without a slipcover, and with its protruding thumbsticks and jumbo 5-inch screen, there’s a lot to safeguard. Your options here are mixed. The official $20 Sony “carrying case” certainly does the job with its stiff front/rear protective panels, but it uses a pair of mandatory snap-in, snap-out clips to secure the handheld. The idea’s that you’re able to leave the Vita in the case while playing, or even use it as a stand (fold it into a triangle and it props the Vita on a flat surface, inclined backward 20 or 30 degrees). But playing while the case is attached means it ends up dangling from the Vita’s bottom, and using it on a table as a stand prevents your fingers from connecting with the rear touchpad. If you just want a secure, durable case, it works well enough, but then why not just go with a less expensive, easier to slide in or out of, slipcase? Sony makes one of those, too: The $20 PS Vita “travel pouch” is a soft case which uses a neoprene liner and includes storage spots for four game cards and two mesh pockets for extras, like a pair of headphones (the “carrying case” offers extra storage for nothing). Note: There’s also an official Vita “starter kit” that includes a soft sleeve case, a 4GB memory card and card case, a piece of protective film, headphones and a cleaning cloth for $40.
A screen-protector. They’re ridiculously overpriced for what you get — a tiny piece of limpid plastic with the heaviness of an overhead projector transparency and sticky on one side — but they pay dividends if you’re worried about scratching the Vita’s glass screen. The ones I bought came with a multi-layer application mechanism that was sadly too clever for me. After futzing with it for 10 minutes and failing miserably, I gave up, made sure the Vita’s screen was clean, carefully peeled everything off the protective panel, and gently dropped it into place, just like the ones I’ve used on my smartphone (mission accomplished). Expect to pay between $5 and $10, depending what you buy and how many pieces are included.
A good pair of headphones. The Vita’s built-in stereo speakers sound fine, but they’re still handheld speakers. It only takes a moderate amount of ambient noise to drown out background music or make it hard to hear what a character’s saying in-game, so a pair of decent noise-blocking headphones is a must, especially if you plan to play on the go, where your ambient noise environment’s a crapshoot. Shameless pitch: I use a pair of AKG K240 studio headphones. They run about $100 and have incredibly low bias when it comes to hearing sounds as intended. The downside: They’re bulky (over-the-ear-sized) with a longish cable. If you have something that works, great. If not, set aside anywhere from $20 to $100, e.g. Sony sells a pair of Vita-branded in-ear headphones with an integrated mic for $20.
A memory card. Here’s the part where you’re either a cheerleader for Sony’s cause, or grumping about the company exploiting consumers by selling the Vita without built-in storage and offering proprietary, high-priced memory cards. Enough’s been said about the markup already, just know that you’ll pay $20-$25 for 4GB, $30-$35 for 8GB, $60 for 16GB and $100 for 32GB (the $5 markup on the first two is courtesy GameStop, if you’re wondering). What’ll you need? I have all of the launch games here, and most only require 4MB (though Uncharted: Golden Abyss wants 64MB and FIFA Soccer needs 160MB). If you’re sticking with retail games, 4GB gets the job done. But if you want to actually download anything from the PS Store — older PSP games, full Vita ones which cost $5 less than their retail versions — even 16GB’s going to cramp your style. The downloadable version of Uncharted: Golden Abyss clocks in at over 3GB, meaning you’d barely fit five similar-sized games on a 16GB card. You can backup saves (and games) to your computer or PS3, and kudos to Sony for supporting this, but isn’t the Vita supposed to be self-sufficient instead of reliant on ancillary devices?
A handlebar/trigger grip. Full disclosure: I haven’t tested one yet, but I can’t wait to, because it’s really all the system’s missing (okay, the joysticks could be a tick bigger). Without the handlebars you’re accustomed to on console-style gamepads, your fingers curve around empty air, essentially pressing up against the Vita’s sides in a way that limits their mobility. Handlebar grips let you better stabilize the unit (with fewer fingers). A company called PDP offers a pair of Vita grips (with triggers) for $18, basically a snap-on piece that makes the Vita look a little more like a PS3 DualShock controller.
What else? There’s a car adapter for $18, probably a must if you plan to play on long trips (there’s no airplane adapter yet, though you could pick up an auto adapter-to-airplane converter). Sony’s selling a Vita charge cradle for $20 if you want a dedicated drop-zone. There’s a standalone Vita USB cable for $15, though the system comes with one, so I’m guessing it’s just meant as a replacement (note the Vita doesn’t charge off a USB-computer connection). And last up, MadCatz is selling a “PS VITA Armorshell” wraparound for $13, which is cheap, granted, but it doesn’t protect the screen or rear touchpad, and I worry about wraparounds because if abrasive particles (say bits of sand) get trapped between the outer shell and unit itself, the chances of scratching can actually increase.