|The battle will begin soon...|
PS Vita CPU: ARM(R) Cortex(TM)-A9 core (4 core), GPU: SGX543MP4+.
3DS: ARM 9 CPU at 133 MHz, ARM 7 CPU at 33 MHz, DMP Pica 200 at 200 MHz
What does this mean in terms of performance? For the CPUs, the PS Vita's ARM 9 4-core variant can deliver somewhere between 8,000 and 20,000 Dhrystone MIPs (millions of instructions per second), depending on the clock speed (which is nominally 800 MHz but could be varied dynamically, but at the cost of greater power consumption). The 3DS is running its CPU at 133 MHz, and it's only one core; the second CPU is probably dedicated to running the second screen. Exact comparisons are difficult, but it's safe to say the PS Vita is at least 5x as powerful as the 3DS when you look at the CPU power.
For the GPUs, the 3DS delivers about 15 million polygons per sec, while the PS Vita should hit around 133 million; the pixel fill rate for the 3DS is 0.8 gigapixels per second, while the PS Vita delivers about 4 gigapixels/sec. Obviously we can't run the same benchmarks on both sets of hardware to see how this translates into actual game performance. Again, though, the PS Vita is clearly more powerful, at least 5x as much as the 3DS.
Both devices have an array of controls and sensors, though the PS Vita has the backside touch panel and multitouch capability on the front screen. The 3.5 inch main screen of the 3DS is nice at 800 x 240 (400 x 240 in 3D mode), but pales in comparison to the PS Vita's 5 inch 960 x 544 OLED display.
The most important final stat: Price. The 3DS is now the clear winner at $169.99, with the base model of the PS Vita coming in at $249.99 (you can pay $299.99 for 3G capability).
The software lineup is strengthening for the 3DS, with some key franchises (Mario, Star Fox) coming this holiday season. The PS Vita lineup will no doubt be solid, given that Sony has watched Nintendo's problems with having the hardware shipping without any notable software titles.
The real issue is how well either of these devices will do against smartphones. Is there still a substantial market for a single-purpose device, when you can get a smartphone that does everything you can think of at around the same price? Yes, the dedicated game devices have exclusive games, and deeper game play, and offer more power... but very few people are going to carry two pocket devices around with them all the time. And you'll always make sure you have your phone with you.
For kids, will parents buy them a dedicated game device, or one that they can use for school, communication, music, taking pictures, watching video, and games as well? Where the games don't cost $40 each?
I think Nintendo's got a reasonable price point for the 3DS now, and Sony's got a reasonable price for the power of their device. I'm just not sure there are enough gamers willing to spend the cash for those devices, when they can get gaming and a whole lot more with a smartphone. Yeah, smartphone games aren't as deep, you don't have the great controls... but they are cheap and there's thousands of them.
If Nintendo can't post some great sales of the 3DS this Christmas, I think Sony's gonna have a rough time selling PS Vitas next spring. Apple's new iPhone(s) are going to make the choices even harder. The new iPhone(s) will certainly be more powerful, which means even more powerful games could be played on it. Apple may also introduce an even cheaper iPhone that is still as powerful as the iPhone 4... which will attack dedicated handheld gaming devices at their most vulnerable point, pricing.
I would love to be surprised by a resurgence of handheld gaming this Christmas, but my prediction is that while Nintendo will do well, 3DS sales won't be stunningly high. The torch for handheld gaming will be passed to the smartphones, for better or worse.