Battery life has always been an important factor in handheld consoles. So important, in fact, that Nintendo's Game Boy won out over its more powerful competitors largely because it had phenomenal battery life in comparison. The more powerful the device, the faster it sucks down juice, and the more often you have to recharge. So various manufacturers are forever looking for ways to add battery life, recharge on the go, and so on, and some attempts are more successful than others. Nyko has decided to approach the battery life issue in combination with a second issue: handheld game consoles can often get uncomfortable to hold over long play sessions.
Item: Power Grip
Type: power supply, ergonomic accessory
What Does The Power Grip Do?
Nyko's Power Grip PS Vita accessory has two explicit functions: to extend the life of the PS Vita's battery and to make the PS Vita more comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
The first function is accomplished by including a battery built in to the accessory. When the PS Vita depletes its own battery, it can draw on the Power Grip to recharge, extending the amount of time a gamer can play without having to plug in. When the Vita begins to draw on the Power Grip, an orange indicator light blinks on the front of the unit (actually out of view at a normal playing angle, but a slight tilt forward makes it easily visible), so you know approximately when you can expect to need to plug your handheld in. Assuming the Power Grip more or less doubles the Vita's battery life. The Power Grip uses the PS Vita's own charging cable to charge, so there's no extra cord to keep track of. You can charge the Power Grip separately from the Vita, or you can charge them both at once by plugging the Power Grip in while it's attached to the Vita. And yes, you can charge and play at the same time.
The second function is achieved by giving the Power Grip a shape similar to a controller for a full-sized console. It certainly makes the Vita bigger, but it's quite light weight, so it doesn't add as much to the heft as you might expect (certainly not nearly as much as the 15-Hour Battery for PSP, which was developed with similar aims). The pre-release documentation for the Power Grip mentioned the grip part of the accessory folded out of the way, behind the unit, when not in use. Presumably, the design changed since, because the actual retail unit does not feature fold-away grips.
How Well Does The Power Grip Work?
When I set out to test the Power Grip, I had the best intentions of timing how long it took to run down the PS Vita's battery, note when it switched over to drawing on the Power Grip, and then timing how long it took to fully drain that. Alas, I got so involved in the game I was playing that I neglected to pay attention to anything else after the first couple of hours. However, I'm pretty sure I was able to play significantly longer before plugging in than I've ever been able to do without the Power Grip. Whether the accessory met or exceeded Nyko's claims of doubling the battery life, I can't say for sure, but it felt pretty close, at least. And when I finally did run down the battery, I really appreciated being able to plug the charging cable into the Power Grip and have both it and the Vita charge at the same time, while I continued to play.
The extension of cordless playtime is certainly a nice feature, but for me the real appeal was the comfort factor. The Power Grip has a nice soft texture that feels great in the hands, and the shape really is way more comfortable to hold the a naked PS Vita. It really feels like they put a lot of work into the placement of the finger grooves on the backs of the grips, being sure to match them up to the PS Vita's button locations. I have fairly small hands, but the Power Grip felt like it would work well for people with big hands, too. Those with tiny hands, however, might have some difficulty. Or they might not; it's hard to say. And while there are a couple of seams I thought might start to chafe on the heels of my hands, they never developed into an issue.
One problem I've had with PS Vita gaming in general is that I find many of the touchscreen controls difficult to perform with my thumbs, so for games with a lot of touch controls, I often end up holding the Vita in my left hand and using the touchscreen with my right. It's hard to hold it steady, and my left hand quickly gets tired. The Power Grip really helped me with this (if you don't have that same difficulty, your results will vary). It was way easier to hold the Vita steady, even without propping it in my lap. I also found that, in general, it made two most-of-the-day play sessions in a row much less tiring for my girly hands. And since I tend to get completely absorbed in games with good storytelling, it's important for me to be able to play for a long stretch at a time.
Should You Buy A Power Grip?
I hadn't expected to like the Power Grip as much as I did. I figured it would be a middling sort of device that folks might or might not want to bother with. To my surprise, I found an accessory I will probably keep attached to my PS Vita nearly all of the time. It does have a couple of drawbacks, though, which I'll mention so you can make your own decision about whether or not it's something you need.
The main issue is that, while the designers at Nyko did a great job of making sure all the controls of the PS Vita--including the entire rear touchpad and the rear camera--are accessible with the Power Grip installed, they were unable to also make the PS Vita card and memory card slots accessible. This means that if you want to switch game carts or memory cards, you have to remove the Power Grip to do so. At first, this seems like a bit of a big deal, but the design of the device is such that it can be quickly and easily removed and replaced, and locks securely on with a little switch. So, yes, it a bit of a hassle, but not as big a one as you might expect.
The other downside of the Power Grip is that it adds a lot to the size of the PS Vita. It's light, so it doesn't add a lot of weight; it just adds dimension. And I doubt you'll ever find a case you can fit a PS Vita in, with the Power Grip installed. And since the fold-away grips feature was removed in the production model, there's no way to make it smaller. Still, if you carry a big backpack at all times, you might not care. For me, since the few times I take my PS Vita on the go, I'm going to be playing only for short sessions at a time, the Power Grip isn't really necessary as a travel accessory (unless said travel involves sitting on a plane for a really long time). Since I'm mostly going to use it for long play sessions at home, the size of the Power Grip isn't that important.
If you're unsure about whether you'll like the feel of this accessory, find a game store that will let you try one out (or return it if you don't like it). I think you'll probably like it, but if you don't, trying it first is a good way to avoid spending money you could use for a game. But speaking of money, Nyko's Power Grip is really reasonably priced. For comparison, consider Blue Raven's 15-hour Extended PSP battery: it was over $100 USD when it was released (and was not nearly as comfortable to hold). The Power Grip's suggested retail price is $24.99, and you might be able to find it for less online.