A chunky handset thanks to the slide-out gaming pad that is the phone’s USP. We’d have liked a better screen
User friendliness summary for Sony Ericsson Xperia Play review
Sony Ericsson has added its own skin to the operating system but anyone familiar with Google’s OS – and new users – will have no problems with it
Feature set summary for Sony Ericsson Xperia Play review
Plenty of games to choose from, dedicated video game controls, Wi-Fi, HSDPA, A-GPS, a five-megapixel snapper and a 1GHz chip are all run on Android Gingerbread
Performance summary for Sony Ericsson Xperia Play review
Gamers will find plenty to keep them entertained, although there are some issues with the graphics, but otherwise it offers all you’d expect from a smartphone
Battery power summary for Sony Ericsson Xperia Play review
You’ll need your charger to hand, especially if you’re doing a lot of gaming – average battery life comes in at 413 minutes on standby and 385 minutes of talktime
Full Review and Specification for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
It's a question we have asked before – why has Sony Ericsson taken such a long time to release a Playstation phone? With Sony as one of the partners, you’d think it would be an obvious move. Whatever the reasons behind it, we were really excited when we heard about the Xperia Play and were hoping it wouldn’t let us down.
The SonyXperia Play is certainly a chunky device. It’s thick and heavy – but there is a good reason for this. Slide the touch-screen away from you and you’ll find a big gaming pad, which has the four familiar PlayStation keys, touch controls and a D-pad. This gaming pad comes in metallic silver and is a good contrast for the shiny piano black front and back of the device. The body is subtly curved on the back and edge, which gives it an ergonomic feel – it was, however, far more comfortable to hold in gaming mode than when holding it like a normal mobile handset.
The display is a decent four inches and although it is very tactile we’ve seen far more vibrant screens. It is possible to dim it from one of the home screens, although we’re not sure why you’d want to use it – on the lower setting it’s hard to make out images and text. Below the display are four hard buttons – menu, back, home and search. If you hold the device vertically, you’ll find a left and right key on the right hand edge – like the PSP – which sit either side of the two volume buttons.
On the other side of the device there sits a microUSB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. This is a good position for the jack, as when you’re playing games, the headphones will have direct access to your ears, rather than being bent around the phone’s corners – this should avoid getting tangled up and damaging your headphones. This won’t be the case when listening to music, but as this is supposed to be a gaming device, this is a really sensible decision.
We’ll say more about the gaming features in a minute, but first we’d like to point out that the Xperia play is running Google’s latest Android OS – 2.3, or Gingerbread, which speeds up the user experience, improved keyboard, better app management (in terms of memory and power usage), Near Fields Communication (NFC) and VoIP calling. The Xperia Play does a good job on all these fronts, apart from NFC – while the OS provides the facility, it is up to the maker of each handset to enable it, and the Xperia Play is by no means alone in ignoring it at this stage. The OS is skinned by Sony Ericsson's own offering, but if you’re familiar with Android it won’t make too much difference to your user experience.
So, on to the gaming facilities. Once the gaming pad has been slid out, the screen automatically changes to landscape view and the onboard Xperia Play App quickly fires up. The pad slides out smoothly, and needs a bit of force to do so (a good thing in our opinion) – but it is really easy to just nudge out the pad slightly, which results in the Play App firing up – we found this happened quite a lot if we were taking the handset out of our pocket to make a call – you’ll have to press the back or home key to go back to the normal phone screen.
Once in the Play app, you’ll see two tabs at the bottom of the display. One takes you to your library of optimised games – at the moment there are about 60 to choose from, along with the six preloaded games. The other tab takes you to the games that you can download. This is where it gets a bit confusing – once you’ve chosen a game, you’ll be whisked to the developer website to pay by PayPal, debt or credit card. In the top right hand corner of the display you’ll see an Android icon – this will open a list of games that have been optimised for the handset. So, there are two ways to choose and buy games – it just makes it more complicated than it needs to be. Also, whichever way you find your list of games, they’re not listed in any particular order – so you can’t choose by price or by genre. Game prices come in at an average of around £5-7, which is pricey compared with most iPhone games. Mind you we did find a few bargains - £3 for Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles HD for example. Having said that, UNO also cost £3 – we weren’t persuaded to buy it! By the way, if you choose games that aren’t Xperia Play optimised (that is they don’t need a gamepad), they won’t be stored in this library and you’ll have to access them from the main menu.
We found the games intuitive and fun to play. As footie fans we were happy to see FIFA 10 already on board – although we did find it odd that Arsenal's Emmanuel Eboue just ran round aimlessly in a circle. The controls are well positioned, although we’d liked to have seen the D-Pad slightly more raised to avoid thumb cramp after a long games session. Beneath the PlayStation and D-pad buttons are two round touch-pads, which are only used in some games and can prove a nuisance in others. If the phone rings while you’re playing, the game will automatically pause – and if you need to make a call or access another feature in the middle of a game, you can just push the home key, do what you have to do, and then come back to the game by reopening the Play app.
What was a big disappointment was the graphics. Game play is fast and speedy, thanks to the Qualcomm optimised Snapdragon processor and 1GHZ CPU, along with an Adreno GPU graphics processor, and yet some games looked rather blocky at times – especially frustrating because the opening sequences were so impressive. And because Sony Ericsson can do some great things with a screen – see our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review.
You may have heard rumours that it is possible to download original PlayStation games to the Xperia Play – and you can! However, there is a separate platform for doing this. It’s called PlayStation Pocket and in our review sample there were only five to download – each costing £3.99 – but we have been promised that this will increase in the future. The Xperia Play does have Crash Bandicoot preloaded – but we found it rather dated, although if you’ve always loved the game, we’re sure you’ll immerse yourself in the nostalgia and not worry about it. Another strange thing is that the PlayStation Pocket games do not sit in the Play App, even though they utilise the games pad.
So that’s gaming, what about the rest of the phone? Well it s a decent smartphone – with GPS, Wi-Fi and a five-megapixel snapper – it’s not as good as the Arc's camera but sits well enough among most other Android-powered cameras. The web browsing experience was speedy and benefits from Gingerbread’s one-touch copy-and-paste facility. You can zoom in and out by double tapping the screen or by pinching and zooming.
It has to be said that the Xperia Play offers nothing special in terms of smartphone features (and the Xperia Arc does many of them better) so ultimately it will be judged on its gaming offering. While there’s no doubt that it’s a good way to while away some spare time, if you have a PSP or Nintendo DS Lite, it’s not going to serve as a replacement. And if you’re a casual gamer, it doesn’t offer a smooth, slick way to store or download games, when compared with the iPhone 4, for instance. It’s certainly not a bad phone, but if we were buying a Sony Ericsson handset, we would opt for the Xperia Arc, and use the money we saved to buy a PSP for gaming.