HELLO GORGEOUS: For starters, the 5-inch OLED (organic light-emitting diode) color screen on the Vita is drop dead beautiful, emitting vivid colors with intense blacks that really make objects pop.
Vita's relatively large (unless you're now gaming on a Galaxy Note) playing field and 960-by-544 pixel image resolution are sufficiently sharp to track small details. A quad-core processor rarely loses composure.
That's all given software makers like EA and Ubisoft the confidence to deliver full-field experiences on titles such as "FIFA Soccer" and "Rayman Origins," two of the hottest launch games. And when designers do deliver dramatic close-ups of the world rushing by - say, on the high-flying racer "Wipeout 2048" - you can practically feel the wind.
PLAY MECHANICS: Not every game designer takes advantage of every control element in the PS Vita. But the arsenal of tools is huge and unique, guaranteed to keep the savviest trigger-happy multitasker busy.
Start with the twin analog sticks (a first in a portable system), a T-pad, the familiar four-button array (X, O, triangle and box), plus left/right corner bumpers, front-screen touch controls (only used sparingly) and also - ta-da! - a unique, rear-touch panel.
In "Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational," you deploy that backside panel to measure distance to the hole. Yeah, kinda gimmicky. But with "Little Deviants" (another special fave), sliding a finger around the rear panel undulates the ground beneath the aliens, nudging them in the right direction. For "Mod Nation Racers Road Trip," you're essentially drawing the course with the rear touch panel.
Twin VGA cameras (front and back) and six-axis motion sensors also get called into play for augmented reality, as, say, the Deviants are being chased around the "skies" of your living room by evil bots. Yes, the Nintendo 3DS pulls AR stunts too, but with not nearly the sense of, um, reality that Vita's sharper characters and brighter background images lay on.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE: You can get games two ways on a Vita. Stores will sell 'em preloaded on tiny memory cards (a proprietary format) hiding inside a wallet-sized blue plastic case that resembles a Blu-ray package to drive home the "high-def software" theme. Or you can download most games to a Vita-installed blank memory card and maybe save some money in the process. (Sony's cards are very pricey; $100 buys a most accommodating 32GB.)
The $250 PS Vita connects to the outside world via Wi-Fi; a $300 version also links you to multiplayer action via AT&T's 3G Network (with monthly service plans of $15 for 250 MB or $30 for 3GB). But you don't want to download a game or even a movie (more on that in a second) on 3G. It'll take forever and eat an allowance faster than you can say, "Game over."
With my fairly fast FiOS Wi-Fi, it took almost an hour to load new levels of Ubisoft's addictive stacking puzzle game "Lumines: Electronic Symphony" and the spectacular celestial shooter "Super Stardust Delta," a relative bargain at $9.99.
First-line titles are more often in the $35-$40 (and occasionally $50) range, though Game Stop and Amazon are offering early adopters a "buy two, get one free" deal through Saturday. And unlike the early daze of 3DS, Sony is launching with a sizable array of polished, first- and third-party titles. These include crowd pleasers like "Uncharted: Golden Abyss" (fluid graphics, cool touch screen controls), the "Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom" slugfest and amusing (for the little ones) "Touch My Katamari."
MULTI-MEDIA PLEASURES: The PS Vita also craves to be your place to buy or rent movies and TV shows through the PlayStation Store, with rentals starting at 99 cents and some older flicks permanently downloadable (in about 20 minutes) for as little as $5. Netflix and Sony's Music Unlimited service also play on Vita.
Social apps Twitter and Flickr were supposed to go live on the system this morning, but I couldn't try 'em ahead of time. I can relate that Vita's web browser is slow as molasses, only to be used in a dire emergency.
OTHER COMPLAINTS? The screen is a fingerprint magnet, so wash before using. The protective cover for the game card slot is a pain to open and seems likely to break off soon. Stereo speakers aren't all that, and I wish the headphone jack (which outputs good sound) was located on the top of the Vita, instead of the bottom.
Oh, and that fancy-schmancy OLED screen sucks down the power. You'll enjoy maybe five hours of game play between charges. But I'm certain accessory makers will soon offer PS Vita cases with an integrated booster battery, so serious on-the-go gamers need never be without their pride and joy.