Dec. 21, 2011 at 1:34 PM ET
No matter how diverting your portable game system is, its usefulness goes down to zero if you're stuck with a dead battery far from a handy electrical outlet. On this important matter, Sony and its just-released-in-Japan Vita can chalk up a win over the Nintendo 3DS, which it handily outlasts in a new test of battery life.
A YouTube video posted by a new Japanese Vita owner shows the two systems running side by side, along with an original PlayStation Portable (PSP). All three systems are fully charged and set to maximum brightness and volume, and the 3DS has its 3D slider turned all the way up as well.
The results? The 3DS dies out at a paltry 2 hours and 35 minutes, over an hour less than the Vita's 3 hours and 47 minutes. The PSP, meanwhile, lasts a satisfying 9 hours, though it should be noted it's using a bulky expanded battery that more than doubles the capacity of the standard pack.
Before you start publicly berating your 3DS for its tiny battery, however, there's are a few things to keep in mind. First off, you can improve that 2 to 3 hour time limit by turning off the glasses-free 3D function or turning down the screen brightness, though doing so kind of ruins the system's biggest selling point. The batteries might perform differently in real world conditions, too — note that the PSP in the test isn't using the battery-hogging disc drive and that the Vita isn't actively loading game data or using its power-intensive 3G antenna.
Still, it's a damaging comparison for Nintendo, which has faced criticism for the 3DS short battery life since its release. The 3DS looks especially bad when compared to other recent Nintendo portables. The Nintendo DS Lite could last a reported 5 to 8 hours on the highest brightness settings before needing a charge, though the more recent DSi upgrade reduced that range to 3 or 4 hours.
None of the recent systems look good next to the original Game Boy, which could run a reported 10 to 30 hours on a fresh set of four AA batteries. Even 2003's Game Boy Advance SP, the first Nintendo portable to sport internal lighting, boasted a rechargeable battery that lasted 10 hours with the light on.
Of course, power stability has become an increasing issue for all sorts of portable gadgets as battery capacity has struggled to keep up with advances in portable computing power. A new iPhone struggles to get through an entire day of moderate use without a quick charging stop or the addition of an extended battery case. There are a variety of similar battery extenders for the 3DS, but all of them add significant bulk to a system that already has a decent heft to it.
It's almost enough to make us want to rely on the iPad's massive battery for all our portable gaming needs. If only it had buttons ...