Hand to hand combat: Nintendo 3DS vs PlayStation Vita

Hand to hand combat: Nintendo 3DS vs PlayStation Vita
Nintendo 3DS v PlayStation Vita - which machine should you buy?
Nintendo 3DS v PlayStation Vita - which machine should you buy?
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Nintendo 3DS v PlayStation Vita - which machine should you buy?
Nintendo 3DS v PlayStation Vita - which machine should you buy?
Pilot Wings Resort on 3DS
Pilot Wings Resort on 3DS
Uncharted on PlayStation Vita
Uncharted on PlayStation Vita
PlayStation Vita
PlayStation Vita
Zelda on 3DS
Zelda on 3DS
Pilot Wings Resort on 3DS
Pilot Wings Resort on 3DS
Zelda on 3DS
Zelda on 3DS
Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo 3DS
PlayStation Vita
PlayStation Vita
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The battle for your hand-held gaming dollar is heating up big time with the recent release of the Sony PlayStation Vita. This latest entrant in the portable gaming hardware market has a clear-cut competitor in the form of the Nintendo 3DS, and while we've had a close look at both of these offerings individually, we've decided it's time for a showdown. So which machine should you buy?

Both the Vita and 3DS feature bleeding edge hardware delivering the sort of power you'd have expected in a home console not all that long ago. These machines also boast impressive "non-gaming" internet and connectivity features and both have a decent degree of publisher support with plenty of new games available and more in the pipeline.


We’ll break the battle down looking at some of the most important features, so you can make an informed choice, focusing on the features that matter to you.


When it comes to processing grunt the 3DS is superior to Nintendo's DS and comes with some interesting on board software. True to the name, the 3D display is central to the unit's appeal (we'll discuss the value of this feature later) but underneath the screen the 3DS is powered by a 1 GHz dual core ARM11 CPU. The Vita is powered by the Cortex A9 CPU, the same CPU as that in the iPhone 4. This makes the Vita quite a mighty little beast and the processor (which can be upgraded from 1 GHz to 2 GHz) is clearly more powerful than the ARM 11 chip in the 3DS.

The Vita can also handle an exponentially larger number of polygons per second. Polygons are the 3D building blocks most games are made with and the 3DS can hurl 15.3 million of them around the screen at one time. This is a decent figure, but the Vita can handle almost ten times this number, with 133 million polygons per second being processed.

The Vita also has more RAM, with 512 MB to Nintendo's 128 MB. Finally, the Vita also supports 3G and Wi-Fi (if you grab the top spec model) and has Bluetooth connectivity, while the 3DS only supports Wi-Fi.

So, when it comes to sheer grunt the 3DS is easily out bench pressed by the Vita. However, power is only of value if used intelligently and Nintendo has a long history of making amazing software and capturing a solid market share with the least powerful platform in a particular market cycle. We'll look at software later, but the Vita does win hands down when it comes to processing power.


The 3DS isn’t a particularly intuitive machine to play with at first. Combining stylus play with the direction slider and joypad isn’t something most people can do with a mere two hands – a prehensile tail would be useful! That said, you get used to "chopsticking it" with the stylus and then you can control all three inputs easily. Few games expect you to do this at a rapid pace anyway, but the interface is certainly not as easy to live with as it could be. The Vita, with its twin joysticks, solid buttons and touch sensitive back pad, is far easier to use. The twin stick approach, now commonplace on consoles, is clearly easier to get the hang of and the Vita’s controls feel more solid than those on the 3DS. The twin stick has also proved useful in popular genres like first person shooters and some racing games.

The Vita's controls are also far less likely to give you sore wrists over long play sessions and the way the unit cups in the palm of your hand strikes us as more comfortable than than the clam shell design 3DS. You also have to hold the 3DS at a more consistent angle if you are trying to keep the 3D magic happening - move about too much and the 3D effect disappears.

If you have larger hands, the Vita is the machine you will most likely find is comfortable for longer sessions and even though I have become quite fond of the clam shell 3DS over time, ergonomically the win still goes to the Vita. DisplayThe 3DS might have a two pronged attack and the added bonus of a 3D display, but the Vita’s five-inch 960 x 544, 220 DPI screen is bigger than either of the 3DS screens and produces very sharp images. The Nintendo screens are very good too, but at 800 x 240 and 320 x 240 they fall short on resolution and, apart from the 3D aspect, the Vita has the better visuals by a fair margin.

The processing power behind the Sony unit’s screen also gives it a clear edge when it comes to detail, frame rate and visual effects. That said, Nintendo's aforementioned knack of making games that people want to play - even if they aren’t the prettiest - might nullify Sony’s advantage to some extent. PortabilityBoth machines really struggle to be called true "pocket" devices and unless you are a fan of cargo pants you'll almost certainly find yourself lugging them around in a bag of some description. The 3DS is markedly smaller and with its closeable "book" design you don't have to worry about your screen being scratched ... so we'd give it the nod in this category.

