Sony Ericsson Xperia Play 3 Stars

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It's something we have long wondered – why has Sony Ericsson taken its time releasing a PlayStation phone? With Sony as a partner, you’d think it would have happened before. Whatever the reasons for this, we were pretty excited when we heard that the Xperia Play had been released and were hoping it wouldn’t disappoint.

First looks

The Sony Xperia Play is definitely a weighty phone. It’s weighty and thick, but it does have a good excuse. If you slide the touch-screen away from you, a large gaming pad is revealed, featuring the four PlayStation keys, a D-pad and touch controls. The gaming pad is metallic silver and contrasts well with the glossy piano black coating of the rest of the handset. The body features a subtle curve on the edge and back, which improves its ergonomics – but we found it far more comfortable to hold in gaming mode, rather than as you would hold a normal mobile device.

The screen is a good four inches, and is pretty tactile – there are far more vibrant displays available though. For some reason you can dim the screen from one of the home screens – but on a lower setting it’s hard to see text and images. Underneath the screen sit four hard buttons for search, back, home and menu. Hold the phone in portrait mode and the left and right key can be found on the right edges – just as they are on the PSP – on each side of the pair of volume buttons.

On the opposite side are the 3.5mm audio jack and microUSB port. It’s a good place for the headphone jack, which means that the headphones get direct access, rather than getting bent around the handset’s corners when you’re playing games. It’s not the case if you’re listening to music but as this is primarily a gaming handset it does make sense.

Android Gingerbread

Before we talk about the phone’s gaming offering, let’s mention the operating system – Android 2.3, Gingerbread, the latest version of Google’s OS. This results in a speedier user experience, better keyboard, improved app management (both with regard to power usage and memory) as well as VoIP calling and Near Fields Communication (NFC). The Xperia Play manages to carry out all its functions well, apart from NFC – the function is provided by the operating system, but must be enabled by the handset manufacturer, and like many phones at the moment, the Xperia Play does not offer NFC functionality. The operating system is skinned by Sony Ericsson, but if you’re already familiar with Google’s OS it will make little difference to your user experience.

Gaming

So, now on to the gaming experience. Slide the gaming pad out and the display automatically swaps to landscape view and the preloaded Xperia Play App powers up. The pad comes out smoothly, but needs a bit of a push to do so – which we think is a good thing. However, it’s simple to nudge out the pad just a bit, which powers up the Play App – this occurred quite often when we pulled the phone out of our pocket, and you’ll need to press either the home or back key to get back to the normal phone screen.

Once you’ve got the Play app running, a pair of tabs pop up at the bottom of the display. Press one to head to the library containing optimised games – you’ll find you can choose from around 60 titles, along with six preloaded games. The other tab sends you to downloadable games. This is where the process gets somewhat confusing. Choose your game and you’ll be taken to the developer site, where you can pay via debit or credit card or PayPal. Up in the top right-hand corner there will be an Android icon – this leads to a list of games that have been optimised for the Xperia Play. In essence you have two ways to buy and choose your gaming titles – but it just seems more complicated than it should be. Plus, however you get to your games list, the titles aren’t listed in any order, so you are not able to choose a title by genre or price, for instance. Games cost around £5 to £7 on average – pretty expensive compared with most iPhone titles. Having said that, we did come across some bargains – such as Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles HD for only £3. Mind you, we also saw UNO on offer for £3 – it didn’t sway us towards buying it! Incidentally, if you want to download games that are not optimised for the Xperia Play (for which you don’t need a gamepad) you’ll find they cannot be stored in this library and you’ll have to delve into the main menu to access them.

Gaming

The games we played were both fun and intuitive. Fans of the beautiful game will be glad to see FIFA 10 on board – although it was strange that Arsenals’ Emmanuel Eboue seemed to simply run around in circles – true to life? You decide! The gaming controls are well placed, but a slightly more raised D-Pad would be preferable to prevent the thumb cramp that happens after a lengthy session. Underneath the D-pad and PlayStation buttons is a pair of circular touchpad’s, which can be used for some games, but which also prove rather annoying on others. If you need to take a call in the middle of a game it will pause automatically – and if you want to call someone or fire up another feature in the midst of a game, you can pause it by pressing the home key. To go back to your game, reopen the Play app.

The graphics proved a huge disappointment though. While game play is pretty whizzy, due to the Qualcomm optimised Snapdragon processor and the 1GHz chip along with an Adreno GPU graphics chip, we still experienced blockiness at times – really annoying when the opening sequences had appeared so impressive. It’s also frustrating when you know what great things Sony Ericsson can achieve with screens – check out our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review to find out more.

If you’ve heard the rumours that you can download original PlayStation games to the Xperia Play, you’ll be glad to know they’re true. But, there is another platform for this. This is titled PlayStation Pocket; in our review sample we could only choose from five to download – at £3.99 a pop – but we have been promised that there will be more in the future. Crash Bandicoot is preloaded on the handset – but to us it seemed rather old hat. However if you’ve always been a fan of the game, we’re sure it won’t bother you. One odd thing is that the PlayStation Pocket games don’t sit in the Play app, even though you play them using the games pad.

Other features

So that’s it on the gaming front, but what about the other features? Well, the Xperia Play is a good smartphone, offering GPS, five-megapixel camera and GPS. The snapper doesn’t measure up to the one on the Arc but is up there with most other Android-powered snappers. Net surfing is whizzy and has the added benefit of the one-touch copy and paste function from Gingerbread. To zoom in and out, double tap and pinch and zoom.

The verdict

While the Xperia Play has nothing special to offer in terms of smartphone features (and indeed the Arc conducts many of them better) it is, in the end, going to be judged on its gaming experience. We have no doubt that it offers a nifty way to while away a boring commute, but it won’t replace your current Nintendo DS Lite or PSP. And casual gamers will find it is not as smooth or slick when it comes to downloading or storing games, compared with the iPhone 4 for example. It isn’t a bad handset by any means, but if we were to choose a Sony Ericsson device, we’d go for the Xperia Arc and use the cash we saved to buy a PSP.

Pros:
The closest gaming experience to a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS Lite that you’ll find on a smartphone, with that slide-out gaming pad.
Cons:
There are several platforms for downloading games, which can make the experience somewhat confusing.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 3 Stars
  • Ease of use 3 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 3 Stars

Final verdict: 3 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice