PS Vita, iPhone & 3DS Hardware And Tech Analysis
We’ve reviewed the PS Vita, we’ve been playing with the 3DS for months now and we’ve lived with the iPhone for years. But how do these three handheld devices compare to one another?
We’ve analysis the hardware of all three across a number of important handheld categories, ranging from battery life and screen picture quality to controls.
The first thing you might spot with the PS Vita is how loose the buttons feel. The home, select and start buttons are flush with the Vita’s front panel, but the face buttons (Square, Triangle, Circle, Cross), left and right bumpers and D-Pad all have a little give to them.
In terms of the D-Pad this gives it a necessary sponginess, which makes it much more satisfying to use – especially with the solid clicks each press of a direction gives.
The face buttons are a little less forgiving, though again the click after each press makes it as tactile as a console controller. The buttons are raised enough from the device that it’s easy to use.
It’s the feedback of these controls that really makes the PS Vita a stand out gaming device, and the real USP here.
Though the left and right bumpers feel a little loose, it’s not something you notice during play. The curved shape of these buttons add to the impressive ergonomic design of the Vita, and make reaching and using them simple.
Lastly, the analogue sticks. While these dual sticks are fairly small – at least compared to the PSP’s nub or DualShock’s analogues – they are just as competent as any other.
The rubberised grips are important here, making them easy to grasp and use over long periods. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a great showcase of these sticks, playing just like the bigger console version.
Controls are a little confused on the 3DS – as proven by Nintendo’s recent introduction of the second circle pad. It’s plastic-y feel carries over into the buttons, which can feel a little flimsy.
This is especially true of the D-Pad, which wobbles a little too much under use. Most important is the minimal differences between each directional button press – often getting confused due in part to the smaller size of the pad. It’s something that has become particularly noticeable when compared to the PS Vita.
The circle pad more than makes up for this, though, and while it also manages to confuse the direction sometimes – mostly due to a skewed sensitivity – it often replaces the D-Pad wholly.
The face buttons (Y, X, A, B) follow similar flaws by being a little too curved and close to the facia of the 3DS, making it harder to use. Similarly is the lack of feedback – where the PS Vita clicks, the 3DS manages very little and makes it less satisfying to handle.
Finally the left and right bumpers. Being raised makes these easier to use, especially since they are concealed behind the DS’s top screen. They are a little small, however, and not suitable for all hands.
The iPhone has no additional controls beyond those created by each game’s developer, as such it’s quite hard to actually compare it to both the Vita and the 3DS whose inputs are a mixture of physical and touch screen controls.
Ergonomically, however, the iPhone is the perfect size to be handled by any size of hand. It’s nature as a touch screen device means there’s no potential worry about it being too small or too large.
Though only one of them is a screen, the PS Vita comes with two touch control panels. The OLED screen at the front and the rear touch panel at the back.
The front facing touch screen is as responsive as any smartphone on the market, iPhone included. It is built into the Vita’s facia, meaning it stays flush with the rest of the controls – mimicking the iPhone’s screen and casing.
The rear touch panel is also flush with the casing of the Vita, though conversely this means it’s impossible to know where the rear touch panel’s edges are. It’s not an issue encountered with any of the Vita’s launch titles so far, but could be in the future.
With a resistive touch screen the 3DS is by far the least impressive. The added use of a stylus means there’s more precision, yet natural issues with resistive screens arise here. There’s a reason the smartphone market has become led by capacitive screens (such as the iPhone or the PS Vita).
Most notable are the issues with its method of input, with limited accuracy when using a finger and a difficulty in detecting fairly light touches. Additionally, the 3DS screen cannot make use of multi-touch input.
As the leader of capacitive touch screens, its no surprise that the iPhone’s touch screen is as responsive as you might expect. However, by being restricted to touch screen input, the iPhone is at the mercy of the game developers to include a control scheme that suits.
Some games, such as Infinity Blade or Angry Birds, have achieved success thanks to their catering to touch screen technology, while those that resort to digital D-Pads often find themselves awkward to play after lacking the tactile input.
As a piece of hardware, however, the iPhone 4S’s capacitive touch screen cannot be faltered and is very responsive.
