I got a present the other day. An extra mini-game to play in the Little Deviants demo on PS Vita. A nice surprise when I casually hit the near button to see what folks around me were up to with their Vitas. The near feature is something that could easily be dismissed as gimmicky, but it offers a nice and friendly way to connect with near by players, add them to your friends list and play games.
I've only scraped the surface of what the online capabilities of PS Vita has to offer, but I'm already more than satisfied with what I've seen. There is just something fascinating about being able to see what other people nearby are enjoying, and it seems a lot of people nearby are into Motorstorm RC, though I'm not sure if they're playing the demo or the full game. Personally I'm not a big fan of radio controlled video games (the controls always seem to confuse me), but I did download the demo.
Near is something exciting and new, and it almost makes me wish I had bought the 3G version of the device, but I'm thrilled at the prospect of turning Near on during GDC in San Francisco next week to see what kind of interesting data I get. And hopefully Sony are going to offer the visitors some extra incentives to do so (bonus gifts!). It comes across as a bit more anonymous than similar features on Nintendo 3DS, but it also feels more in line with PSN and the services Sony already provide with Playstation 3.
The next online feature of PS Vita I explore is Playstation Store, and even if the browsing could have been more user friendly (browser like back and forward arrows would be a nice addition), it must be said that there is already tons of exciting entertainment on offer and it's easy to part with a sizeable portion of your monthly income in a few short minutes.
But then there are online features, and while most are your standard online leaderboards, other games such as Lumines: Electronic Symphony try something else. In World Block players combine to erase blocks and beat a common enemy and unlock rewards, level up, and so forth. A nice different feature, and hopefully a good indication of where developers are taking the online functionality of PS Vita in the future. Straight up online multiplayer is nice, but perhaps not what I primarilly look for in a handheld device. I need to be able to pause my game at any time and still have a good experience, and that's just not possible with competitive multiplayer in most cases.
Anyway, to me the online features and connected nature of the PS Vita is something that really sets it apart. I'm happy to have a dedicated gaming handheld to coexist with my iPhone as long as it provides me with deeper and more rewarding experiences. So far, it's done a great job of just that, and the online features are a big part of that.