Xperia Play open and on 

It’s finally out, eh? I feel like we’ve been talking about this phone for years. Actually, it really has been years to tell you the truth. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play was the new hotness everyone was talking about around the web. Once the rumor mill started churning out gossip, people were posting rumors left and right. Before you knew it, Sony PlayStation and Sony Ericsson were trying to keep rumors to a dull roar, in hopes of keeping this project a secret. But in that span of time, I think it’s evident that something went wrong. Sony is a very big company, and Sony Ericsson and Sony PlayStation, are two very different divisions within Sony. And somewhere within those two large divisions of the company, something was bound to go wrong. It seemed like they had it all: a very strong PlayStation gaming brand and solid cell phone manufacturer – and Android at its core.  Jump past the break to “Play” along and see what this device has to offer.

Initial hands-on

 Click here to read our first hands-on review

Hardware

When picking up the Xperia Play for the first time you’ll immediately notice its weighty feel. It’s definitely on the heavier side of phones out there. But it’s a weight that really didn’t bother me, considering the gamepad it’s carrying. Think of it as a solid gaming weight, but generally heavy for your Hardware shotaverage smartphone. It comes down to being a trade-off. Considering what it’s intended to do.

Unlike its cousin, the extremely slim Xperia Arc, the Xperia Play has quite the curvy body. At the front of the device is 4-inch, 854 x 480 FWVGA display. The Play’s screen takes full advantage of the front of the device. Sony Ericsson did a really nice job not wasting any space on the front, leaving just enough for the front facing buttons and speaker up top. Speaking of front facing buttons, these little silver guys threw me off a bit. But not in terms of feel. Instead, how they have them setup. Sony Ericsson set them left to right like this: Previous, Home, Menu, and Search. Granted, Motorola, HTC, and Samsung, have them setup differently, too. But still, shouldn’t this be standard? I guess I was a little thrown off.

Making your way around the edges of the phone, you’re presented with curves that wrap nicely around the device. One would think, with the full slide-out gamepad design, the phone would have a hard time hiding it, but Ericsson did an excellent job in making it flush all around.

Hardware shot Hardware shot 

On the back of the Xperia Play is a 5-megapixel camera and flash (for camera tests, read bellow in the Camera section). On the top right, the power button is tucked away and has the same clicky feel as the front facing navigation buttons. Another nice little touch is that the power indicator light and power button are one -- small little touch, but still pretty cool.

Holding the smartphone in landscape position you’ll notice the volume rocker nestled in between the shoulder buttons. It’s an odd choice to have it up top (right side for normal portrait use) when you have the gamepad slid open. I say this only because you have to essentially put your finger behind the screen to adjust the volume when playing a game. I think it would have been more effective and easier to reach having it on the bottom (left side in normal portrait use). It's small, but noticeable when gaming.

Under this black hood is a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, Adreno 205 GPU, and 512MB of RAM to top it off. Now, a lot people have been complaining about the processor speed, especially with all of today’s dual-core processors becoming pretty standard in the marketplace. But let’s be clear here: There is a dedicated graphics processor that does strictly graphics. That means there is 1GHz leftover for everything else gaming or non-gaming related. It does a nice job once the game is running, but I did find that load times on higher-end games did take a long time to load. Though, it makes you wonder if this guy was suppose to be out early last year, doesn’t it? It just seems odd to put out a "gaming" device that is running hardware a bit on the older side, and then ask developers to support this phone as a viable gaming platform for the future.

 Hardware shot Hardware shot

Next, moving onto the gamepad – the crux of this device. Sliding out the gamepad has a great feel. It’s snappy and doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap off. Even while extended, the hinge holding the upper and bottom pieces of this phone are rock solid. Even if I was to drop it while open, it more than likely wouldn’t break into two. So, for anyone out there who has had some bad experiences with phone hinges, fret not.

Hardware shot 

Resting up top is the shoulder buttons. The “L” and “R” buttons are familiar to any gamer who has held a PlayStation device or even Super Nintendo. Both buttons have an inward curvature to rest your fingers. They’re a bit on the sensitive side, but carry that same clicky feel the face buttons have. I found that they were spaced a good distance apart. My hands didn’t cramp up during long gaming periods. As for you bigger-handed folks out there, you shouldn’t feel any discomfort either.

Hardware shot Hardware shot

Hardware shot

On the face of the control pad is a D-pad, two trackpads, Start, Select, Android Menu button, and the iconic PlayStation face buttons. The D-pad and face buttons all were super responsive. If you’ve ever held a PSP Go before, you’ll notice the button feel and placement is almost identical. As for the trackpads, they generally worked pretty well. On the inside of the trackpads is a raised little dot to help guide your fingers from moving out of place. When playing games, I found the trackpads to be a little on the over-sensitive side. For anyone interested in playing shooters that utilize both trackpads, you’ll find yourself adjusting the sensitivity when you’re first getting the feel for the game. This was a concern I had from the start. Hopefully developers will learn to better program the games around the trackpads’ sensitivity. 

Software

Software

In terms of software, the Xperia Play is as simple and plain as it gets -- and we are not complaining. Solid and straight Gingerbread (Android 2.3.2 to be specific). It's an odd choice being that its twin brother in Europe is rocking a custom Ericsson UI. I think Android purists will find this choice by Verizon and Sony Ericsson to be a great perk of this phone. This was probably done mostly in part for updates. Once this guy gets a newer version of Android, there'll be less hoops to jump through. It's starting to look like Sony Ericsson has learned their lesson with updates on their devices. In the past they have been rather slow on their end getting the updates into the hands of consumers. AnotherSoftware reason I think they might of have gone for straight Gingerbread and no custom UI goes back to my theory of Sony Ericsson wanting to release this phone a while back ago. Adding and testing that extra layer might of slowed down the launch even more than it already was.

