If Angry Birds and Draw Something are too slow for you, and you miss the days of a good old-fashioned Call of Duty frag fest, then it might be time to put down that iPad and pick up something better. Because for serious gamers of a certain age who regularly spend hours in daily commutes or in airports waiting for connections – and there are more of us out there than you think – the current options are stellar. And this much is abundantly clear: Sony's PlayStation Vita is the most technically advanced portable gaming console ever devised. The rather remarkable piece of hardware employs a quad-core processor to power near-PlayStation-3-level graphics on its stunning 5-inch AMOLED touchscreen. This isn't some kind of alternative to the iPad or your smartphone, though, and it isn't trying to be: The interactive options (beyond said touchscreen) include two analog sticks, a touch-sensitive back panel, a D-pad, accelerometer-based motion controls, and the traditional Sony set of buttons and triggers for the kind of tactile, hands-on feel that precise, refined gaming demands.
In the hands, the Vita feels like a bigger, more robust PSP, Sony's original portable handheld. The screen is roomy, as are the controls, and the host of inputs make using it feel much more playful than a tablet or smartphone. The apps and social networks – TV downloads via PlayStation Network and Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and music apps – are there if you need them, but the Vita has clearly been built for more spirited escapism. It comes in two variants, depending on your online needs: one with 3G and Wi-Fi support, and one that's Wi-Fi only. All versions come with a microphone, Bluetooth, and front- and rear-facing cameras. It's clear that Sony has included nearly every conceivably significant feature of interest to hardcore portable gamers, and the system feels capable of handling virtually anything developers think to throw at it. Our only complaint in the design? The headphone jack on the bottom makes it a bit awkward when you want to place this thing on, say, your stomach if you're playing while lying on the sofa – a favorite couch potato scenario – since the headphone plug sticks out.
While its initially sparse gaming library was a concern at launch, it's now in good shape and growing rapidly with something for virtually anyone. Uncharted: Golden Abyss, for instance, remains faithful to its PlayStation 3 counterpart; the dual analog sticks make control intuitive, and the third-person shooting is tight and precise. The transition to Vita brings with it a host of other controls as well, including dragging your finger across a sequence of ledges for the main protagonist Drake to then scramble across, as well as stealth takedowns and melee fights, which are performed with a touchscreen tap. Racers include heavy-hitters like F1 2011, Ridge Racer and even the futuristic hover-crafting of Wipeout 2048. Sports titles like FIFA Soccer, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, and MLB 12: The Show will please a range of fanatics, while everyone from lapsed gamers to cool dads to the aforementioned frequent travelers will appreciate musical block-arranging puzzler Lumines Electronic Symphony, featuring tracks from the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Mark Ronson, Underworld, and LCD Soundsystem. Whatever your vice, the Vita will indulge you – for hour upon addictive hour. [$250; playstation.com]