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Sony launches new handheld games console - the 'Vita'

The €250 device has touch screens on both sides and aims to take gaming business away from smartphones.

The Playstation PSVita
The Playstation PSVita
Image: AP Photo/Reed Saxon

SONY IS HOPING to eat into smartphone manufacturers’ profits with a new handheld console, aimed at people who are looking for more than just Angry Birds.

The PlayStation Vita, already available in Japan, launches in the US and Europe on Wednesday. A basic, Wi-Fi version will retail at €250, while one that can access 3G cellular networks will go for €300, Eurogamer reports.

Sony is promoting the device with a $50 million marketing blitz “everywhere gamers are and where the general population is,” said Jack Tretton, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America. But Tretton acknowledges it won’t be an easy sell.

People have grown accustomed to playing games on handheld devices that also make phone calls, shoot videos, connect to the Internet, play songs and send text messages.

Why buy a gadget that does only one thing?

“Ultimately, if you consider yourself a gamer, you are going to find yourself migrating up the food chain to dedicated gaming consoles and the Vita,” Tretton said.

This video review from ConsumerReports.org shows the Vita in action:

Don’t tell that to Christian Thomas, a 20-year-old New York student who tried out the Vita at a temporary lounge Sony set up to promote the system.

“I don’t see myself carrying it around,” Thomas said, while playing “Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.” ”I’m content just picking up ‘Bejeweled’ on my iPhone.” He did call the Vita beautiful and said it’s easily the best handheld gadget he’s played with.

As a device, the Vita is sleek and powerful, melding the console-like controls that gamers are used to with touch screens common in mobile devices. Its dual analog sticks are a first for a handheld device and a must-have for shooter games played from a first-person perspective. Not only does the Vita’s main screen respond to touch, but it also has a touch screen in the back that offers gamers an entirely new way of controlling gameplay.

The Vita has a 5-inch screen, front- and rear-facing cameras and a quad-core processor, which is used in the fastest tablet computers. The Vita also connects to the PlayStation 3, so players for the first time can play the same game regardless of whether they are using a console or a handheld system.

Fynn Marselli, an 11-year-old who tried out the Vita at Sony’s lounge, said he’s now considering the Vita after saving up to buy the Nintendo 3DS. He already has an older DS and an iPod Touch for games. With its touch screen and physical controllers, he said, the Vita is “pretty cool, a little bit of both.”

- Additional reporting by Michael Freeman

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