The arrival of a PlayStation phone has been rumoured for years and finally Sony Ericsson has obliged with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play. However, rather than being a PSP with a few phone features bolted on, it’s actually a fully fledged touchscreen Android smartphone with slideout game controls. With so many new and very capable smatphones now available, can it possibly find its niche, or is it a compromise too far? Read on to find out.
Sadly the first impression one has of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is not good. It’s theoretically stylish enough with its standard black and silver livery and gently curved design, and given the bonus of slideout gaming controls we can forgive any extra bulk (119 x 62 x 16 mm) and weight (175g). However, the whole thing just reeks of plastic. There’s discernible flex in the body and screen when squeezed and fingerprints love every surface of this phone.
It’s the screen that is the biggest disappointment. It just doesn’t compare to the smooth solid feeling glass ones used in most high-end smartphones. It also comes with some sort of non-removable protective layer on the screen that looks like the after market screen protectors you can get, in that there’s a clear gap around its edge below which is the screen itself. This just adds to the sense of cheapness and lack of style. It’s also very reflective, with a much more silver finish than the deep black of many alternatives.
Game controls are excellent
Surprisingly fast interface
Games can look great
Screen is sharp with good viewing angles
Selection of games is limited
Build quality is below par
Screen is a bit dull
Further irritations include the tiny buttons and lack of bezel below the screen. The buttons themselves aren’t actually too difficult to use but the lack of space to simply rest your thumb without having it touch the screen is a bit annoying (though admittedly not that much of a problem once you’re used to it).
A headphone jack is a welcome addition, as is the standard microUSB socket for charging the phone and transferring data to it, but having the former on the side of the device means it’s likely to cause headphone jacks to snag on pockets.
A smaller slip up is that we would’ve liked to see a shutter button for the camera but instead there are shoulder buttons for the game controller – in between which sits the little volume rocker – so we can forgive that omission.
The camera itself is a 5 megapixel unit that has both autofocus and an LED flash. It will also shoot HD video. It’s simple enough to use and produces reasonable results for general moment capturing but it’s definitely not a patch on the best available.
Up top, meanwhile, sits the small and rather awkwardly positioned power button.
Middling, is how we’d describe the 4in display. It’s an SLCD panel with a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels, which is ever so slightly higher than most smartphones, so is nice and sharp. Colours look accurate and viewing angles are good as well. However, it does lack a little bit of punch to its colours, while blacks do tend to look a little grey. Overall brightness is also quite low, and there isn’t an automatic setting for keeping the screen at an appropriate brightness level in different conditions. It’s not appalling by any means but it’s definitely not the best.
Internally, there’s not much to set the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play apart from its rivals. You get a 1GHz Snapdragon MSM 8255 processor accompanied by 512MB of RAM. This is on the money for a mid to high-end smartphone of late last year but with phones now arriving packing dual-core 1.2GHz processors and 1GB of RAM, the Xperia Play is already looking a little behind the curve. The 400MB of internal storage is also paltry, though this can be upgraded via the microSD slot that hides under the battery cover, with up to 32GB cards supported and an 8GB card included in the box.
Connectivity wise it’s also standard fair with quad band HSDPA and standard GSM for mobile, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for local networks and the aforementioned USB socket for plugging into a computer. You also get gyroscopes and GPS for location based services. So, there’s no 4G, LTE or any other future tech, but these certainly aren’t requirements.
The phone runs Android 2.3.2, which is essentially the latest version of Google’s phone operating system (OS). As such it packs in the latest speed and interface tweaks that combined with the not-class-leading-but-still-fast processor make it a speedy phone for general navigation. Opening most apps, flicking through the interface and browsing graphically intensive webpages are all tasks that feel utterly unhampered by slow down of any sort.
Sony Ericsson has modified the interface slightly but mostly kept things fairly standard. You get five homescreens to fill with widgets, shortcuts and folders, and Sony Ericsson has provided a few widgets of its own including quick setting switches and a More Games widget that gives you quick access to – you’ll never guess – more games!
Along the bottom of the homescreen, Sony Ericsson has tweaked the standard layout of shortcuts with Media, Messaging, App Launcher, Contacts and Phone instead of just Phone, App Launcher and Web Browser. You can however, change these to whatever you like simply by dragging icons to and from this area.
The App Launcher has also been divided up into pages, which seems a bit pointless as compared to the default arrangement of one long list. Where it’s potentially useful is that you can choose to have the phone show all these apps in alphabetical, most used, recent or your own order. Pick the latter and you can again drag around the apps to whatever arrangement you want.
TimeScape is another Sony Ericsson addition. It provides a stream of all your social networking activity from one app. It would be a reasonable app but for some reason the company felt it necessary to stylise the stream of updates like some kind of floating stack, achieving little more than making them difficult to read.
Otherwise this is a very typical Android phone. Log into your Gmail, Facebook and Twitter accounts and you should find all your contacts updated with profile pictures and your friend’s latest updates from those services. The web browser is powerful and fast, and of course supports Adobe Flash so you can view online videos. Email is well catered for with a powerful and easy to use app and of course there’s the myriad Google location services such as GoogleMaps, Locations and Places.
Pop into the MarketPlace and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of apps to do just about all the smartphone tasks you might want. There’s still not quite the wealth of apps you’ll find on an iPhone but there should be enough for the vast majority. From here you can also download some games, which brings us onto the core of the Xperia Play experience…
There are two elements to the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play’s success as a portable gaming console; hardware and software. And on one of these fronts it falls some way short while the other is a rip roaring success. Thankfully, it’s the one that can’t be changed that is the success.