This year is huge for mobile gaming. As well as the continued explosion in gaming apps for the iPhone and Android, we're also being treated to two new handheld consoles -- the fantastic Nintendo 3DS and the Sony PlayStation Vita, formerly known as the Sony NGP.
But are dedicated consoles like the Vita still relevant? Or should they be thrown on the skip, along with tape players and HD DVDs? The Vita will launch in Europe before the end of the year, reasonably priced at 250 (225) for the Wi-Fi-only version, and 300 (270) for the 3G and Wi-Fi version.
We're yet to have any hands-on time with the Vita, but we're aware of all the essential specs, so we know more or less what to expect. Vita won't be released until Christmas, but, as soon as Sony lets us get our sticky paws on it, we'll update this preview with our hands-on impressions.
Veni, vidi, Vita

In terms of size, the Vita will stretch the definition of 'handheld' as surely as it will stretch your palms. This beast will measure 182 by 84 by 19mm. That's bigger than the PSP 3000, although the Vita is slightly thinner. You could just about fit a wholeiPhone 4 into the space taken up by Vita's screen alone.
The Vita is much wider than the 3DS, so we really can't see this device fitting in your pocket, unless you wear hilarious clown trousers. It won't hog up too much space in a rucksack, satchel or maybe even a handbag, but it's worth bearing in mind that the Vita is going to be something of a porker.
On the face of things

On the front of the Vita are two analogue sticks, which should make playing games on this bad boy feel much like you're using a controller for a current-generation home console. That means you should be able to strafe your heart out in first-person shooters, for example.

The touch-sensitive area on the back of the Vita should provide yet another way to control your games

The Vita's display looks like it will be really good. It's a 5-inch OLED touchscreen with a maximum resolution of 960x544 pixels. That's plenty of pixels, but there's more to a great display than resolution -- we want to see a really bright, vivid panel.
Sony has something of a problem on its hands when it comes to the screen. A 5-inch OLED panel is going to suck battery juice like a kid who's got into the secret Sunny Delight stash. That's not ideal for a portable device. Battery life could be preserved by dimming the display, but that'll make for an inferior gaming experience. It'll be interesting to see how Sony tackles the problem.
Have a stroke

On the back of the Vita, there's a touch-sensitive area that's the same size as the display on the front. It'll work much like a laptop trackpad. The idea is that you poke and stroke it with your fingers while you're playing games.
We think there's potential in this idea -- we can't wait to try it for ourselves, and see what kind of cool ideas game developers come up with. We imagine some kind of cursor that indicates where you're poking will appear on the main display, or else it might be tricky to keep track of what your fingers are doing.
We reckon this touch-sensitive area is the most exciting aspect of the Vita. Sticking to the established template but increasing the power of your console is all well and good, but we prefer to see some innovation. We can't wait to see how this aspect of the new handheld pans out.
Vita will also pack front and rear cameras. Along with a slew of internal sensors, that means the console is equipped with everything needed to deliver augmented-reality kicks.
Sony's also announced a pre-installed app called 'Party' that adds chat capability, so you can bellow victoriously at the 11-year-olds you're taking apart. Another app called 'Near' lets users see which Vita games people in their vicinity have been playing, and rewards you with virtual game-related items when you check-in at geographic locations. It sounds slightly more sophisticated than Nintendo's StreetPass 3DS tech, but will it be any fun?
3G up

As well as Wi-Fi connectivity, Vita will support 3G, so you could potentially download content and browse the Internet even when you've strayed from a Wi-Fi hotspot. How you'll pay for your mobile-data usage is unclear, though. It may turn out that you'll have to pay for a 3G SIM card or cough up a monthly fee. Sony could make 3G usage free, like Amazon has with the Kindle, but we'd be surprised.
Hopefully, you'll be able to play online games over 3G, and rack up some kills while on the bus, rather than be restricted to Web browsing or using the Vita's social-networking features. We'll have to wait and see.
Vita will offer access to a version of the PlayStation Suite online games store for Android. The Suite will let you download classic PlayStation titles and access the PlayStation Network, from where you can download tonnes of other game-related stuff. But, when it comes to newer games, the Vita will stick with physical media.
Humanely UMD-stroyed

Mercifully, Sony has decided to give its Universal Media Disc format the Old Yellertreatment, instead opting to house its games on cards that you can slot into the console itself. They're the same size and shape as SD cards, but we'd be very surprised if they turn out to be actual SD cards -- Sony traditionally prefers to use its own proprietary formats.
Inside, the Vita packs some rather tasty hardware. A quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor powers this handheld monster, as well as an SGX543MP4+ graphics unit. That's some pretty potent voodoo -- we just hope it's not been outclassed by the time the Vita finally makes it to market. Our fingers are also crossed that the powerful hardware doesn't drain the console's battery too rapidly.

We fully expect the Sony PlayStation Vita to be a beast of a machine when it comes to performance. A couple of good ideas, like 3G connectivity and the touch-sensitive area on the back, could transform the Vita into something really special. Our only concern is that, by Christmas, the tech world may have moved on, and the Vita will no longer seem so enticing. Stay tuned for more information.