The Xperia Play is the much heralded PlayStation Phone, a device that combines the best of Android and the best of the world of gaming with its unique slide-out PlayStation controller and range of original PlayStation games.
In many respects the Xperia Play is very similar to the Xperia Arc. Certainly in terms of the user interface, the phones are almost identical. The Xperia Play is a little smaller in height and width and is more rounded in shape. However it is substantially thicker than the Arc (which, to be fair, is one of the thinnest smartphones going). This is because of what the Play has hidden inside it, the core feature making the Xperia Play unique.
This is of course the PlayStation control pad. At present this can be found on no other smartphone, although no doubt there will be sequels to the Play released in the future with similar features. There is also the possibility of a Windows Phone with an Xbox controller at some point – although that is just me speculating. Now that Sony has taken complete control of what used to be Sony Ericsson they will have more freedom to mix their smartphone and gaming business divisions to greater effect.
Obviously, due to the shape of the phone the control pad is not exactly the same as the control pads that come with a PlayStation, but it offers pretty much all the same controls in one way or another.
There is a directional D-pad, circle, square, triangle and cross, as well as a select button and a start menu button. There is also an Android menu button included here for good measure. There are two other controls that are meant to offer the same functionality as the thumb sticks found on PlayStation controllers. Obviously, because of the sliding design of the phone thumb sticks couldn’t be implemented in their traditional form.
What you are left with instead is some touchpads designed to offer similar functionality. Rather than moving a physical stick around with your thumbs, you can simply slide your thumbs across the pads to achieve a similar result. The pads contain little indents in the centre which help you to know roughly where your thumbs are without the need to look directly at the control pad. This is a nice touch but in reality I found these to be the most difficult part of the control pad to use. Perhaps they are something you can master given enough time, but I wasn't quite able to get the hang of it during the short period that I was reviewing the Play.
In its closed state the Xperia Play offers the usual four Android controls, with back, home, menu and search available from left to right. These are presented in a similar style to the thin protruding buttons found on the Xperia Arc, although the latter phone only had three buttons. Just like the Arc these buttons look quite stylish but feel a little less comfortable and more awkward to use than buttons found on other phones.
They also feel quite fiddly, rattle around too much and, in my mind, simply feel cheap. While they light up in the dark there is no clear way to differentiate between each button as they all look and feel the same, which can get confusing if you haven’t already consigned their functions to memory. Of course, in the daytime you can just look at the accompanying icons but these are no use in the dark as they don't light up with the rest of the button.
Other buttons include the power button at the top, and the volume control, left and right shoulder buttons down the right hand side. When you slide-out the control pad these shoulder buttons are neatly hidden behind the screen, although they can be easily located and operated with your index fingers. While the rest of the gaming controls can be neatly hidden away thanks to the sliding mechanism, these shoulder buttons are always on display – even when you just want to use the Xperia Play as a phone. They don’t really interfere with any functionality although they do feel a little bit strange if you are holding the phone with just your right hand.
The Play is a fairly slim phone despite the control pad – although it is not as slim as phones like the Xperia Arc. I can't help feeling that because of the sliding nature of the phone and an effort to keep the overall device fairly slim, the control pad is slimmer than it should be for comfortable use. It is not unusable of course, but not quite as comfortable as actual PlayStation controllers that seem to have been designed more ergonomically.
In terms of materials the Play is again quite similar to the Arc. Most of the phone is covered in black plastic, with the side edges having a metallic coloured plastic working instead. While the Arc had a concave battery cover the Play has a convex one which is considerably more comfortable to hold.
The Play is an attractive looking phone but like the Xperia Arc it picks up fingerprints far too easily. This does not just apply to the screen but the entire casing for the phone. The plastic material used is very difficult to keep free from fingerprint smudges and only serves to take away some of the aesthetic appeal of the device. Some users of the phone have reported that the paint rubs off easily from the shoulder buttons. This didn't seem to be a problem on the handset I was using, although I only had my review model for a relatively short period of time.