Battery Life

Even though the Vita has been criticized when it comes to battery life it is pretty much on a par with the 3DS when you take into account the extra drain on the battery caused by the 3D on the Nintendo unit. The 3DS runs for between 3-5 hrs on a charge (shorter if the game you are playing is very 3D intensive) and the Vita over five, so a narrow victory to Sony here. 


Nintendo may well have a lead in this critical department by virtue of the 3DS being in the market longer, but the Sony release schedule is looking promising and combined with the option of playing already downloaded PSP games, there is plenty of software for the Vita even at this early stage. Some of these games, like the stunning Wipeout 2048, the epic Uncharted and the deliciously mesmerizing Stardust Delta, are just superb.Nintendo also has a great roster of games, especially when looking at titles that exploit the popularity of its core intellectual properties. Zelda and Super Mario 3D Land are that good I’d buy a 3DS just to play them alone. Mario Kart, Kid Icarus, Pilot Wings Resort and Street Fighter IV: 3D are also great games. Further, Nintendo will develop aggressively for the 3DS and the company has much more in-house development muscle, so we can expect to see some stunning games from the big N to support the third party efforts.

Sony will be more reliant on outside publishing help, but as was the case when the original PlayStation came to market, Sony’s offering presents a powerful and sexy platform for developers which should help tip the scales a little back Sony's way.

So the verdict on the all important issue of software is to some extent a draw. Sony’s launch games look amazing, and the games do have the benefit of more powerful technology, but again Nintendo has this quirky habit of making great games even when its technology isn’t the best on the block.

Of course it really comes down to which games you will most want to play and personally I have had more fun with the 3DS at this stage.


On this issue the simpler, cheaper 3DS comes up trumps. The 3DS is now a very reasonable US$169.99, while the Vita retails for $249.99 for the Wi-Fi version and $299.99 for the 3G/Wi-Fi version. This sort of gap is indicative of the situation across the globe, with the 3DS being the cheaper machine in every market. So Nintendo, which already initiated a price reduction last year, brings the cheapest machine to retail outlets. This advantage may be a long term thing too, as there has been plenty of speculation to suggest that the Vita is actually being sold at less than cost by Sony. Thus a price drop may be a while away. Still, there's an element of "you get what you pay for" here given that and the Vita is a more powerful machine. 

The Verdict

The Nintendo unit isn’t exactly a one trick pony, but without that trick (the 3D) it would be clearly outclassed in this battle. That said the effect is at times impressive, but some people find it disconcerting, with some players reporting headaches and discomfort. The fact that you can tune the intensity of the 3D effect to suit or switch it off entirely is a very good thing. However, by doing so you eliminate the one significant point of difference that the Nintendo hardware has over the Vita.Also, not many of the current crop of 3DS games makes significant use of the 3D feature. While Rayman is one game that bucks this trend, for many games it is little more than garnishing and some games are indeed better to play with the feature turned off. Still Nintendo might be able to reinvent a few game genres as it innovates further to incorporate 3D play.

The Vita's most notable innovation is the touch sensitive control pad on the back of the unit. This interface element hasn't been used prolifically in games yet either and it will take a solid injection of creativity from the development community to make a game that really exploits this feature.

The Vita prevails when it comes to power and performance and so most would concede it is the "better" machine, technically at least.

Both units have excellent third party support, in particular the level of support for the Vita in the short space of time since it has hit the market has been prodigious. There are plenty of games that are unique to each unit, and the key in choosing between the two is to look at each catalog. The 3DS has a very "Nintendoesque" software focus and there are some great "younger" games, while the Vita isn't quite a full-blooded PlayStation 3 you take with you, it's getting close - a fact that the games reflect perfectly.  Either way you are going to have some great fun when gaming on the go.

