Note: this is an updated PS Vita review taking into account firmware versions at UK and US launch (v1.61). Words by Steve Boxer and Andy Robinson.
The seemingly interminable wait is over: Sony's PS Vita is at last ready to be released into the jungle of the UK's retail sector, bringing the games industry to centre stage at a time when, traditionally, it makes about as much noise as a church mouse.
There's no need for any speculation about what it's like any more - we've been living with our PS Vita's for a while now, so here's our definitive verdict on Sony's newest portable console.
Even as it launches, the PS Vita is still attracting slightly puzzled comments from those who wouldn't class themselves as gamers - why, the question goes, would I want to spend £230 on a handheld console in this day and age, when I could play games on a mobile phone that I got for free?
That's a perfectly good argument if you're happy spending the rest of your life playing Angry Birds and FarmVille, but the whole point of the PS Vita is that it sets out to provide a fixed-console experience in a portable package - and it accomplishes that mission more successfully than any other handheld console in history.
That said, expense is undoubtedly the PS Vita's Achilles heel -- £230 is a hefty amount of money to find in famously impecunious times, and its games can set you back up to £40.
Plus there are hidden costs: if six weeks spent living with the PS Vita have taught us anything, it's that anyone who buys one will also have to invest in a (proprietary) memory card, because the 16Gb one provided as standard fills up very swiftly. Prospective PS Vita owners will have to be both keen gamers and pretty flush financially.
Specification and practicality
In a way, it's a bit of a shame that the PS Vita superficially resembles the PSP so closely, as it's vastly superior to Sony's first stab at a handheld, in every conceivable respect.
It has a specification that will make any gamer salivate: a quad-core processor and dedicated graphics processor, a gorgeous, standard-setting 5-inch AMOLED screen, a motion-sensor and gyroscope, front and rear cameras (which, perhaps, are disappointingly low-res) and most uniquely a rear touch-pad which generates all manner of opportunities to provide new forms of gameplay.
But above all, it's the first handheld console equipped with dual analogue joysticks - which, according to designer Takashi Sogabe, were the trickiest things to shoehorn into it.
Like most Sony products the PS Vita is a slick, sexy machine bound to impress entire carriages of fellow train travellers, and it'll quickly transform you into a cloth-using wreck, thanks to the mass of fingerprints you'll leave all over its super-shiny display.
With naturally-placed sticks, a shaped plastic back and surprisingly light at 279g, the Vita is as comfortable to use as it is to look at - certainly more so than the PSP. It just feels right in the hands.
Along with the two analogue sticks, the PS Vita sports the iconic Sony d-pad, face and shoulder buttons, and a PS button to accompany start and select. Volume controls, a microphone, plus inputs for proprietary memory cards and a 3G sim round off the handheld's cosmetics.
In everyday use
One of the undoubted joys of being an early adopter of the PS Vita lies in showing it off to people. It really is an impressive piece of kit, and probably its most impressive aspect is how the majority of the games almost look as though they could be running on a PS3. And thanks to those dual-analogue sticks, they play like it, too.
Games-wise, there's no doubt that the PS Vita is better served at launch than any console we have ever seen. It has no fewer than 33 games available in the UK (the Japanese got a mere 24 when it launched there in December).
It has to be said that those games vary wildly in quality, but there are enough top-class efforts to have completists planning how to approach their bank managers.
The use that those games make of the PS Vita's unique features also varies wildly. In Uncharted: Golden Abyss, for example, the touch-screen adds greatly to gameplay, with plenty of touch-based puzzles adding freshness to the franchise's blueprint, and the ability to trace paths for Nathan Drake is generally helpful, although it can become a hindrance when careful timing is required.