Like most modern smartphones the battery cover is a thin piece of plastic that needs to be prized off with a finger nail through a small slot. Due to the odd shape of the back it can feel a bit awkward at first but is easy once you get the hang of it. Some people think plastic feels cheap on a smartphone but it is not something I am all too bothered by. I like the feel of the Play, it is sturdy and good looking and I doubt it will break too easily unless you drop it on the floor regularly, which you should probably avoid doing anyway.
The Play uses a 4 inch LED backlit LCD screen that is fairly similar in quality to the Arc. It is a little bit smaller and not quite as bright, but it offers good visual quality and decent colours. Some other reviewers have accused this screen of being pretty poor quality, but although it is perhaps not as good as Super AMOLED Plus or Retina Display it is of decent enough quality. It doesn't perform so well in direct sunlight, but then not many smartphone screens do these days.
Probably not a big deal when you are using the Play as a phone, but if you are attempting to play games while sitting out in the sun this may get on your nerves. The screen doesn't open out at an angle and instead lies flat and parallel to the control pad. Because the screen is larger and heavier than the control pad, this causes the Xperia Play to tip over when it is placed down in its open state.
In its closed state the Play operates like most other Android phones. Open it up though, and it automatically loads the PlayStation game section. If you are sliding out the control pad it is fair to assume that you want to play some games, so this automatic loading saves you a lot of time in manually loading the feature. The only problem is it doesn't automatically close when you put the control pad away, instead you have to press the home button to return to the main phone screen. So while this saves you effort when opening the control pad it causes you unnecessary effort if you have opened it by mistake.
When I was reviewing the phone there were around 46 games available on the PlayStation section. There is also a PlayStation Pocket app where you can buy older and cheaper games to play around with. This largely consists of games from the original PlayStation although when I was using this phone there was a very limited selection on offer. I couldn't see the sense in making this PlayStation Pocket app separated from the main PlayStation section, as it makes the acquisition of games disjointed and disorganised.
The older games, such as Crash Bandicoot, may bring back fond memories for people who owned the original console. But considering that the original console was launched more than 15 years ago these are unlikely to be the people buying the Xperia Play – and more modern gamers may not be too impressed with these older games. Some of the games included are Tetris, Crash Bandicoot, Bruce Lee, Sims 3, FIFA 10 and Star Battalion.
PlayStation pocket is fairly poor. It is basically just Crash Bandicoot. You can search for games, but apparently this service is not available in my country/region. Crash Bandicoot it is then. This is a PlayStation 1 game and while it is fun to play the graphics look quite outdated and pixelated now. Another thing to consider is that PS1 games were designed for square TVs and not widescreen devices like modern smartphones. Because of this there are black bars on either side of the game. These may not be so much of an issue to people used to a similar thing when watching widescreen movies – but it is another little niggle that leaves the PlayStation features feeling a little amateurish.
People who can remember back to the heyday of the original PlayStation in the mid-nineties are probably not the most likely group to go and buy a gaming phone, and regardless of the nostalgia offered by the Xperia Play there are many other devices offering a better gaming experience in any case. The level of gaming on offer on the Play is not on the same level as the PSP, and the Play does not support PS2 or PS3 games.
Having the control pad certainly makes gaming easier than on touchscreen-only phones. Because some of these games are ported from older consoles they will include onscreen instructions to press buttons that don't actually exist on the control pad, which can cause some confusion while playing. This also gives the Xperia Play's gaming features a rather sloppy and poorly thought out feel to them.
For example, the FIFA game included references pressing button A and button B to perform certain actions, even though there is no A or B on the control pad. This is obviously a sloppy port. The game is playable enough but Sony could have put in more of an effort with the games that it included as standard.
