Sony’s already made it clear that the Vita won’t be here in time for the holiday season, but now the company’s announced a clearer timeframe for eager gamers. At a technology conference Wednesday, Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Jack Tretton revealed that the new handheld will hit U.S. stores in February, CNN reported. It was previously announced that the Vita will come in 3G and WiFi versions and will start at $250.

The report said that Tretton offered up the Vita as more complex alternative to smartphone gaming. Smartphones have cut deeply into the gaming market, particularly the handheld market. After poor sales, Nintendo had to slash the price of the 3DS handheld device from $249 to $169.99.

Sony faces the same challenges with the pricey Vita, though the company has made a stronger effort to diversify its portable gaming. Sony launched a gaming smartphone through Sony-Ericcson, the Xperia Play, which features the familiar Sony keypad, directional pad and shoulder buttons. It runs on Google’s Android operating system. The company has also launched its PlayStation Store on the Tablet S.

Sony’s U.S. Web site lists an approximate release date of February 22, 2012. Players in Japan will get the system earlier, on Dec. 17.

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