As a follow on from my first impressions of the 3G Vita last week, I thought it might be good to have a look at the alternative that many touted in the run up to the Vita’s launch; tethering to your smart phone.
The first step was naturally to connect the Vita, having turned its 3G radio off, to my phone. So, find the settings to turn on the hotspot function, sharing my phone’s 3G connection over Wi-Fi, and then delve into the Vita’s settings to try and connect to it. For some reason my first attempt to connect said there was an invalid character within the access point’s name. There was an apostrophe in my phone’s hot spot name, so I deleted that and all was well. Strangely, re-adding the apostrophe back doesn’t seem to cause any further issues.
The Vita remembers networks it has previously connected to, so if you’ve already connected to your phone’s hot spot once before simply turning the hot spot back on, and then taking your Vita into an online part of a game, should see it automatically hook up to the phone and go online. Aside from the minor hotspot naming hiccup, this was a much simpler set up than the 3G Vita’s.[drop2]
Before leaving the house, I decided to do a Connection Test on my Vita, and see what I can get in terms of bandwidth. The Vita reported 2.8Mbps download and 448Kbps upload, which is depressingly equivalent to my landline. However, the 3G was limited to NAT Type 3, rather than my landline’s NAT Type 2, leading to potential connectivity issues.
An additional issue is latency, and whilst the Vita doesn’t tell you this, I determined it from my phone to be around 100ms over 3G and 50ms on my landline. Not too bad, but also not particularly great for twitch-shooters.
To make the comparison to the Vita’s own 3G as fair as possible, I took my setup onto the same train journey as last week. Once safely on the train, it was time to log into PSN. So, out came the phone, and I dove through the settings once more to start sharing my 3G. Phone back in pocket, my Vita was turned on, and I loaded up Wipeout 2048. It detected my personal hot spot automatically, and tried to connect to PSN, seemingly doing so just fine.
Except it hadn’t really. When I went over to any of the single player races, it doesn’t show any of the leader board times. So I turned it off and on again, going to the Community part of the game to trigger a fresh connection attempt. This time I was passing through my known patch of weak signal, and so I naturally got an error message. The third attempt was finally successful and I could see leader board times, and post my own. By that point, it was about 10 minutes of annoyance, and to add insult to injury, I couldn’t improve on ColinBarr66’s times. Bah!
After that half-success, and with strong signal again, I figured I would try something more adventurous in the form of live head-to-head online multiplayer. This started off quite well, connecting first time, letting me sit in a lobby for a few minutes, and then loading up a race. Once the race had started, it was pretty clear that there’s a fairly large bit of lag. Opponents jerk around regularly before eventually they completely stop, and after a few second the game exploded my ship and declared that I’d been booted out of multiplayer.[drop]
Successive attempts to rejoin, with a re-connection to PSN often required too, just reward me with more failure for 5 minutes with various error messages. I didn’t actually get to race again, but that’s not to say that tethered Wipeout 2048 multiplayer is impossible. You just need stable signal, and I was able to test this over 3G again back at home. Going online was fine, and I completed several races. Lag wasn’t too horrendous, but there was some noticeable jerkiness to my rivals.
Clearly the primary reason for locking away 3G multiplayer on the Vita was this signal strength and stability issue. A fair chunk of portable gaming surely happens whilst travelling, and it certainly doesn’t provide a good enough experience for full multiplayer.
Data usage was also quite high, and that’s something mobile companies wouldn’t want. Sitting in the lobby some how managed to use over 3MB of combined data for a minute or two of waiting, whilst the races themselves then took a further 2-4MB, depending on length and number of racers present. No, it’s not astronomical, but that kind of usage can easily take you up to the limit of a modest allowance, and get rather costly with extended play time on 3G over the course of a month.
All that being said, I think there is a stronger case against tethered play, and for the built in 3G. Even if the tethered connection works 100% of the time, it’s an extra layer of fiddling to get online, and that’s a surprisingly big mental hurdle to get past. I honestly can’t see many people bothering with tethering after one or two goes if they already have the built in 3G. The console’s connection is just simpler, and works well within the logical and necessary boundaries that Sony gave it.
Even on a speeding train.