The PlayStation Vita is quite simply the most desirable handheld gaming device yet released. From the beautiful display to the horsepower behind it, from the well-executed traditional controls to the new touch inputs, Sony has thought of almost everything and the result is a portable system that should be able to handle virtually any kind of game you care to mention. As a media player, it largely excels, video playback looks great on the screen and the Content Manager software offers reasonably easy syncing (a few caveats notwithstanding). It's less successful as a communications device, with confusingly-designed software and limited functionality, but it does integrate seamlessly with the PlayStation Network where it matters.
At ¥25,000 ($249.99 when it launches in the US), the system offers excellent value, even factoring in the price of a memory card. Game prices remain a concern, especially when put up against the current crop of smartphone releases, but ultimately I don't think these games should be put up against smartphone games. I play a lot of games on my phone, so this isn't a knock against them, but the experiences offered by the Vita are simply in a different league. Now, it's very possible that a lot of people won't share this opinion, and prices of over ¥4,000 might prove just too much to pay for a timekiller on the train. Nonetheless, I feel that the Vita is a valid console platform in its own right, and am really pleased that Sony has gone all-out to create the best dedicated gaming system it possibly could. Even if it stalls on the starting grid, it won't have been for lack of trying.
Against more direct competitors, the distinction is less clear. Nintendo's 3DS now goes for a whole ¥10,000 less than the Vita, and its 11-month head start has given it a more mature software lineup than the Vita has at launch. Both are very capable systems, with the main differences to be found in their respective software libraries — however much I get used to playing near-console-quality games on my Vita, I’ll still be keeping my 3DS around for Mario Kart and Monster Hunter. Whichever way you go, though, dedicated handhelds are as alive as ever — and the PlayStation Vita is the best handheld ever made.