The Xperia Play attempts to combine the functionality elements of a smartphone, with the usability and convenience of a gamepad; but does Sony Ericsson’s hybrid gadget deliver on both goals?
The Play looks like any other Android phone although it is a fair bit chunkier but still not too big that it won’t fit in your pants pocket comfortably. The plastic exterior is light, but also detracts from the quality of the hull.
Its 4 inch touchscreen is sharp and vibrant which is great for games but there is a slight colour shift when viewed from the sides. Another downside is that the screen is highly reflective, making it difficult to see it clearly when outdoors.
The 5.1-megapixel camera isn’t remarkable. The image quality is serviceable at best and the LED flash has a limited range. You can’t do much to improve image quality other than tweak basic settings like exposure and white balance.
But what’s more disappointing is the lack of HD video recording which is a standard feature in most smartphones. VGA quality videos would have been acceptable a few years back but they look and sound terrible by today’s standards.
Sony Ericsson didn’t overhaul the stock Android 2.3 interface like other phone makers and instead has chosen to add only minor touches of its own like Timescape and Play widget. Timescape gathers social network feeds and text messages, and displays them in an easy-to-read format on the home-screen.
The Play relies on a single-core 1Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 512MB RAM and an Adreno 205 graphics chip for muscle.
The phone was generally responsive and surfing the web with the default Android web browser. The browser supports Flash but visiting sites that uses it a lot can slow the phone to a crawl.
The phone’s default on-screen keyboard is unresponsive – letters appear half-a-second after typing. Also, the spacing between letters is too close which makes it harder to hit the correct letters. In the end we had to install a keyboard app to replace it.
The Play’s battery was decent for a smartphone that has to do double duty as a PlayStation gaming device. Sony Ericsson claims that the battery can last up to five hours and it’s true – we managed to use it an entire day and that included playing games on it. However, bear in mind that if you have too many games running in the background, the battery will drain faster.
The Play is designed for gaming on the go – tucked underneath the screen is a slide-out controller which has a D-pad, four PlayStation buttons, a pair of digital analogue pads at the centre, and two shoulder buttons on the sides.
The controller worked pretty well and is a welcome change from using on-screen controls on devices with touchscreen like the iPad.
The Play comes preloaded with several games including Crash Bandicoot, a PlayStation classic. Although the game looks dated by modern standards, it’ll still brought back good memories for us.
The game runs at a very smooth frame rate and works well on the Play’s gamepad. One feature that we found useful is that the Play automatically suspends the game whenever we switched to a different task. So, you can take a call or respond to an e-mail and still continue your game right where you left off.
The Play also comes with a few Android games such as FIFA 10, Star Battalion and Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior which are not exclusive to the phone and some don’t take advantage of the gamepad controls.
Unfortunately, you are pretty much stuck with just one PlayStation game at the moment because the PlayStation Pocket store for downloading games is still not available here yet. Considering this is the first PlayStation certified game, it’s quite a bummer that you can’t get more games.
Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play isn’t quite the ground breaking mobile gaming device that we had hoped it would be although, the slide-out controller is far better for playing games than a touchscreen.
The biggest letdown is that the PlayStation store has yet to be open here and until it does you will not be able to enjoy using the Play fully and will be stuck with one PlayStation game.
It’s too bad that Sony Ericsson rushed the Play out of the door without making sure that its store was up and running.
As it stands, the Play is a mixed bag of goods – it’s a decent smartphone with a great gamepad but there aren’t many games to take advantage of it yet.