Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
6/18/2011 4:34:31 PM
The dedicated slide-out gaming pad helps provide as close a gaming experience as the likes of a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS Lite that we?ve seen on a smartphone
Downloading and storing games can be a tad confusing due to the various platforms you can purchase them from
It's one of life's big mysteries. Like how exactly was Stonehenge formed or how did we go about our daily lives before mobiles. Just why has it taken Sony Ericsson so long to produce a PlayStation phone? With Sony being one of the partners it would have seemed an obvious and perfect fit. Whatever the reason, this wait has only raised the excitement levels, so please Mr Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, don't disappoint us.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is a big brute of a phone. It's both weighty and thick but before you grimace too much there is a reason for this substance. Hold the phone horizontally and slide the touch-screen away from you and you'll reveal a large gaming pad complete with D-pad, touch controls and those four familiar PlayStation keys. The gaming pad is coated in a metallic silver shade and contrasts well with the glossy piano black that encompasses the front and back of the phone. The Xperia Play has subtle curves both on the edges of the phone but also on the back. It gives the phone an ergonomic feel though it felt a lot more comfortable when holding it in the gaming position rather than vertically as a more regular mobile phone.
The screen is a respectable four-inches and though impressively tactile it's not the most vibrant. In fact there's a dimming toggle on one of the home screens though with only two settings we can't think why you'd revert to the lower which makes it near impossible to work out text and images. Four hard keys sit just below the screen; a back button, home key, menu key and a search facility. When holding the handset vertically with the screen facing you, on the right hand side of the device you'll find a left and right key - again in reference to the PSP - which sandwich the two volume keys.
On the opposite side is a microUSB port (the ever increasing universal jack) and a 3.5mm headset port. We highlight the now standard inclusion of the 3.5mm headset jack as Sony Ericsson deserves props for considering the positioning of said jack. When playing games on your Xperia Play, your headphones will have direct access to your ears, without having to bend around any corners of the phone, risking you getting in a tangle or worse, damaging the headphones. Of course, when playing music with your phone in your pocket the opposite is true, but as this is a 'gaming' phone and Sony Ericsson needed to put the jack somewhere, we salute the decision made.
We'll come onto the gaming credentials in a moment, but firstly it's worth highlighting that the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play runs on the very latest Google Android operating system. Android 2.3 or to give it it's full name, Gingerbread promises a faster overall experience, a better keyboard, better management of your apps in terms of how much power and memory each of them are using, VoIP calling and Near Fields Communication (NFC). We're happy to report that the Xperia Play delivers on all of these fronts bar NFC, as although Gingerbread enables this tech, it's up to individual handsets to accommodate it. However, the fact that most of the incoming smartphones that run on Android 2.3 are omitting this we won't judge the Xperia Play too harshly. Sony Ericsson has put its own skin on proceedings, but it won't confuse consumers who are used to using Android on other devices.
Ok so the gaming. If the slide-out gaming pad or the name wasn't enough to inform you, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play's heart and soul is entwined with video games. Slide-out said pad and the screen immediately re-orientates itself into landscape view while you'll be whisked to the preloaded Xperia Play App. The sliding mechanism is both fluid and smooth. However, we do have one gripe. While a degree of force is needed to push the screen out fully (a good thing in our book), it doesn't take much to nudge it slightly open. Such a movement will still fire up the Xperia Play App which we did numerous times when taking the phone out of our pocket to simply make a phone call. You'll need to press the home key or back key to return to the standard phone offering.
When in the app, there are two tabs sitting at the bottom of the screen. The first is access to a library of all your Xperia Play optimised games that you have either downloaded (on launch there's a total of 60) and the six that come preloaded on the device. The second tab provides access to the various titles you can download to your phone. Depending on who developed the game, when purchasing you'll be taken to their own website where the most common form of payment is with a credit or debit card or via PayPal. However, here's the confusing bit. Found in the top right hand corner of the screen is an Android icon that will take you to a list of Android games that have been optimised for the Xperia Play. So effectively you have two means of purchasing titles, when we'd prefer just one. Our other criticism lies with the fact that neither platform appears to have any order in how it displays its titles. It's a mishmash of games whereas we'd prefer to be able to choose a particular genre or at least prioritize them in terms of pricing. Talking of price, the games average around £5-7 which is bordering on the expensive side when compared to the likes of iPhone gaming titles. That said there are bargains to be found - Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles HD for example is only £3 - though for every steal there's equally a squeal. UNO for £3 anyone? No nor us. It's worth noting that any games you download that aren't optimised for the Xperia Play (i.e. those not needing the gamepad) will not rest in this library and will need to be accessed via the main menu.
The games themselves were both fun and intuitive. Being a footie fan we were pleased to find FIFA 10 preloaded and though we did encounter one glitch which involved Arsenal's Emmanuel Eboue continuously running aimlessly around in a circle ('true to life then', we hear you say). The controls themselves are well spaced out though we would have preferred the D-Pad to have been a tad more raised as after a strenuous gaming session we felt out thumb cramping up. Two circular touch-pads sit between the D-Pad and PlayStation buttons and while they're useful for some games, they're irksome for others and remain even redundant for some titles. Receive a call while playing and your game will automatically be paused. Likewise if you need to make a call or access some other feature of your handset then you'll be able to by simply pressing the home key, doing your thing and then coming back to your game by reopening the Xperia Play App.
Our biggest disappointment with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play's gaming lay with the graphics. While Qualcomm's optimized Snapdragon processor with a 1GHz CPU and embedded Adreno GPU graphics processor ensures game play is smooth and fast, we'd have hoped that it would have made the graphics top notch too. Perhaps we're wanting a little too much, but some of the games occasionally looked blocky which was disappointing especially when some of the opening sequences looked so good. To see what Sony Ericsson can really do with a display, check out our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review.
Among all the murmurings surrounding this phone you may have heard that you can also download original PlayStation games too. Well it's true, only again there is a separate platform to do so. This one is called PlayStation Pocket and though our review sample only had five available to download (at a cost of £3.99 each) Sony Ericsson and PlayStation promises the catalogue will continue to grow. The only original PlayStation game that is preloaded on the device is Crash Bandicoot, which and don't hate us, felt dated, though we're sure will find some love among those of you who are nostalgic. Despite using the play pad PlayStation Pocket games do not sit within the Xperia Play App which again is odd and confusing.
As for the rest of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, well it's a very good smartphone. It's got Wi-Fi, excellent GPS credentials and though the five-megapixel camera is nowhere near the quality found on the Arc, it holds its own against other Android powered snappers. Browsing the web was electric with one-touch copy-and-paste a new feature part of the Android Gingerbread update. A double tap of the screen will zoom you in and out of a webpage while of course the fact that the Xperia Play supports multi-touch you can also take a closer look by pinching your thumb and forefinger together.
However, in terms of features there's nothing here that other smartphone contenders and in particular that the Xperia Arc can't do (in the case of the latter, do it better), so ultimately the Xperia Play will be judged by its gaming credentials. While it certainly passes the time it's not going to persuade regular gamers to give up their PSP's or Nintendo DS Lite's. Nor do we think it's slick enough in terms of storing or downloading games to entice casual gamers, especially when compared to say the gaming prowess of the iPhone 4. It's by no means a bad phone, but if we were going to go for any Sony Ericsson phone at the moment it would be without doubt the Xperia Arc and then we'd buy a PSP with the money saved.