When it came to buying my PS Vita, I went back and forth on the matter of which model to buy several times. Eventually I decided to put down the extra cash for the 3G version. After all, I’d be getting Wipeout 2048 from a top-up with Vodafone, and that brought the “cost” down to £25 for the extra innards. A week after launch, do I think that this was money well spent?
Well, my first impression wasn’t so great. Setting up the 3G on day one was really quite messy and a bit frustrating. Upon getting the console, I turned it on without putting in the SIM card, and was soon told off for not doing so! How very dare I!
Once I teased out the SIM card’s little tray and popped it in, the Vita was now perfectly happy to let me carry on with setting up. A process that has its own peculiarities, regardless of the model of Vita you own.
With the set up and various updates completed, I could finally delve into the settings, only to see the preferences for the 3G connection spread all over the place. Some in the main settings under Network, but then the data usage is shown under System Information. What baffles me the most is that there’s a whole separate app called Network Operator, with the sole purpose of picking the access point name (APN) of your network and some web links. Surely these things could have been folded into the main settings app?
Frustration was piled on top of frustration when I discovered the links for topping up simply didn’t work. Instead I was directed to a web page where, upon trying to give Vodafone my money, I was flat out rejected every time with an uninformative error. Customer support didn’t have any bright ideas on day one, saying there was some form of block on my card details. This was complete nonsense, as it turned out, but even today I wouldn’t expect them to know what the issue really is at the drop of a hat.
In actual fact it requires another strange workaround within the Vita’s OS. The SIM could not properly phone home whilst there was a Wi-Fi connection, so that wouldn’t allow me to receive an activation message welcoming me to the network. That message meant that Vodafone’s system had recognised my SIM, and would finally let me top up. It wasn’t until the next day that my Wipeout 2048 code showed up.[drop2]It’s worth noting that I didn’t even disconnect the Vita from my Wi-Fi deliberately to get this trick to work, it was purely by chance that I took my Vita out of the house for a while on day one, noticing the welcome text when I got home. This entire process should all have been easier and clearer, and the fact that it doesn’t work at all if you’re on Wi-Fi is frankly bizarre.
Whilst set up is frankly a mess, the 3G is fine after that. Although the way the Vita’s OS handles logging into PSN is a bit of a pain, but that’s common to Wi-Fi too. I would love a firmware update that could background the log in process. When logged in via 3G, all you really lose is head-to-head online play, but the developers all have this in mind when crafting their games, with the clear focus of most titles being on asynchronous play in various guises.
To see just how the 3G would hold up, the other night I conducted an extremely scientific experiment during a train journey. Rather than confining myself to offline play over the course of my trip, I played Wipeout 2048 whilst signed into PSN over 3G.
As I travelled through an area of low signal at the start of my journey log in times naturally suffered a bit, but once connected it simply sat in the background. I could retrieve and look through the times of my friends, check in on the Community section of the game, and obviously race to my heart’s content. I was happily setting new times which uploaded to the leader boards, and reignited my mini-feud with Colinbarr66 for the best time in the game’s very first event.[drop]Time beaten successfully, (at the time, anyway) I hopped over to the LiveTweet app and told him he had work to do. I was then passing through a major station, so I decided to flip on Near and see what goodies it brought up. It failed to obtain my location at the first attempt, due to a spot of iffy signal, but on a second attempt it succeeded. Hurrah! Having submitted my exact location, foot prints trailed across my screen, and I was told that I’d discovered a new game, Everybody’s Golf, with a whopping 108 players nearby.
I didn’t have the patience for avatars of the nearest few to pop into view, but fortunately the Vita will let me revisit the Near update later on and snoop, so I headed back to the main menu to discover I’d been rewarded with four new Game Goods. Currently these tend to be music unlocks for Super Stardust Delta, but this time one of them was coincidentally a Challenge for Wipeout 2048. Challenge accepted!
Tapping on this challenge brought up more information, like the time to beat and track, and tapping the download button grabbed the relevant data from Sony. Once you’ve grabbed the few KB of data, you can then launch straight to the game and track from Near at your leisure. The challenges in game are simply beating hot laps against the ghost you’ve just downloaded. You can even, since you’re in the right part of the game, post your own challenge to Near for someone else to pick up later. I left my challenge a little way down the train tracks. It’s all quite nice and cleverly handled, with some more widespread integration possible in games yet to come.
Now at this point you’re probably wondering why I’ve just gone on about Wipeout 2048, challenges and Near, all of which are available to Wi-Fi only owners too. That’s kind of the point, though, since aside from areas with a patchy network connection, and not having any direct competition, this was just like me being sat on my sofa at home or hooked into a cafe’s free Wi-Fi for 10 minutes.
An interesting tidbit to see is that data usage was really quite low. I was online for 50 minutes, and saw 1MB of upload and 4MB of downloaded data. That’s next to nothing, really. You hardly even need a data plan for that kind of usage, and I plan on moving on once my month with Vodafone draws to a close. The prospect of £5 a month for the occasional spot of gaming leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I wish there were still companies that dealt with non-expiring data allowances for my kind of infrequent, on the go gaming.
So after my little jaunt, do I recommend the 3G model over the standard Wi-Fi Vita? No, I don’t think I can. I’m glad I have it, and I enjoyed putting in times and playing with Near, but I don’t think I’d really miss it much. It may become more relevant down the line, as Sony and their army of developers spread their wings, but for the time being it’s very much a novelty.
I’d love to hear from other people how their 3G experiences have gone down. Have you gone for a round of Everybody’s Golf on the train?