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It’s Thursday October 10, and that can only mean one thing: the PlayStation Vita Slim is finally here! Unveiled by Sony at the beginning of September and proudly displayed at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, the currently Japan-only handheld charmed us the moment we held it in our hands, so much so that for a moment we wondered just how strong the cable tethering it to the smiling Sony rep was and if we could make a break for it.

The new portable console went on sale here in Japan just this morning, our own unit arriving via courier delivery a little after 9 a.m.. We’ve been putting the console through its paces for most of the day now, so join us after the jump as we unbox, poke and prod Sony’s newest piece of gaming hardware, and see how it stands up against the previous model of PlayStation Vita.

As it did with its previous-generation handheld, the PlayStation Portable, Sony has opted to give its new portable a facelift not long after its initial release. Essentially the same machine but in a new shell and with a few tweaks, the PlayStation Vita PCH-2000 – which we’ll be referring to from hereon in simply as the Vita Slim – is naturally more of an evolution than a revolution, but the difference between it and its predecessor is far more distinct than between earlier generations of PSP.

The original PlayStation Vita (also known as the “PCH-1000″ model) is less than two years old, and remains in our opinion one of the most capable and downright sexy pieces of gaming hardware ever made, boasting a front touchscreen with multi-touch functionality, front and rear cameras, twin analogue sticks, traditional face and shoulder buttons, and a rear touch panel. We’ve gone on record before saying how much we love the little console, so Sony’s unveiling of a new, slimmer model initially came as something of a surprise to us.

Having tinkered with the Vita Slim for a good six hours now, though, we can safely say we’re glad Sony decided to give its portable a tune-up.

  •  Unboxing and initial impressions

Having readied our little paper-cutter last night in preparation for the Slim’s arrival, we wrested the box from our delivery man’s hands no sooner had we opened the door, and sliced through the tape and various delivery notes in mere seconds. Unboxing new products isn’t something we make a habit of, but on this occasion we decided to take our sweet time and take a couple of snaps.

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The boxed console shipped hidden beneath a thick layer of protective, air-filled cushions. Had this been a layer polystyrene bricks we’d have probably tipped them out on the floor without a second thought, but, being the immature individuals we are, we couldn’t resist taking a few seconds to needlessly stab and dissect our way through the cushions with our cutting knife.

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That brief moment of childishness over, we got back to business. And there it was: the new PlayStation Vita Slim. Time to dive in!

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Once you’ve lifted the lid, it’s pretty much business as usual. You’ll find all the standard manuals and startup guides, a sheet of AR (augmented reality) cards for use with the Vita’s rear camera, a charging cable and, pleasantly, a micro USB cable that can connect to the AC adaptor and be used for charging. My god, it’s almost like Sony was listening to us when we moaned about having to lug the Vita charger around!

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Then of course there’s the console itself. We peered inside the protective pouch the handheld came wrapped in, and we were genuinely taken aback. We’d held a Vita Slim at TGS and seen dozens of images comparing it to the Vita 1000 model, but wow, this thing really lives up to its name.

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We opted for a black and khaki-coloured Vita this time around. There are six colours to choose from, but we felt this was the coolest of the bunch, and knowing how black shiny plastic attracts fingerprints like children do dirt, the matte khaki underside seemed like a sensible choice. Besides, there’s no denying that that little green power light looks very cool against the lighter colour.

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  • Hands on

Right off the bat, the handheld looks markedly sleeker than its predecessor. Sony has managed to shave a considerable amount of bulk off the console, making the Slim 20 percent slimmer (although its other dimensions remain the same) and 15 percent lighter, and it most definitely shows. Picking up our original Vita 1000 after spending just five minutes with the Vita Slim, it felt decidedly bulky and rigid, and it was clear that the new model was something we could definitely get used to.

The Vita Slim features a much more rounded design than its predecessor. Whereas the top edge of the original vita was completely flat, meeting its curved back panel at a sharp angle, the Vita Slim’s face contours downwards to meet the back of the unit far more gracefully, making it much easier to hold comfortably for longer periods of time. Fifteen percent lighter doesn’t sound like much, but when held in the hands the difference between the two models is obvious.

Honestly speaking, had Sony decided to simply release the Vita 1000 in a couple of new colours and forgone the facelift, we’d have probably continued gaming perfectly happily, but the Slim is one undeniably ergonomic portable, and we’re glad that Sony’s R&D teams felt the need to poke around. Consumers will of course have their own preferences and tastes, and some will understandably prefer the original Vita’s more adult design with its metallic-effect edges, but sitting here now with the two portables on my desk, if I was asked which I’d choose based on aesthetics alone, the Slim would get my vote every time.