When looking for "More Games" in the PlayStation section you find they are not organised into a coherent store. Some games will just take you to Android Market to purchase, while others will direct you to a developers website. These require different methods of payment (Google Checkout and PayPal respectively) adding to the disjointed experience. Some kind of unified PlayStation shop would have been greatly appreciated.
I am reviewing this phone after a few months of it being on sale and I can say that the number of games available is a little disappointing. There are a fair few to try out for sure but for a phone dedicated almost entirely to games you would expect a lot more choice and a greater range of titles on offer.
Another rather disappointing thing is that many of these original PlayStation games, that were released about 15 years ago, can cost over £5. This sems quite expensive when you can often get more enjoyable, better looking and more modern games from Android Market for much less, sometimes even for free.
Of course there are PlayStation emulators available and you could give these a go along with any PS1 ROMs, although this is technically illegal if you don't own the original titles. The control pad will make this a more authentic and enjoyable experience than on other Android phones although it is not quite as straightforward as having an app on your phone to pick up new games (as there is no Android ROM store). The control pad can also be put to good use when emulating games from other consoles such as the SNES and N64.
I transferred an N64 emulator from another to give it a try. It is certainly much easier to play games like Super Mario 64 with the control pad than it is on phones that only allow touchscreen controls. Android Market already has a large amount of games that are difficult to use with touchscreen controls and this sort of makes up for the rather limited selection of PlayStation games on offer.
To play games on the Xperia Play you will need an SD card. The phone only comes with 400MB internal storage, and the one I have been reviewing does not have an SD card in it. Because of this I have experienced difficulty in running many games that require a certain amount of memory to function properly. Using a microSD card is essential for enjoying games on the Xperia Play as even many of the games that are preinstalled still need to download additional content to run. Some of these games only need another 40MB while some might need an additional 500MB. Luckily the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play comes with an 8GB microSD card included in its box, so it will not need to be purchased separately. This is unless you would like even more space of course, as the phone does support 32GB microSD cards.
One disappointing thing about the Xperia Play, and probably one of the reasons and hasn't made as big of an impact as Sony Ericsson had hoped, is the lack of HDMI. In an era where consumers expect their phones to easily connect with their home computers and televisions, this is a serious oversight. You cannot use HDMI to play Xperia Play games on a larger television screen, although DLNA Wi-Fi support is included allowing you to access media from your television.
The Play has a 5 megapixel camera which takes some pretty decent photos although it only comes with WVGA video recording. Videos recorded are of a large enough resolution for most people. The video quality does look a little bit grainy though and, while there are better video cameras available on smartphones, for everyday use it serves it purpose. Videos can also be directly uploaded to YouTube to share with the world. When taking photos the Xperia Play makes a pretty awful noise. It is supposed to sound like a camera shutter but instead sounds distorted and grating.
The phone is quite obviously targeted at younger gamers, although it has a good range of other features too. Good social networking support, decent media playback and the usual Android messaging and email options. The people who can remember the original PlayStation are probably a little too old for this device now, and a better gaming experience can be had with dedicated handheld games consoles.
The Play uses a single core 1GHz chip and 512MB RAM, with 400MB available for applications. This seems to be enough for what the Play has on offer now but may be a bit limiting in the future. The Play seems to handle all games smoothly. However if a second PlayStation phone is released with higher specs the Xperia Play may struggle to run the more demanding games that could be released.
The battery life is not the most superb providing a couple of days of use. However, it certainly offers a better performance than its close sibling the Xperia Arc and like most Android phones you can probably get a good week's standby out of it if you only enable Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G when needed. For constant gaming you will probably get about 5 hours use. The Play is charged through a microUSB slot on its left side (or underside when the control pad is open).
The Xperia Play has an accelerometer but does not come with a gyro sensor. Gyro sensors have been put to some good use for games and apps on devices like the iPhone 4 and 4S, but one is not really needed or missed here because of the control pad. Some people have lamented that a gyro sensor was not included on the Play but this was a fairly new and uncommon feature at the time of the Xperia Play's release. It is also a bit of a gimmick, because for most purposes it is actually pretty difficult to use a gyro to control games. For this reason the control pad is much better suited, and fairly unique to the Xperia Play.
