Vita and 3DS buying guide: which is right for you?

When it comes to gaming systems, consoles outmatch handhelds in terms of raging popularity. People talk about the last Dragon Warrior they played a lot less than they do Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, The Legend of Zelda, or other major games on the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. As consumers who must be selective with our purchases, we tend to snub handhelds in favor of the bigger competition. If you're looking to breach both sides, then consider this guide when deciding whether to choose the new PlayStation Vita or the elder Nintendo 3DS.

Issue: Money

If you're wary about investing hundreds of dollars into a system that might not fulfill its potential, then you're better off buying the 3DS. All concerns aside, Nintendo lowered the sticker price less than a year into the handheld's life cycle, marking it down to $170. The 3DS and one game will run you around $200, which is more than fair in today's market.

The Vita, on the other hand, will cost you much more. You have to pay for not only the handheld itself ($250-300, depending on the version), but also a memory card (anywhere from $20 to a whopping $100) and game ($40). That amounts to $300 at minimum, just to get you started.

Winner: 3DS

The battery life of the Vita lasts longer than 3DS by 46%

Issue: Portability

Both handhelds basically lose in this department. Reportedly the Vita and 3DS last 3-5 hours on a single charge, so unless you're on a short road trip, neither one of these will last you very long. Some tests have shown that the Vita maximizes the use of its battery power better than the 3DS by a whole hour (a 46% difference), so if one takes home the crown, it's the Vita. Other reports show similar findings.

Winner: Vita

The PlayStation Vita is more expensive overall than the 3DS

Issue: Games

This one's a tough call. While Nintendo's handhelds have always been a solid platform for RPGs, in its later years the PSP welcomed a whole host of fantastic games in the genre, such as Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Then again, the DS showcased such contenders as Radiant Historia and Dragon Warrior IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. The two handhelds are also evenly matched in terms of multiplayer. If you ask me, if you're buying a fighting or racing game on a handheld, you're playing alone.

Here's your best bet: Take a look at each system's roster and decide based on personal preference. The 3DS still totes around a small selection, but it promises forthcoming games in popular franchises such as Super Mario, Pokemon, Professor Layton, and more. The Vita launched with a fantastic line-up, including Uncharted: Golden Abyss and WipEout 2048, but there's no telling whether Sony will experience the dry spell that the 3DS did. Each handheld will shelve disappointments, much as the 3DS already has, but both will release fine games—some of them fresh properties and others exclusives.

Winner: Draw

Both handhelds offer great games - it just depends what you like to play

Issue: Style

The handheld with the most style is a no-brainer: that's the Vita. Its sleek finish and comfortable size (7.16” (L) x 3.3” (W) x 0.73” (D)), not to mention gorgeous graphics, give it the advantage over the smaller 3DS, whose 3D output might bombard you with headaches as often as visual illusions. The Vita's 5" OLED display (at 960 x 544 resolution) outclasses the 3.53" LCD upper screen and 3.02" lower screen (800 × 240 resolution) of the 3DS. Plus, the 3DS has a clunky shape, especially now that Nintendo is preparing its silly circle pad add-on.

Winner: Vita

Issue: Hassle

No system, ever, is completely free of hassle. Controllers break, batteries die, and discs scratch. Some weather the years better than others. The PS3 has established itself as a system-update-happy console that's prone to hacker attacks, while the 360 inconveniences gamers with the Red Ring of Death. In other words, pick your proverbial poison. The 3DS might slack on games for a while, but the Vita will undoubtedly put you through the same troubles as the PS3. Plus, Sony is already making it difficult for gamers to transfer their old PSP games over. Which one is lower maintenance? The 3DS, hands-down.

Winner: 3DS

Sorry, Nintendo. The award for best design undoubtedly goes to the PlayStation Vita.

Issue: Investment and Return

Expenses aside, gamers are worried about which handheld will serve them better in the long-run—in terms of customer service, longevity, and quality titles. Experience dominates in this area, unfortunately for Sony. The company has less experience with handhelds than Nintendo does, and fewer years in the handheld market with poorer performance means little confidence in their current attempt, the Vita. Nintendo isn't immune to mistakes—they flopped with pushing the 3DS out of the gate with a stark offering of games—but gamers should have little doubt that Nintendo will pull through in the end. Even if the 3DS never surpasses the accomplishments of the DS or Game Boy, it's unlikely that the handheld will fail entirely. And it has a better chance at success than the Vita does, given Sony's poor decision-making and execution with the PSP.

Winner: 3DS

It might cause eye strain, but the 3DS is more stress free than the Vita.

Which handheld is best suited for you?