Can we say beginning of an era about the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play? In case you are wondering why, it is the first ever smartphone with a dedicated gamepad. Sure, its chipset is not the most powerful there is, and its screen is not with the best resolution out there, but when you slide it open, and a PlayStation-style game controller winks at you, instead of a boring QWERTY keyboard, you know something's shifting.
We've been teased about an upcoming PlayStation phone since last summer, and until today so many details about it have been leaked and prototypes examined, that it probably deserves the worst-kept secret crown more than any other phone in recent memory. But that's only regarding the specs and appearance.
For the main part, the Sony Ericsson Xpera Play remained a relative mystery so far. Is the chipset powerful enough to play sophisticated titles? How's the gameplay, and can I resurrect older titles on it? What kind of dedicated game store will be out there for the Xperia Play? All pressing issues that will be addressed in our review, so read on to find out...
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play keeps up with the “human curvature” design philosophy that the manufacturer introduced with the Vivaz, and followed through with the Xperia line. It mostly indicates the presence of a curved back that makes the phones cuddle and fit comfortably in the hand, and the Xperia Play is no exception, despite that it’s 0.63” (16mm) thick and 6.2oz (175g) in weight. The phone's glossy plastic back also hosts the 5MP camera with LED flash, and the Sony Ericsson green-silver logo. The plastic shell is not the best industrial design out there, but build quality is decent, and we got the the cool white version to boot.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play fits comfortably in the hand
The display is 4” LCD with 480x854 resolution and the ability to show 16 million colors, standard fare for today's high-end Android handsets, and has good viewing angles, which is important, since you will be constantly tilting it in all directions, when frantically pumping those controller buttons. Brightness levels are average, though, so forget about playing anything but music under direct sunlight. Our unit doesn't have an ambient light sensor toggle in the Settings app, and we kept the screen at maximum brightness at all times, since even the maximum level is comparatively average.
Underneath the display are the four physical Android navigation buttons, arranged in a thin chromed arc that is trademark for the Xperia line. The sides are also chromed and shiny, which looks classy, combined with the glossy plastic, if you are into this thing. On the left are the standard audio jack and the microUSB port, the top hosts the power/lock button, and on the right we have the volume rocker in the middle, and two buttons you can't see on any other Android handset, namely the shoulder buttons for the game controller.
gamepad has four arrows on the D-Pad on the left, for movement within games, and four action buttons on the right, marked with the iconic PS symbols. They can also be used for navigating in the interface, such as in the main menu, lists, messages, and the browser.
There are two circular analog pads between these two sets, which allow you to make precise movements in games, as if on the touchscreen, without your fingers obstructing the view. Underneath all these game controls is the Android menu key on the left, and Start and Select keys on the right. To top it off, we also have two shoulder buttons/trigger keys for your pointer fingers, akin to the L1 and R1 buttons on the PlayStation controller, which are very sensitive.
That leaves us with no less than 12 ways to interact in gameplay, and the keys are very easy to press, with deep travel, but without being wobbly, ensuring hours of finger gymnastics. In the words of Aaron Duke, Xperia Play's Product Manager, you can “beat the crap out of the keyboard”. We honor his sincerity, and that's exactly what we intend to do, after finding the design nice to look at, and the phone comfortable for handling and, above all, gameplay.
The gamepad takes a little getting used to, and it is slightly tiring to keep pounding on it after the first hour or so, due to the controller half being thinner than what you are usually accustomed to with full-size gamepads. Still, that's the price to pay if you want to keep the handset's waistline in check, and the only other issue you are likely to encounter is when you have to press a bunch of buttons at once, including the shoulder buttons. Unless you are a kid with small fingers, of course. We also didn't notice any backlighting of the keys, and no way to turn it on in the Settings app. With that out of the way, we do think that Sony Ericsson has done a very good job overall with this gamepad, which is by far the most comfortable gaming control on a cell