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Nicholas Gatewood
"Nintendo also has a great roster of games, especially when looking at titles that exploit the popularity of its core intellectual properties. Zelda and Super Mario 3D Land are that good I’d buy a 3DS just to play them alone. Mario Kart, Kid Icarus, Pilot Wings Resort and Street Fighter IV: 3D are also great games. Further, Nintendo will develop aggressively for the 3DS and the company has much more in-house development muscle, so we can expect to see some stunning games from the big N to support the third party efforts."
Yeah, no. Ocarina of Time 3D is the most disappointing game on the 3DS and Sony has way more development muscle than Nintendo. It has way more development studios making games exclusively for its systems and they've consistently shown that they can output way more good exclusives than Nintendo's devs. Sure, Sony's studios might not count as "in-house" but they all benefit from having their own internal company cultures. You'd never see a game like God of War as a Nintendo exclusive and I doubt that we'll ever get awesome exclusive shooters like Resistance, Killzone or SOCOM on our Wii U systems. Sony packs so much more developer clout than Nintendo right now it's unreal.
I was a massive Nintendo fanatic until the 3DS. I had read that you'd always remember the first time you flick that 3D slider up and that you'd be blown away by it. I flicked it up, my eyes felt uncomfortable and I didn't feel any real benefit from the effect. Six months later I still hadn't owned a single 3DS game because every single title on the system by that point was a.) crap and b.) a ripoff at $40. When I gave negative feedback to Nintendo pointing out all the things wrong with their system and explaining how they could fix it(revision revision) they offered to refund my system due to the effect it had on my vision and I accepted. Easily the best thing Nintendo did in that scenario.
The 3DS will be obsolete the day the inevitable revision model releases. The lack of a second slide pad and the fact that they pretty much already revealed that they're putting a second slide pad on any future 3DS models shows that the current model is absolutely not worth owning at this point. The Vita, on the other hand, wouldn't really benefit from an extra analog stick and is already covered with 3G support(4G isn't really necessary with the way mobile internet is used on the Vita). It has a 5-inch OLED screen so we won't want a larger Vita(the 3DS' screens are ridiculously small in comparison). The Vita's battery life is much better than the 3DS' from my experience, as well. I get six hours of Vita gaming at half-brightness(any brighter and my eyes get fatigued) and in PSP games I get around 8 hours of play. When I play Vita games I usually have apps like Trophies up as well and I play music while playing games like Unit 13, MotorStorm RC and Modnation Racers. On the 3DS I got around three and a half hours of play when I played with 3DS apps for hour upon unending, brain-numbing hour, and in DS games like Dragon Quest 9 I only got around five hours of battery life; for some reason wifi was a huge drain on the 3DS' battery. It also sucks that you can't multitask on a 3DS anywhere near as well as you can on the Vita. You can play your own music in most Vita games in the background and on the 3DS you can't. The only thing related to multi-tasking that the 3DS has better than the Vita is that you can actually minimize your 3DS games and use the browser on it, on the Vita you have to close your game before you can use its browser. I expect this to change with an eventual OS update but at the moment it's literally the only thing the 3DS has going for it above the Vita in terms of its operating system.
The Vita is way more powerful than a 3DS. Most people cry "graphics aren't everything" when this is mentioned but at the end of the day I'm getting PSone Classics on my Vita and there's a great chance that I'm getting PS2 Classics within the next two years as well. The 3DS on the other hand is just way too weak for Gamecube emulation and I doubt it'll get N64 emulation any time soon because of controller constraints. What's that? I didn't mention how much prettier Vita games are than 3DS games in that last paragraph? Oh yeah, well, here you go: 3DS games look stuck between the DS and the Wii in terms of visual fidelity and the Vita is dangerously close to PS3 territory. I don't think 3DS owners will ever, ever see a game as pretty and smooth as Gravity Rush on their silly little 3D-capable system and I won't ever be depressed that the prettiest games on my Vita look subpar(Resident Evil: Revelations, anyone?). Look at it from this angle: the day the 3DS released, it was weaker than the average smartphone. The day the Vita released(a year or so after the 3DS) it was more powerful than any smartphone on the market. That's a huge deal, especially since the casual gamers that made up 80% of the DS' sales are flocking to their overpriced, underpowered, underfeatured smartphones, leaving hardcore gamers like me who actually care about specs and product features with the choice of Vita vs 3DS.
At the end of the day it feels like Nintendo was like an abusive significant other to me for the past few years of my life and Sony's taking me by the hand and showing me I deserve more. I'm a handheld gamer and Sony has proven that it is the better option for this generation of handhelds. Sony has way more foresight than Nintendo. There is no overlooking that and there's no ignoring the fact that the 3DS released at a crappy price while the Vita's $250 price announcement at E3 was greeted with loud cheers and Nintendo executives sweating profusely and rethinking their business strategy.
