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The PS Vita’s time is now, again

The PS Vita’s time is now, again

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It’s not news that handhelds are back in a big way, but reviving Sony’s beloved, beleaguered Vita would probably see a bigger audience in 2022. Or, at the very least, I would buy one.

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The PS Vita revision facing the camera with its screen on, displaying its bubble-filled user interface.
The 2013 PS Vita still looks and feels surprisingly modern.

Every couple of weeks, I exhume my gadget graveyard from underneath my bed. I look at my iPods, old phones, and some other stuff. Most of it doesn’t stir me anymore, but the PS Vita is another story. It’s the device that I pull out most frequently, charging it up to, well, just to feel like it’s a part of the modern world.

I keep mine in a svelte Waterfield Designs soft case that cleans off fingerprints when it goes in so that it’s smudge-free when I pull it out, revealing design details that I apparently have an unshakable affinity to seeing over and over: gorgeous translucent shoulder buttons; the big (but not too big) display; and the sturdy yet elegant build quality. Almost everything going on with the look and feel of the Vita is still serviceable today, even if it’s daringly tiny compared to the size of, say, the Nintendo Switch.

You’ve probably heard this a million times, but the Vita, announced in mid-2011, was Sony’s compete-with-everything device, unenviably poised to take on mobile phones and Nintendo’s 3DS with console-like controls and graphics as well as forward-thinking (though, ultimately ill-advised) features like 3G support, apps of its own, and a rear touchpad meant to be a playground for innovation in gameplay.

A PS Vita’s display showing that it’s connected via 3G to AT&T’s service in 2012
Yep, there was a first-gen version of the Vita that supported 3G via AT&T.

Ten years later, the Vita is very dead outside of a vibrant homebrew scene that I’m continuously impressed by. It only took a fraction of those 10 years to seal its fate, and it deserved it. Or rather, parts of Sony’s vision for the Vita did. Remember its godforsaken proprietary memory card that cost a fortune and its Micro USB port? Yeah, goodbye. But there’s plenty about the Vita that can be reimagined for 2022; I just like to pretend that the concept of a handheld isn’t so dead to Sony.

I have, um, specific desires.

A new Vita shouldn’t have a brand-new ecosystem for exclusive games and apps built up around it, nor does it need to deliver high-end performance. Really, I would just like a modernized Vita with USB-C charging and a lightweight OS that’s built to supplement Sony’s PlayStation Plus plans, with cloud streaming and all of that. Remove some of the frills of the hardware and ship it. Just give me a reason to stop obsessing over this dead gadget.

The PS Vita sitting on a table, nested between an Akira manga and several other books.
Tell me a new Vita with USB-C, microSD, and Android wouldn’t be the hottest device of 2022.
Photography by Sam Byford / The Verge

What else do I want in a next-gen PS Vita? I’m so glad that you asked. Using the late 2013 Vita revision as my reference, I’d be willing to accept a slightly wider and taller handheld to accommodate more buttons (just to reflect what’s on the PS5’s DualSense controller). I really like this Vita’s thickness, which is about as thick as a deck of cards, though I’d be cool with it taking on a few extra millimeters to incorporate a proper set of L2 and R2 triggers. Otherwise, just leave the rest of the design alone — I still love it.

As for the OS, slap Android on it for all that I care. Keep the bubbly user interface, or just make it stock Android. The latter would make it more practical for me to use it for other forms of entertainment, and I’m sure a relatively midrange Snapdragon chipset could get the job done. You can take or leave the game cartridge slot, but a microSD card slot, a headphone jack, and an OLED screen would be nice. I mean, it’s gotta be modern, right? Even the debut Vita model had an OLED. Sony switched it to LCD in the second iteration.

An iPhone 12 Pro sitting inside of Backbone’s One controller that has a Sony PlayStation-like design.
Traces of Vita DNA exist in Backbone’s Sony-approved iPhone controller.
Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

Holding the Vita in my hands makes me feel like a revised version would find a bigger audience today than in the early 2010s. Sony seems to agree, in a way, that handhelds are an unavoidable part of the business today because it plans to make its own phone games based on its popular franchises. I mean, Sony even partnered with Backbone, a third-party accessory maker, to make an officially licensed PlayStation controller that wraps around an iPhone. As for what Sony’s doing internally in terms of handheld hardware, it’s making niche gaming accessories for its niche Xperia phones.

The last five years in tech have supplied more handhelds than I (and apparently Sony, too) could have ever predicted. Several products have capitalized on the Switch’s dominance in their own way, including multiflavored Aya Neo consoles, the Steam Deck, the Analogue Pocket, and soon (if the rumors are true), Logitech’s own handheld. Some reimagining of the Vita seems like an obvious idea. It belongs in the here and now with all of the other portable consoles, even if Sony doesn’t see it that way.

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