With the 1GHz processor, everyday apps and jumping from app to app yielded no issues. Gingerbread runs really smooth on here. Even after applying some launchers on the Xperia Play, the phone ran without a hiccup. And since we're talking about a Verizon branded phone, we need to mention the bloatware on board -- but in this case, they didn't pile on too much. The Play comes shipped with VZ Navigator, Office Suite, Backup Assistant, Verizon Mobile, and the VCast App Store. It was really nice to see Verizon not clutter the Xperia Play with tons of garbage like City ID and more. As for all you PlayStation gamers out there, Sony Ericsson included some PlayStation branded live wallpapers on the phone, too. The moving wavy, moving lines can also be found on the PlayStation 3 and PSP. And honestly, there's not much more to say about software.

Gaming


YouTube link for mobile viewing

We usually don't have a separate section for gaming, but in the case of the Xperia Play, it's a section well needed. So, I've already covered the hardware side of things -- but what about the software side of the games? You know, the actual games. 

To start playing games at any point, all you have to do is slide open the gamepad. From there, the Xperia Play launcher will boot and you'll see all games that are Xperia Play optimized on the device appear. Games are listed by large icons, resembeling their app icon. Games that are not Xperia Play optimized will not appear through this launcher. You'll have to start those from the regular app drawer. 

To download optimized games, you can either search for Xperia Play in the Android Market, or access games from the VCast App Store. In the Xperia Play launcher, there is a little shopping cart icon in the top right hand corner. Clicking that boots up the VCast App Store. But instead of traversing the messy store, you can just tap the "More Games" tab on the bottom of the launcher and it automatically pulls in all the Xperia Play optimized games from the VCast App Store. Unfortunately, there is no way to have titles in the Android Market appear there too when shopping for games. You have to exit the Xperia Play launcher and open up Android Market separately.

This really bothered me in a couple of ways. First: When you buy a game from the VCast App Store, that game gets linked to your cell phone account, not your Google account. Second: There were tons of games listed exclusively in the VCast App Store, that were not listed in the Android Market. I get it. Verizon wants their cut on apps, too. But at least I think they should of given you that choice. Third: I found that some games I already owned were released as a separate download with Xperia Play optimization. There is no reason why you should have to buy the same game twice for one to have extra options for controls. Now to be fair, not all games are listed like this. It's nice to see that some developers updated their games free of charge, with improved controls for the Xperia Play.

The Xperia Play comes shipped with these six games: 

  1. Crash Bandicoot (the only PlayStation branded title)
  2. The Sims 3
  3. Madden NFL 11
  4. Asphalt 6
  5. Bruce Lee
  6. Star Battalion

Battery

Hardware shot Hardware shot

Gaming on the go is nice, but when it's mixed with your cell phone, the battery tend to go pretty fast. When I wasn't playing games for extended amounts of time, the Xperia Play did pretty well. I found myself reaching for a charger around the end of the evening. Which at this point, is pretty standard for Android smartphones. Don't expect to get a full two days out of this guy. The battery is a decent 1500 mAh. I probably would have saved battery life if the screen was a bit sharper, though. I often found myself adjusting the screen brightness to higher levels. Images on the screen never really seemed to have that crisp, sharp look.

Camera 


YouTube link for mobile viewing

The Xperia Play has two cameras on deck. The front facing camera, well, it's a front facing camera. Designed for you video chatters and people that like to look at your self when getting ready for work on the train. While the audio is great, video came out pretty terrible. Then again, the front camera isn't really designed to be taking amazing photos and video.


YouTube link for mobile viewing

As for the rear camera, you'll find better results -- but not much better. Again, audio came out super clear, but without the support of HD recording, the video is at a low resolution. As for still images, it may not be the 8 megapixels a lot of cameras have today, but it still looks really sharp. Have a look below.

Front facing camera:

Front facing camera image Front facing camera image

Rear facing camera:

Rear facing camera image Rear facing camera image

Rear facing camera image Rear facing camera image

Wrap-up

I'm a huge gamer. I've been gaming all my life on all types of hardware. And when rumors of a PlayStation phone started hitting the web, I got really excited over the possibilities. The concept wasn't new, though. Remember the Nokia N-Gage? That died pretty fast. But I thought if Sony PlayStation and Sony Ericsson worked together on this, it could become a solid portable gaming device. But that didn't happen. Instead we got a missed opportunity. Both companies failed to deliver on time. 

There should be no reason why they released this phone with only one PlayStation branded game available. Crash Bandicoot is really fun and the guys at Naughty Dog are really talented, but it's not enough to sell units. Where is PlayStation Suite? Sony PlayStation promised that they bring PlayStation branded experiences to Android, but they missed it with their own device. Even after E3 2011 wrapped-up, we still don't know anything really about PlayStation Suite. Hopefully we'll hear more about it in the future, but for now, this phone is nothing more than a phone and a gamepad. I'm afraid that without compelling, original software, the Xperia Play is going to slowly disappear. 

If gaming is your thing and you like having a gamepad on the go, then give it a shot. But honestly, most of these games can be played on other Android devices that are already far more superior. Until there is some more compelling games, you might want to pass and look at some other Android options.

Hardware