Dedicated portable gaming consoles are in trouble. Nintendo 3DS sales have improved, but Sony's Playstation Vita hasn't sold well. Smartphones and tablets have taken what was once a safe market, and turned it into a gamble.
Though millions of people game on their iPhones and iPads every day, the closest Apple gets to a dedicated gaming device is the iPod touch. The popular iOS device has been bought for countless young children and teenagers, often as a replacement for a DS or a PSP. It's the threat that Sony and Nintendo didn't anticipate.
With the release of a new (5th generation) iPod touch, Apple has given the struggling Sony one more thing to worry about. Is the iPod touch 5G a legitimate Playstation Vita replacement, or is it just kids' stuff? Let's take a look …
These are two radically different devices. The Vita is big and rugged. Its physical controls announce that it's built for serious gaming. The iPod touch, meanwhile, is sleek and airy. As the lightest and thinnest iOS device ever made, its minimal simplicity is the polar opposite of Sony's bulky workhorse.
If you want classic gaming controls, your choice is clear. If you want something that will disappear in your pocket, your choice is equally clear.
If portability is your priority, the touch wins. It's roughly three times lighter than the Vita.
Size is about the only display advantage for the Vita. Its resolution is lower, despite toting an extra (diagonal) inch. The display in the iPod touch 5G is identical to that of the iPhone 5; in other words, it's terrific. Not only does it dazzle with 326 pixels per inch, but its use of in-cell display tech makes it thinner and closer to the surface.
Here's where we start to see the Vita's raw power. At least on paper, its processor blows away the A5 chip in the iPod touch. With four cores and a maximum clock speed of 2GHz, it's built for hardcore gaming.
Both devices share variations on the same GPU. The PowerVR graphics in the Vita are quad core, next to the dual core version in Apple's A5.
Here both devices are even, each with 512MB of RAM. The Vita does, however, add an extra 128MB of Video RAM (VRAM).
Sony dropped a big stinker here. With no internal storage, (optional) digital downloads require the purchase of a proprietary Vita memory Card. The prices are much higher than those of typical SD cards: US$20 for 4GB, $30 for 8GB, $60 for 16GB, and $100 for 32GB. If you plan on avoiding physical game cards, be prepared for an extra purchase (or buy a bundle that includes a memory card).
The iPod touch, which only supports digital content, comes in 32GB and 64GB flavors.
The standard Vita model is Wi-Fi-only, but Sony also sells a more expensive 3G-enabled model. The iPod touch is – and always has been – Wi-Fi only.
Apple doesn't market the touch solely as a gaming device, so there are no estimates for gaming uptime. Its hardware is less intensive, though, so its lower mAh battery could go farther.
If you're looking for a solid camera, the touch delivers. The shooters in the Vita, meanwhile, aren't meant for photography. They can help you with things like face detection and head-tracking in games (along with Skype video calling), but don't expect a point-and-shoot replacement.
Despite all the hardware specs, this may be the category to base your decision on. iOS devices have a wealth of potential for hardcore gaming, but they're more often associated with casual fare. Some developers do release console-like games for the App Store: Infinity Blade (I and II), Grand Theft Auto III, Dead Space, and Modern Combat 3 are standouts. For the most part, though, expect to see games in the vein of Angry Birds and Cut the Rope.
Despite its focus as a hardcore gaming device, though, the Vita's library is still sparse. The standout first party titles – Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and LittleBigPlanet – don't have much (noteworthy) company. Classic PSP games are available, but there's no UMD slot, so they all require digital purchases.
Speaking of purchases, the iPod touch is a bit more expensive than the Vita (US$50 more for the base model). But when you factor in the (possible) additional purchase of a memory card – and its more expensive games – the touch could be cheaper in the long run.
Though there is some overlap, each device has distinct advantages. If you don't have patience for touchscreen gaming, the Vita – with its classic physical controls – is the clear winner. If you want a slick multipurpose device with a gargantuan (but largely casual) gaming library, look no further than the iPod touch 5G.
Have you traded in your old portable gaming devices for smartphones and tablets? Or do you still carve out a place for the dedicated console? Let us know in the comments.