In a short time smartphones have redefined mobile gaming and taken a significant bite out of the home console market. While there may be a vast reservoir of quick-hit gaming apps available, it wasn’t until rumours of a ‘PlayStation phone’ began circulating that serious gamers ears perked up.
The Xperia Play is a device designed to serve the smartphone user who prefer their gaming a little more Half-Life than Angry Birds. Sony Ericsson has gone about merging the two markets by developing a handset that transforms smoothly into game control.
The Play’s thicker-than-usual form slides apart to reveal a PSP-esque control interface, with traditional directional inputs to the left and the PlayStation’s iconic face buttons to the right. The device also takes a shot at incorporating analogue stick substitutes in the form of two round touch pads. Using touch controls without blocking the screen is a nice feature. but squeezed onto the small panel they do feel a bit cramped.
Sliding the controller out results in a satisfying snap, the mechanism is extremely solid and responsive; it can be triggered easily with one hand and feels very robust; a design of true quality.
It is a shame the same cannot be said for the rest of the phone, the outer casing is a disappointingly cheap affair. The plastic black body squeaks and creeks at the slightest touch and its faux metal trimmings just look nasty – it’s baffling how such disparate elements can exist in the same phone.
This discord also exists across the unit’s buttons. The inputs set into the sliding controller are firm and distinct, clearly designed to stand up to a thorough gameplay mashing. The phone’s function buttons, however, give a spongy and unreliable response to pressure.
Some of the non-gaming aspects of the Xperia Play are quite well designed, however – remove the battery cover, for instance, and you are able to access both the SIM and SD slot without having to remove the battery. A welcome touch that other manufacturers should take note of.
The screen carries on the phone’s hit-and-miss motif by providing crisp 480 x 854 visuals but with very low brightness. This makes games look great when played in optimal lighting conditions but undermines the whole portable angle when you’re tethered to a properly lit room. It is very difficult to play outdoors.
When in the right conditions, though, the phone rips through its gaming duties. Driven by a 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon chip with an Adreno 205 GPU and 512MB RAM, it is a well-powered device that handles all the standard Android functions breezily and acquits well under the requirements of PlayStation certification.
That’s when things get really disappointing – the Play’s reason for existence is to bring the PlayStation experience to smartphones, but there’s simply nothing much to play. Few of Sony’s big porting and distribution plans have yet to happen, leaving the unit with just five exclusive PlayStation titles (plus pre-loaded Crash Bandicoot) and a slew of third-party apps already available on other phones.
In time the PlayStation Suite may well provide a treasure trove of gaming for the Xperia Play and Sony Ericsson did have 10 Play exclusives to show off at E3, but by the time it all comes together there will likely be updated PlayStation handsets on the scene. For now the phone remains a lonely figure, not quite up to snuff in the latest smartphone crowd and unable to truly strut its stuff as a gaming device.
Well built sliding control
Nice screen resolution
Runs demanding games capably
Poor phone build
Screen is very dim
There are almost no games to play
VERDICT: Not the hottest smartphone around, the Play does have some gaming chops; too bad it barely gets to use them.
For full specifications, visit the the Tone website.
By Adrian Hatwell