Maybe you've been hemming and hawwing about which you might want to get. You're thinking about upgrading from that DS or PSP, or maybe getting your first handheld system ever. You're wondering if you need one in addition to your current console(s) and its (their) backlog.
The good news is that no matter which you choose, you're getting a true marvel of modern technology. Neither system could possibly be called bad, and they both do a tremendous amount of amazing things in addition to gaming.
However, before deciding which to get, you first need to decide if you need, can afford, and can fit playtime into your schedule.
- If you're a gamer who suddenly finds yourself travelling a lot, a handheld system makes a lot of sense if you love games and are finding yourself away from your console frequently. Same if you spend a lot of time out of the house around free WiFi, like knocking back iced mochas at Starbucks.
- If you're even thinking about buying one, likely you can afford one. Cost of entry for a 3DSxl with two games will be around $300; for a VITA it'll be closer to $375 ($425 if you get a 3G-enabled one, plus a monthly data plan).
- If you have a backlog of console titles to play, or are expecting a glut of awesome games that you'll just have to play, maybe holding off on a handheld is a better decision.
As to the systems themselves, they both do a lot the same, but they also have a number of key differences, especially in the software area.
Nintendo is known for more family-friendly, lighter fare; Sony has an edgier offering that caters more to people high school age and older. But both systems have titles people of all ages can enjoy.
The 3DS has a lot of Mario games (Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7) and relies to a degree on ports of existing console titles (many existing games get a "3D edition"), though there is the original and highly rated Resident Evil: Revelations. The Vita is stronger in adventure/shooters (Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Resistance: Burning Skies) and sports (Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational and Madden 13).
If you have a large collection of original DS cartridges, the 3DS will play the vast majority of them. The same can't be said for the Vita; while it will play most downloadable games from the PSP, the physical media for retail games are not compatable.
If you're into achievements/trophies, Nintendo has yet to implement any sort of system in this regard; the Vita uses your existing PSN account if you're a PS3 owner, with trophies to collect in each game and add to your profile.
As to extra apps and functions beyond gaming, both systems have built-in a web browser, stores to download items, take pictures, play music, and have connectivity features to hook up with nearby friend and systems.
Beyond that, the Vita is far more robust. The 3DS has Netflix integration, with Hulu Plus on the way; vita offers Facebook, Skype, Foursquare, Netflix, Flickr, and more.
From a control perspective, Sony has a slight edge, having dual analog thumbsticks. While the 3DS does have a Circle Pad Pro attachment that gives the second thumbstick, it's at an added cost, and those for the original 3DS won't fit the 3DSxl.
Of course, there are the 'big draws'.
Nintendo touts their 3D capabilities in the 3DS, which requires no special glasses. It's a gimmick to be sure, but it works well with a number of games; the dual cameras on the back can also take 3D photographs. It also allows for augmented reality (AR) games that can make it look as though enemies are on your table, counter, or other flat surface.
The Vita's great feature is a second touch pad on the back of the unit. By replicating the main screen's touch capabilities (keeping crucial screen elements visible), allowing for an secondary touch control mechanism, or being used as a tapping control to push things towards the user (like movable items in a puzzle), it provides for robust control options.
There's a lot of little (and big) differences between the two units. But when you better understand them, it's easier to make the decision that's best for you.
So, if you get a handheld system, jump in with confidence, and most importantly, have fun!