Sadly, though, it isn't very good -- it makes much more sense as a technology demonstrator than as something which is actually fun to play.
All the PS Vita's non-core input systems will appeal in different ways to different people, so it's up to you to decide what you like and what you don't. The rear touchpad is impressively responsive and, while it may seem a bit alien when you first use it, you swiftly get to grips with it.
Escape Plan, in particular, makes good use of it, demonstrating how it can work in a surprisingly precision manner. While the cameras may be low-res, there's no question that, in tandem with the PS Vita's under-the-bonnet grunt, they throw up possibilities for Augmented Reality (AR) games which are wildly more ambitious than any we've seen before.
However, most of the PS Vita's launch games hedge their bets by including several control schemes, which generally means that you can fall back on those dual analogues if something more exotic is causing you annoyance.
The dual analogues are smaller than usual, through necessity, but have a pleasantly loose feel, and tilt exactly like they should. A sausage-fingered nitpicker might contend that the traditional Sony buttons are a bit small and a bit close together but, again, that's inevitable on a portable machine - and the same thing could be said of the 3DS. We're not 100 per cent convinced by the transparent plastic shoulder/trigger buttons: while they have the right amount of travel, they're also a bit slippery.
Downloading and user interface
The PlayStation Vita's user interface is by far the best Sony has ever come up with - and heaven be praised for that, as it has come up with some horrible excuses for UIs in the past. It's all very influenced by smartphones, and makes excellent use of the touch-screen.
Games and applications like the social networking stuff, the Content manager and Remote Play appear as circular icons: just touch them and they launch. Closing apps introduces you to a new convention: anything that's open but suspended will have what looks like the folded edge of a page at its top right-hand corner; dragging that down to the bottom-left closes the app. The simplest means of suspending anything is just to hit the PS button, which takes you back to the Home screen.
Undoubtedly the simplest means of getting download games onto the PS Vita is to simply hook it up via Wi-Fi to the Internet, then launch the PlayStation Store by touching the icon.
With the PS Vita's section of the PS Store not up and running before launch, though, we've been forced to use a different method: downloading games to the PS3's hard disk, then cutting and pasting them to the PS Vita via the Content manager app.
That method of downloading has a few slightly annoying aspects. For starters, you have to make sure the PS Vita is at least half-charged before you attach it to the PS3, as the cable which handles input and output is the same one which allows the PS Vita to plug into the mains (or a USB slot on something else which is plugged into the mains).
And it's annoyingly sensitive to the order in which you plug the PS vita into the PC then launch the Content manager - if you get that wrong, it will tell you, erroneously, that it can't connect to the PS3. There's a job for a firmware update - and firmware updates will also have you cursing if you habitually download PS vita games via a PS3.
The frequency of PS3 firmware updates is, frankly, ridiculous - we just had two in the space of less than a week - and if you're in a hurry, the necessity to download one of those, reboot the PS3, download your PS vita games then, possibly, update the PS Vita's firmware before you can get those games onto it can have you tearing your hair out. It's a situation which is bound to worse in the machine's infancy, but nevertheless something that Sony needs to address.
Another factor causing mild irritation is the proprietary nature of the memory card - although it's just a Flash card, its shape is unique to the PS Vita, so you won't be able to use anything other than the official PS Vita cards. Apart from the premium you pay for that, it becomes annoying when your card fills with games, which happens pretty quickly.
The PS Vita comes with a 16Gb card, but even the smallest mini-games take up about 250Mb, and full games range can be upwards of 1Gb. It's difficult to imagine anyone not having to buy one of the biggest 32Gb cards for their PS Vita, once they've had it for a month or so. And it's a shame that Sony, having decreed that it should use a proprietary memory card, didn't give it two slots rather than one.
Battery life clocks in at between three and four hours which exists more in the realms of adequacy than greatness. The PS Vita is very rigorous when it comes to entering sleep mode if it's left alone for a short while, though.
So: should you buy one?
If you're a gamer - and, bucking the current trend, you're pretty flush - the answer is yes. The PS Vita is, simply, the most powerful, usable and best designed portable gaming console ever.
The way in which it replicates the fixed-console gaming experience in a package that you can slip into your pocket is little short of astonishing. It already has a great portfolio of games, including triple-A blockbusters and cheap yet quirky and original download games, and that's just at launch. It's a technological tour de force, yet its high-tech nature hasn't in any way compromised its usability.
However, these are recessionary times, and we still have slight misgivings about that £230 price-tag - and surely nobody in their right mind will splash out an extra £50 on the 3G version, which will then require an extra subscription for a data sim card.
The precedent of the 3DS, which stuck stubbornly to retailers' shelves until Nintendo slashed its price, comes to mind once more, even though the PS Vita is a far more capable and seductive piece of kit, and you do get an awful lot for your £230.
Despite all the sops to the social networking-obsessed proportion of the population (apps for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc), it's too pricey to convert those whose only experience of gaming arrives via their mobiles, no matter how infinitely superior the gameplay experiences it offers. It certainly deserves to be a roaring success when assessed on its considerable merits, but our gut tells us that, unless it receives a price-drop at some point, it won't shift in vast quantities.
One thing is for sure, though: if you're a committed gamer and you buy one, it will make you very happy indeed. It's the best portable console we've ever managed to get our hands on.
Next: Original Jan 2012 PS Vita import review...