Thankfully, the face buttons and thumbsticks remain in exactly the same locations as before, are both made of the same materials and have the same amount of depth and range of movement. At first we felt that the shoulder buttons felt a little smaller, but this seems to be a result of the body surrounding them being so slim rather than the buttons themselves. The only change to the console in terms of inputs, in fact, is the reshaping of the Start and Select buttons. Easily our least-favourite part of the original portable, these buttons were once ovular and barely 6mm wide, making them decidedly fiddly and meaning that those with larger digits had to use only the tip of their thumb to press them. Not only that, but the buttons sat almost completely flush with the front of the console, making it difficult to pause a game or bring up menus without the player taking their eyes off the screen or fumbling around for a couple of seconds to find them. Thankfully, Vita Slim’s Start and Select buttons are now completely circular, concave, and much more prominent; there’s absolutely no way you’ll struggle to find them, and they depress with a satisfying click.

The PlayStation button on the left side of the console, too, has been given a rounded top, making it easier to locate by touch alone. It would appear, however, that Sony has opted to remove this button’s blue/orange backlight which, as well as looking cool, acted as a low-battery indicator, instead putting lights on the top edge of the unit which may be less easy to spot during particularly engrossing play sessions.

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  • The screen

The Vita Slim’s screen has been the subject of great discussion since the console was first seen in the wild. Presumably in order to extend the life of the console’s battery (which is now an hour longer than the Vita 1000′s) and cut production costs, Sony has opted to use a standard LCD in the Vita Slim rather than the original’s fancy OLED screen. Sony assures us that this screen is the absolute crème de la crème of LCDs, however, and that it is capable of displaying some 16 million colours, so don’t flip out just yet.

Comparing their older Vita consoles to the Vita Slim units on the TGS show floor, some reporters remarked that the Slim’s screen looked much less vibrant, and suggested that some players, especially if they’ve had chance to enjoy the Vita 1000′s screen for any length of time, would be disappointed by the change. Now that we have a Vita Slim of our own and can compare it to the original in slightly better lighting conditions, we can safely say that, yes, there is a visible difference between the two, but no, it won’t upset anyone other than the most hardcore tech fans once you start using it.

The two models’ screens are exactly the same size and resolution, though on first glance the Vita Slim’s may appear slightly smaller on account of its now visible bezel, which on the previous model blended seamlessly with the rest of the console. This may sound like a step backwards on paper, but we’re already quite fond of the Slim’s new lines as they really make the screen the centrepiece of the console, the buttons sitting quietly alongside it.

The LCD screen may not be capable of frying your eyeballs in their sockets like the original unit’s, but the games we ran (Uncharted, Guacamelee, LittleBigPlanet Vita and Stealth Inc) still look every bit as pretty as they did before, and we’re quite sure that even owners of Vita 1000 units will forget all about the slight technical downgrade once they fire up a game or two.

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For those of you who are still concerned, however, we took a few minutes to take some snaps of the two models together to see how the Slim’s screen compares. In order to make it as fair a test as possible, we set both units’ brightness to the same level, and in the following images the Vita Slim is shown on top.

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The original Vita’s colours as definitely the more striking of the two in these images, but when seen in the flesh or playing games under varying lighting conditions, the difference really is negligible and quickly forgotten. Colours may pop slightly more on the original Vita, but the Vita Slim’s display is still undeniably pretty, and we’d even go so far as to argue that some people might actually prefer the Slim’s colour balance, owing to the fact that it is slightly less intense and saturated than the original’s.

  • In conclusion

Just as how newer models of PlayStation 3 lost a few of the originals bells and whistles yet managed to excel in so many other areas, the PlayStation Vita Slim is a definite winner. The console sits snugly in the hands, is noticeably lighter, and its battery lasts up to an hour longer than its predecessor: three things that any mobile gamer should yearn for. The screen may not be quite the sparkling gem that it once was, but visuals remain as crisp and clear as ever, and add to this the fact that the console now comes with a gigabyte of on-board storage and can be charged via a standard micro-USB cable, and you’ve got a superb little machine.

We’ll still be keeping hold of our Vita 1000 unit as, chunkier or not, it remains a portable gaming powerhouse and is an absolute joy to use, but we can honestly say that the Vita Slim is our new favourite toy and will be accompanying us on pretty much all of our journeys from now on, be they long-haul flights, daily commutes, or trips from the sofa to the bedroom. Highly recommended.

PlayStation Vita 2000 is on sale now in Japan, retailing for around 19,000 yen (US$195).

All photos: RocketNews24