• Mobile Gaming Battle: Nintendo 3DS vs. Sony NGP vs. iPhone 4

    With the announcement of the Sony NGP (aka the PSP2), we suddenly have quite a mobile gaming competition on our hands. As the increasingly popular smartphone gaming market starts to encroach on the territory long held by Nintendo and Sony, it's time see how these platforms compare.
    See our infographic for a side-by-side comparison of the features.
    Mobile screens have made significant advances in recent years, and the iPhone trumped all other phones with the advent of the Retina Display (960 by 640 pixels), but the recently announced Sony NGP comes very close to it (960 by 544 pixels). The Sony NGP display is 1.5 inches larger, too (5 inches to the iPhone's 3.5), which is nice for mobile gaming.
    In terms of size and resolution, the Nintendo 3DS doesn't stand out (3.5 inches at 800 by 240 pixels for the main screen), but it may still have the others beat with the ability to render games in both 2-D and 3-D. As an added bonus, viewing games in 3-D doesn't require glasses. If you want 3-D games, theNintendo 3DS is the obvious choice; otherwise, you're better off with the other two.


    Those who crave the traditional console controls, with a D-pad and thumbsticks, will be disappointed with the iPhone 4. It only uses touch screen gestures to control games, and sometimes using fingers means the hand is in the way of viewing the display.
    However, touch screen gaming is making huge advances in terms of game quality and ubiquity. Clever programmers have figured out how to use touch screen gestures to mimic classic controls. While the avid gamer will notice touch screens aren't quite as accurate as physical controls, the average person probably won't notice.
    And yet, the Sony NGP and the Nintendo 3DS still surpass the iPhone 4 because they offer both touch screen and physical controls. They both have D-pad and thumbstick input (the Sony NGP has the classic dual analog thumbstick configuration) and touch screens, although the Sony NGP also includes a touchpad on the back of the device for controlling the game while holding the device normally.


    Here's the real crux of the conversation because what good is a gaming system without great and abundant games and also one of the hardest comparisons to make.
    First off, the iPhone 4 is the clear leader simply because it's available now and there are literally tens of thousands of games available for it. While the quality can range widely, the iPhone's app store still has hundreds of high-quality games in every genre imaginable. Even major game publishers are starting to make iPhone versions of popular games as well as big-budget games specifically for the iPhone.
    The Nintendo 3DS and the Sony NGP, on the other hand, will start off with relatively small game catalogs (discounting compatibility with games for older generations of the DS and PSP). Nintendo said the 3DS will launch with more than 30 titles, including games from some classic franchises that won't be available elsewhere. There's no indication yet of what games will be available for the NGP, though it's likely to be similar to the 3DS launch.
    And yet, even though the iPhone has a clear advantage in quantity and a strong competition in quality, the 3DS and NGP can still shine with their own games. For instance, the 3DS will be the only way to play 3-D handheld games for quite a while. And the raw processing power of the NGP (Sony boasts that it's nearly as powerful as the PlayStation 3 console) will be able to play games with fantastic graphics and more features than the other two systems.


    Being a smartphone surprisingly doesn't give the iPhone 4 an advantage in this category. Wi-Fi connectivity is standard among all three and even 3G isn't exclusive to the iPhone now that the Sony NGP will include it.
    However, the 3G options and carriers for the Sony NGP still aren't clear, so the iPhone 4 may still have an advantage.

    Processing Power

    The iPhone's A4 processor is an impressive chip for smartphones, but it is already showing a little age and the dedicated gaming handhelds are going for power.
    Neither the Sony NGP nor the Nintendo 3DS have confirmed processor specs, but Sony has said its handheld will sport a quad-core processor with integrated graphics. That would easily exceed the iPhone in raw game-processing power.
    Rumors indicate the 3DS will have some slower processors but compensate by having two processors along with a separate graphics processing chip. For dual-screen gaming, this could still be a pretty powerful setup.

    Battery Life

    This is another important consideration in mobile gaming, and it looks like the iPhone has an advantage. The Nintendo 3DS will reportedly get only three to five hours of playtime on a single charge. The Sony NGP has no projected battery life, but with all the processing power taking up juice, it's not likely to be much longer than Nintendo's rating.
    The iPhone, on the other hand, thanks to clever design and relatively light-weight apps, can consistently go more than a day with heavy use.

    Release Date

    The iPhone 4 wins again, but not for long. The Nintendo 3DS will hit American shores on March 27. The Sony NGP doesn't even have a set date yet and won't be out until the 2011 holiday season. Expect something around October or November.
    Keep in mind that the new iPhone 5 is expected sometime this summer. It will likely be more powerful than the current model and it will still be out before the Sony NGP.

    Price vs. Value

    The Nintendo 3DS is the one device of the three that has a fairly straightforward price. It will cost $250 at launch. The iPhone is much trickier because you have to factor in the carrier contract. It's just $200-300 if you sign a two-year agreement, but that means agreeing to pay AT&T (and soon Verizon) close to $100 per month.
    However, we have to take value into account here. The iPhone 4 can accomplish much more than the Nintendo 3DS. It has hundreds of thousands of apps that can do so much more than play games. It also has a better browsing experience and a 3G connection for when there's no Wi-Fi. And that's not to mention the whole "it's also a phone" thing.
    When you look at it this way, you have to decide if you want the cheaper dedicated handheld console (Nintendo 3DS) or the more expensive smartphone that also serves dozens of other purposes in a smaller package.
    As for the Sony NGP, there's no way to know yet what the price will be, but given the hardware going into it, it's a solid bet that it will be much more expensive than the Nintendo 3DS. Sony will need to make it cheaper than a full console, and it may or may not need to have a data plan for the 3G connection, so there's no way to know exactly what the price will be.

    iPhone Advantages: enormous game catalog, battery life, available now
    Nintendo 3DS Advantages: 3-D gaming (with no glasses), likely cheaper than Sony NGP
    Sony NGP Advantages: raw processing power, fantastic graphics, multiple touch input and dual analog thumbsticks