While the interface in use is almost identical to the Xperia Arc this phone is much quicker at booting up. The main difference appears to be the widget for PlayStation games on one of the homepages. In a sense the Xperia Play is just the Arc with some better games and a control pad. The SE interface has five homescreens and the app drawer scrolls horizontally. At the bottom of the screen there are five buttons that are permanently fixed for quick access to Media, Messages, Contacts, Phone and App Drawer.
My personal opinion of this interface is that it is quite stylish but also quite bland. There is too much blue. Everything is blue – the background, menus, icons. You can change the background to whatever you want of course, but the menus are still rather depressingly blue. One of the live wallpapers included with the Xperia Play is the default PSP theme which will add some appeal to anyone who owns a PSP.
Like other Sony Ericsson phones the Xperia Play comes with the Timescape social networking app. The Timescape widget will present a series of cards displaying your recent messages, emails and social network updates that you can flick through visually. Like other Sony Ericsson phones this Timescape feature seems like a good idea but actually causes a little bit of lag when switching between homescreens. Timescape can be disabled if you find that you have no use for it on your phone.
Like the Xperia Arc you can pinch the homescreen to have all widgets placed on the screen at the same time. Tap the widget you want and you can go directly to that homescreen panel. This system does not include app shortcuts though, and so is only useful for widgets. Still, it is a useful shortcut for navigating around the many homescreen panels. Like all Android phones there is good support for email, even though there is no email widget for the homescreen. Perhaps this is one of the omissions made that highlights the fact that Sony Ericsson intended this phone for younger users who are perhaps less concerned by email support.
The Xperia Play has 3G and Wi-Fi for making use of online features, as well as the older and slower GPRS/EDGE as backup. The web browser starts off on a touch-centric page that gives you direct access to various Sony Ericsson services and features. You can navigate around web pages using the control pad, although this can't really be used for navigating around the Android OS. On the whole I found web browsing to be a little slow on the Xperia Play, even when connecting via Wi-Fi.
The Xperia Play supports DLNA for Wi-Fi which allows you to turn the phone into a wireless server. With this you can access content stored on the Play from other wireless devices, effectively turning the phone into a multimedia hub.
While Sony is a big name in gaming they also have their fingers in many other pies and because of this Sony Ericsson phones have always featured nice little tweaks for entertainment. The Play uses the standard Sony Ericsson media player that offers some great features, like a prominent button that can take you directly to YouTube videos of the artist you are listening to. TrackID is also included to help you identify new music in your vicinity but the Xperia Play does not come with an FM radio.
The Play also comes with Livewire, allowing you to add your own functionalities to certain events. For example, you can set the Xperia Play to automatically load the media player when you insert a pair of headphones. The headphone socket is a standard 3.5mm one, so any headphones are supported, and the Xperia Play also comes with stereo speakers that are actually very audible for a phone.
The only problem I have with the Xperia Play's headphone socket is its position. It is placed on the left hand side of the phone, or the bottom when you are playing games with the control pad. While this positioning makes sense (as it allows the headphone cable to dangle down beneath the phone), it is placed a little too far to the side and gets in the way of your left hand when trying to use the control pad. Having the socket in a more central position would have also made it quite bizarre when using the phone in its normal portrait orientation, so I guess there was a bit of a trade-off in the design. The microUSB port is also placed here, although on the right side. This isn't positioned as close to the edge as the headphone socket and so probably won't cause much trouble when charging.
The Xperia Play allows you to import contacts from your SIM card, Google account or Facebook profile. Contact screens on the phone will also display snippets of recent tweets made by that individual.