Sure, I'm gonna miss the occasional Mario game, Kirby and Metroid but it's not like Nintendo's done many good things with those series the past few years. Sony on the other hand is throwing new IPs my way by the truckload, plus it snagged some wonderful third-party exclusives from Western devs that matter(like Bioshock, Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed). In the end Sony's system is infinitely better but Nintendo's cultish fanbase(that I was a part of for over a decade) will likely see that the 3DS remains fairly popular as long as it exists. Very depressing to me, I miss the Nintendo of the Super Nintendo and Gameboy/Color/Advance eras.
True gaming fanatics will just get both of them.
Dawar Saify
The HTC One X Nvidia tegra quad core can beat them both. Funny, smartphones are replacing your gaming console and your point and shoot cameras.
Jon A.
Very nice article!
The Vita seems like far better hardware than the 3DS, but ultimately, what matters is the games. I'm currently waiting for price breaks and must-have games. That and maybe I should finish off Dragon Quest IX and Valkyria Chronicles 2.
Facebook User
Regarding the CPU of the Vita, you need to specify between iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, which you meant to state.
I'd like to point something out to Nicholas Gatewood, Bioshock, Call of Duty, and Assassin's Creed are not Playstation third-party exclusives, those games also appear in the Xbox 360 and the PCs, and by the way, a couple of CoDs were also released on the Wii. When you said prettiest game on your Vita, did you mean that it was Resident Evil: Revelations? 'Cuz if you did, revelations is actually a 3DS exclusive.
Guy Ben-Ami
3DS games look prettier than Vita games actually. Resident Evil Revelations looks better than Resident Evil 5 on the PS3. This is especially because of the great lighting effects and the amazing 3D effect. The 3DS is an incredible machine with amazing games. The Vita is a stupid misguided boring attempt by Sony.
Shawn Steinhauer
Do not be fooled by those polygon and RAM numbers on the Vita. The 15 Million on the 3DS is with textures and effects enabled. The RAW figure for 3DS is about 40 million per second with no texture and effects The 133 Million qouted on the Vita on the other hand is just the RAW number with no textures and effects. With texture and effects turned on the Vita final Polygon count is much lower at aroun 33 million per second and half of it's RAM and reserved for operating system and cross chat rather than the games themselves Sony was stupid to go with a multitasking system that eats up resources.
Nicholas Gatewood
Sen.Dawg, I literally said that those three titles are third-party exclusives to the Vita and I'm correct. It's getting exclusive titles from each of those franchises. Of COURSE Revelations is a 3DS exclusive, I was using it as an example of 3DS titles that are disappointing in terms of visuals.
Guy, you're absolutely incorrect. Revelations looks vastly inferior to RE5 and even RE4. It literally cannot look even remotely as good as RE5 or any Vita game with the 3DS' specs being as low as they are, it's just a bump above the PSP with 3D draining the resources. The 3DS is the most disappointing game console of the past decade and the Vita was developed with the most foresight of any console in history.
Shawn, you're wrong about Vita multitasking. The Vita has 384mb reserved for gaming, 512mb total; one of its processor cores is dedicated to multitasking, as well, leaving three 1 GHz cores for gaming. Not only that but the multitasking is absolutely worth it, it's really awesome.
The 3DS has a dual-core 266 MHz processor, they had to underclock its CPU just to get the battery life at the crappy level it's currently at. It has 4mb of VRAM and 128mb of RAM. The Vita has a quad-core 1 GHz processor, it's overclockable to 1.4 GHz per core comfortably but then it'd get 3DS-level battery life. It has 128mb of VRAM and 512mb of RAM.
The Vita's screen is 960x544 resolution. The 3DS' top screen is 400x240 and the lower one is 320x240. The 3DS was built off old technology, old even when it was announced. The Vita is using bleeding-edge tech. The Vita has two analog sticks, the 3DS has one slide pad- even the new 3DS XL has only one slide pad, a huge mistake on Nintendo's part. They had a chance to fix their mistake and they effed up.
In every way the Vita is superior to the 3DS, even in terms of its game library. Developers hate working for the 3DS(the hardware's weak, the 3D is a huge resource drain and you're limited in terms of control), on the other hand the Vita is easier to develop for than ANY other game platform in existence right now.
Even as a Nintendo fanatic I'm not going to ignore the FACTS and act as a Nintendo denier. The 3DS is Nintendo's worst game system since the Virtual Boy. The Vita is easily Sony's best gaming hardware to date. 'Nuff said.
I definitely can't wait for that next-gen handheld they're apparently working on, Miyamoto said it'll compete with the Vita in terms of specs. I just hope they get everything ELSE about it right, the 3DS is an abomination. I personally expect their next handheld by 2014 or 2015. If they release it any later they're screwed, they've lost their casual market to Apple and they've treated their hardcore market very poorly the past half-decade. I guess they're gonna see why you don't treat your hardcore gamers the way they did and bomb, hopefully they'll learn their freaking lesson.
This is a hard one lol. I couldn't even choose between the vita and the 3ds until just recently. I've been arguing with myself for about 4 months! lol. At the end, I went with the vita just because I'm a bit tired of the mario games myself :/ and zelda, etc.
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