Coming in at around four hours play, the PS Vita holds a decent charge when compared to the other two handhelds. It’s still a little too short for a portable gaming device, but compared to the others it’s acceptable at the very least.
Interestingly the battery took the least amount to charge, at around 1.5 hours to charge to maximum from flat.
For this test we left WipEout 2048 – the Vita’s most technically impressive game – running on the flying camera screen before the start of a race, ensuring 3D space is constantly being rendered.
The length of the 3DS’s battery life is largely dependant on how much use to make of the 3D effect. With the 3D slider up to maximum, the 3DS survived for around 3 hours play time. Turn the 3D completely off, however, and it’ll last for considerably longer.
Meanwhile, the 3DS battery took longer than any other to charge, coming in at nearly 3 hours to fully charge from an empty battery.
For this test we left Mario Kart 7 on the race complete screen, which follows our Koopa as he continues repeated laps of the track. We also left the 3D effect on maximum.
The iPhone demonstrated the worst battery life of the three, petering out at just over 2 hours constant play. Playing 2D games – such as Angry Birds – is kinder to the iPhone’s battery life but, like for like, its lifespan is pretty awful as a gaming device.
The iPhone took around 2.5 hours to fully charge from a drained battery, which made it the second best recharge time after the PS Vita.
For this test we left the iPhone 4S on Infinity Blade 2’s in-game screen, while switching off the natural
Screen Image Quality
With the gorgeous OLED screen, the PS Vita can differentiate between colours much better than the rest of the handhelds – something demonstrated perfectly with games like Frobisher Says and WipEout 2048.
The sharpness of the PS Vita is not quite as good as the iPhone’s, particularly noticeable in menus and on the home screen. Nonetheless, the PS Vita has fantastic image quality and really highlights the beauty of OLED tech.
The size of the screen really helps it showcase the games of the PS Vita too; it is big enough to provide plenty to see – which is great for gaming – but small enough that it doesn’t make the device too bulky.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the 3DS’s image quality – it can replicate colours beautifully – but compared to the PS Vita’s OLED or the iPhone 4S’s Retina display it just cannot compete.
The problem is its lower resolution, which reduces the quality of the image to more than half of that of the PS Vita. It’s a minor difference when the 3DS screen is so small, but a noticeable one all the same. Especially since the iPhone 4S has a similar sized screen yet is capable of much sharper images.
Of course it’s impossible to ignore the 3DS’s USP, it’s glasses-free 3D effect. The effect is hit or miss, dependant on the game, but when used properly the 3D effect can really impress.
The iPhone 4S screen is easily the sharpest of the three, which is not surprising considering the impressive pixels per inch ratio of 326. This means there are smoother lines and edges to the images it produces
However, despite the Retina technology powering the iPhone 4S, the colours it produces is far more washed out than the PS Vita’s. Its screen is better suited to 2D games to better distinguish between edges.
While menus and the like appear sharper with the iPhone 4S, the much brighter colours and deeper blacks of the PS Vita’s screen makes it much better suited to gaming.
There’s a heap of connectivity options bundled into the PS Vita. Its wireless connection will be the staple of the majority of interactions, fuelling online gaming across the various PS Vita games that support it.
Unfortunately, since our PS Vita is an EU model, connecting to any servers is proving difficult and therefore something we couldn’t trial.
The same is true for CrossPlay through games such as WipEout, which is supposed to enable online multiplayer with both PS Vita and PS3 players. Again, this is currently unavailable.
3G couldn’t be tested either, since the model we were sent is Wi-Fi only, while a subscription is currently unavailable until its release of 22 February.
Ad Hoc multiplayer could be tested, however. It’s easy enough to set up an Ad Hoc game, which shuts down wireless to connect to any other Vita’s in the area. The system was flawless for the tests, and had a decent range – even providing smooth gaming through walls.
The distance of the PS Vita is quite impressive, stretching out over around 25-30 metres without any real impact on play – though passing the signal through walls naturally decreases the signals strength.