Unlike many modern smartphones the Xperia Play does not include smart dialling. Smart dialling allows you to enter part of a name or number and the phone will automatically pull out what it thinks is the most relevant contact. So if you enter the first three digits of a phone number that is only present in the phone number of one of your contacts, this number will be displayed as a suggestion. Instead, the Xperia Play requires you to search for a contact manually or type in the entire phone number by hand.
HDMI was included on the Xperia Arc and it is a huge omission on the Play, probably one of the biggest flaws of the phone. Aside from watching videos (which can be done with DLNA anyway), the only real need for HDMI these days would be on a phone like the Play to use games on a larger screen. In fact there is probably no phone that would have benefitted more from having an HDMI port than the Play.
The control pad certainly makes playing games easier but the amount of games available when I reviewed this phone was very small. PlayStation games are available from various different sources and app stores, making the service feel a little disjointed. The control pad can also be used to play games already available from Android Market giving the Play a bit of an edge over other Android phones. Likewise there are plenty of great features for music and video entertainment.
This is the first serious attempt since Nokia's N-Gage launched in 2003 to try and implement console gaming in a phone in any meaningful way. It is not perfect but it certainly offers better features for gamers than other smartphones. Of course, many standalone consoles will outperform it in the gaming department and if video games aren't your cup of tea it is probably worth looking at something else for a new phone.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - This is a similar phone from Sony Ericsson, but without control pad.
HTC 7 Trophy - A Windows Phone 7 gaming phone, better suited to Xbox fans.
Apple iPhone 4 – The Apple App Store has a very wide selection of quality games.
Samsung Galaxy S2 – Great screen and great performance, the S2 is great for gaming if you can live without the control pad.
The Xperia Play had been leaked several months ago and had been known on the internet under many different names, including the Zeus and the PlayStation Phone. The PlayStation Phone is perhaps a more pertinent moniker as this is essentially what the Xperia Play is. It combines the best of Sony Ericsson´s Xperia range of Android phones with high class portable gaming from Sony´s PSP.
The Xperia Play operates on a side sliding mechanism similar to the earlier Xperia X2 and the HTC Desire Z, but rather than featuring a QWERTY keyboard it instead comes with a PlayStation controller. This features a four way directional pad as well as buttons for Sony´s now iconic square, circle, cross and triangle. Do not worry, these are not the only input methods as the Xperia Play is fully touch sensitive and you are still provided with an on screen QWERTY keyboard.
The Xperia Play comes with DLNA support for its Wi-Fi connections, so that it can be connected to a home TV, although there is no HDMI available. While an accelerometer is present for gesture controls the Xperia Play would have greatly benefitted from the inclusion of a gyro sensor, as found on the iPhone 4 and LG Optimus 2X. The Xperia Play could have also greatly benefitted from more processing power as 1GHz seems a little lacking for a game oriented phone considering we are now entering into the generation of dual core phone processors.
These limitations aside the Xperia Play is undoubtedly an excellent phone when it comes to portable gaming cum telephony, if not for more than the simple fact that Sony will be able to provide a great range of titles to come with it. The Xperia Play´s only real competition in this niche is Microsoft´s Windows Phone 7 range of mobile phones that come with Xbox Live as standard. It is easy to feel that perhaps Microsoft have done a better job of implementing their popular console onto mobile phones but as with everything there is a trade-off as the Xperia Play indubitably comes with a superior operating system.
Sony Ericsson could have easily just ridden on the Xperia Play´s status as the PlayStation Phone and palmed off an older version of Google Android onto the handset. But fortunately for any prospective owners the Xperia Play comes with the very latest Gingerbread edition of Google´s popular operating system, including all the features that come along with this such as Gmail, Google Talk and YouTube support.
With the Xperia Play being so long in development some of the hardware features do seem to fall behind the standard of handsets now being released, but it will provide an excellent choice for gaming fanatics who are not too keen on what Microsoft or Apple have to offer. The Xperia Play is arguably one of the better Xperia phones on release, and were it not for its unique PlayStation control pad would probably enjoy much wider popularity outside of the mobile gaming community.