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Nintendo 3DS vs PlayStation Vita

Which hardware comes out on top?
Product: Nintendo 3DS | Publisher: Nintendo | Format: 3DS, PS Vita
Nintendo 3DS Multiformat, thumbnail 1
Whenever there are two pieces of hardware in a marketplace, the first question people ask is: "which is better?"

Über-fans take sides, shout at one another IN CAPITAL LETTERS on forums, and the whole thing becomes quite tiresome.

So, at Pocket Gamer, we thought we'd wade into the discussion (one more time) on the relative merits of the latest handheld consoles from Sony and Nintendo and deliver our verdict.

We've had the 3DS for the best part of a year now, and the Vita has been in our possession for a few weeks. This is ample time to compare and contrast the usability of the two devices.

Which one's better? Which one should you get? Which one has the nicest design? Let's find out with the help of some out-of-work actors gleefully posing with their 'favourite' systems...

Startup and shutdown times

Though the days of the almost instantaneous bootups of the Game Boy Advance and Neo Geo Pocket Color are long gone, both the 3DS and Vita load up rapidly - taking around ten seconds each. If we had to call it, we'd say Nintendo's machine has the edge.

Both also connect to the internet quickly and automatically, which is handy considering the two systems are positioned to take advantage of all the wonders the World Wide Web has to offer.

Finishing your play session is also speedy, though again the 3DS squeaks past the competition with its two short power button presses. The Vita demands you hold the button for a couple of seconds and then tap the appropriate command on-screen, wasting valuable seconds.

Winner: 3DS (3DS 1-0 Vita)


The 3DS's home screen is nice and all, but it's very simplistic. Getting to the content you want means either scrolling through reams of icons or fitting more in your field of view by making each one tiny. You also can't launch software if you haven't first highlighted it, resulting in two taps being required to send 'hilarious' picture messages to friends.

The Vita's interface is a lot more elegant, and it takes its design cues from smartphones. You are presented with up to ten icons at a time that can be moved onto different pages for ease of access. If you don't tinker with Near much, move its icon off the starting page and replace it with a favourite game you've downloaded.

The only potential downside to this is the implementation of LiveArea. When you tap an icon, instead of content being launched, a sub-menu is opened that has links to the game's official website and DLC on the PSN Store. It's another hurdle to getting into the game, but it does have useful info included, so we'll let it pass.

Winner: Vita (3DS 1-1 Vita)

Load times

The Vita suffers here. We've only had access to digital copies of full games so far and load times are lengthy. Whether this is something to do with how fast the handheld can pull content from a memory card, or whether the developers of the launch titles are not optimising their processes is a bit of a mystery. Needless to say: it's disappointing.

Generally, the 3DS consistently performs better in the load times department than the Vita. You could make the argument that the Vita has more information to load due to higher-resolution assets, but that's a technicality. In practical terms, if you want to play something quickly, nothing currently beats a physical 3DS release.

Winner: 3DS (3DS 2-1 Vita)


This category takes into account potential for visuals as well as sound.

We can rule out any issues with the latter - the devices handle audio equally well. For the best experience on either, you'll need a decent set of headphones, since the speakers themselves are built for durability, not quality. The Vita has more processing power to throw around in games, e.g. for atmospherics and complicated position of sound source stuff, but it'll be down to the developers to take advantage of it.

When it comes to graphics, it's not as cut and dry as you might think. Superficially, one could make the argument that with its superior system specs and ultra-sharp OLED screen, the Vita is the clear winner. But, that's just one side of the story.

If you're interested in a game's visuals providing new and exciting ways for creators to make games, then surely it's the 3DS that has the upper hand. Mario may not look as crisp or as detailed as Nathan Drake, but the way Super Mario 3D Land uses the third dimension more than makes up for that.

Because of the potential for original experiences with the glasses-free 3D of Nintendo's machine and the raw polygon pushing power of the Vita, we'll call this a tie.

Result: Draw (3DS 2-1 Vita)


After a full charge, both the Vita and 3DS can be expected to last between five and six hours. In addition, both the systems's batteries take a similar amount of time to reach full capacity when the devices are plugged into the mains. You can charge the Vita, however, from a USB power source, too, which puts it in the lead slightly.

You'll be surprised at how often you need to give the Vita's screen a quick wipe, though. Since the 3DS uses a stylus and is naturally protected from dust due to its clamshell design, it remains cleaner for longer. The Vita, on the other hand, will need a case to keep the grub off.

Furthermore, your fingers tend to touch the Vita's screen more regularly to select menu options, so unless you want finger-sized smears obscuring your view of Queen's Mall in WipEout 2048, a quick buff with a sleeve will be needed intermittently. It's a minor quibble, but it levels the playing field in this category.

Result: Draw (3DS 2-1 Vita)

Input methods

The 3DS has a stylus, a touchscreen, motion sensors, a Circle Pad, a D-pad, and some buttons. The Vita eschews the stylus in favour of a multi-touch screen, and features Sixaxis, dual-analogue sticks, face buttons, a D-pad, and a rear touchpad. In terms of quantity, therefore, the Vita is the winner.

It's the absence of a second stick that is the 3DS's biggest issue, making first-person shooters and high-intensity action games particularly tricky to pull off. Sure, there's an add-on coming for the system, but we're talking about the hardware available out of the box.

Everything feels much more tactile on the Vita - the analogue sticks, in particular, give you precise control over matters. The 3DS isn't awkward to play: it's just that Sony's hardware is much better in this department.

Result: Vita (3DS 2-2 Vita)


How disappointing! It looks like the two systems are pretty much evenly pegged. We were totally in the mood for a flame war to warm our cockles, too.

You should keep in mind, of course, that this analysis is based on the physical hardware available out of the box and does not take into account the library of games on offer for both systems. This is mainly because the Vita hasn't been on the market long enough for this to be a fair fight.

With increased competition in the portable gaming space, hopefully everyone with a vested interest in the 3DS and Vita will raise his game over the next few months. If so, the real winner in all of this won't be a console, after all. Instead, it'll be you: the consumer.

Reviewer photo
Peter Willington 27 January 2012
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