For the 3DS a separate wireless switch is built into the side – something both the PS Vita and the iPhone 4S are lacking. This means it’s quick and easy to turn wireless on and off, and saves battery power during play.
Playing online is as sturdy as expected – providing the wireless connection is stable – though it is still dependant on each game in question as to how well online is handled.
Like the PS Vita, 3DS is also capable of local multiplayer. This is just as stable as wireless play, even over distances comparable to the impressive PS Vita’s at around 25 metres.
Lastly there are StreetPass and SpotPass. The former enables unique elements of games from co-operating with each other when passing each other in the street (hence the name).
While the benefits of this feature is dependant on the game, its ‘always on’ connection means it detects another nearby 3DS and initiates without any input from the user.
SpotPass, however, is less beneficial. While it does mean you can download system updates, game trailers and other media while on the move, its use is fairly limited.
As a multimedia device, the connectivity of an iPhone is one of its key elements. For gaming, however, it has fewer options available to it than both the PS Vita and the 3DS.
Of course there is wireless gaming for a number of multiplayer games, ranging from FPS games like Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation or even MMOs such as Order And Chaos.
As always this is dependant on the connection and the game in question, but the hardware in question cannot be faltered – providing smooth online gaming wherever possible.
Without a wi-fi connection, however, you won’t be able to play online. There is no Ad Hoc multiplayer support and gaming cannot be played over 3G.
There are rare examples where the iPhone can be utilised as a controller for an iPad game – such as with Scrabble or FIFA – by using the Bluetooth connection, which works solidly but can heavily drain the battery of your phone.
The PS Vita’s camera is very poor quality. With just a 1.3 megapixel camera, the Vita’s images are poor and grainy. This drastically limits the handheld’s capabilities beyond augmented reality – though it’s likely that was the minimal requirement for AR to function successfully.
It’s a shame, considering the gorgeous OLED screen, that Sony should limit the camera in this way.
By far the worst camera of the three devices, the 3DS camera is a lowly 0.3 megapixels. And it shows, too, with grainy images and a camera app that struggles with lighting.
Again, it is likely this is primarily intended as an AR function, but with the added ability of taking photos in 3D – something that isn’t utilised nearly as well as it should be – it’s a shame that the camera couldn’t be a little higher quality.
At 8 megapixels, the iPhone 4S’s camera is leaps and bounds ahead of the PS Vita and 3DS. Combined with the gorgeous Retina display, the iPhone 4S is capable of photos as crisp and sharp as most digital cameras.
As with the others, AR is a possibility, though it isn’t a feature that is often advertised by Apple. Overall, however, easily the best camera of the three, which isn’t surprising considering the iPhone 4S’s focus on multimedia.
While Sony is not pitching the PS Vita as a multimedia device, with a handful of software applications surrounding this feature it would be impossible to ignore it.
Unfortunately the included software is basic at best, meaning there’s very little to do beyond access the photos or videos stored on the handheld. There’s no way of altering brightness when watching videos, often a necessary feature.
Additional updates and apps would be welcome – and Sony has a reputation to back this – while YouTube and the like are expected on release. For now, however, the PS Vita is not quite as media-capable as it should be.
Most embarrassingly for Sony is the Vita’s video file incompatibility. According to the official manual, the PS Vita will only support H.264 and MPEG-4 video formats.
Not only that, but it can only manage files up to 720p, meaning many of our selection of videos downloaded from the PS Store on the PS3 and then transferred over to the PS Vita were actually incompatible and would not copy over.
Despite having access to SpotPass, the media capabilities of the 3DS are severely lacking. While SpotPass can download videos on the go, most of these are limited.
The app will only let you watch videos currently available. Once they are taken off the specific app, they are no longer accessible.
There is room for additional apps to rectify this loss – such as the poor EuroSport app – but it doesn’t look likely that Nintendo will be providing these any time soon.
Unsurprisingly the iPhone 4S leads in terms of media capabilities. The basic apps are little more functional than the PS Vita’s, though the Photo app at least provides the option to crop, remove red eye and share through Twitter and email.
However, with access to a wealth of additional apps – both free and paid – to cover all forms of media capabilities, whether that’s photography, video playback and editing and more.