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in-car gaming

Sony PlayStation VitaSony

Sony PlayStation Vita

  • Price: $249.99
  • Available at: Future Shop, Best Buy, EB Games, The Source, London Drugs and many others

The Vita is a sleek device, thanks to its 5-inch OLED touch-screen, dual-analog sticks and the ability to play non-gaming content. The gaming experience is exceptional, with fantastic graphics and unique ways to play that include a touch-sensitive back panel and a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer. The library of games to choose from ranges from off-the-shelf premium games to downloadable ones that are much cheaper.

As good as the Vita is, the obvious comparison is to smartphones and tablets - mobile devices kids are already growing comfortable with. Not to mention the huge aftermarket supporting them. Keeping kids distracted in the back with dozens of cheap casual games on an iPad is likely just as easy as doing it with one or two expensive games on the Vita.

The other element, of course, is that kids can watch a movie or several episodes of a show on a tablet or smartphone because of the storage capacity on those devices. The Vita has no significant built-in storage, and uses proprietary memory cards that come in 4GB, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities. It's a shame Sony didn't just adopt the standard SD card everybody uses, but it's an apparent attempt to combat piracy.

The Wi-Fi connection can prove both a blessing and curse. The Vita works fine when piggybacking off a smartphone's 3G or LTE data connection, but you have to watch what data is actually being consumed. For example, streaming a Netflix movie on it can easily eat up a big chunk of a smartphone's data plan, and since storing movies and shows requires extra memory cards - which aren't cheap, by the way - non-gaming content becomes a bit of a chore to manage.

What truly hurts the Vita's viability in the car is the battery life, which usually maxes out at above three hours. Not surprisingly, Sony doesn't include a 12-volt adapter with the device, and the included USB cable can only charge the battery when the Vita is completely turned off. The only workaround to keeping the thing going while charging is to use a power inverter. You might also get away with using a USB charger specific to iPads and tablets because of the higher throughput.

Kids probably won't care much about these drawbacks because they like having a toy like this. At $249.99, it's a lot cheaper than a tablet or smartphone, but it's also not quite as versatile. And opting for a proprietary memory card may prove to be a big mistake. But as an in-car distraction on shorter road trips, it does the job, so long as there's enough gameplay and content to keep them quiet and focused.

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