Sony Ericsson Xperia Play: Playing To The Crowd

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Things haven’t been going all that well for those Sony Ericsson fellas when it comes to keeping up with the fast moving world of the smartphone. Their Xperia range was supposed to come replete with all manner of bells and whistles and generally make you stand agog at the technological marvels contained within. In the end, the whole clan was a bit disappointing in general, a bit like going to Disneyland when it’s dress-down Friday for the employees. The X10 arrived with much fanfare but turned out to be a massive let-down, largely thanks to the fact that Sony Ericsson never got round to updating the operating system, and the other hastily-fashioned additions to the range were so pedestrian and uninspiring that nobody gave them a second glance.

However, those intuitive chaps at Sony Ericsson held their hands up and admitted they’d made a bit of a balls-up and promised us that they’ll make some good phones. At the time, we wondered whether to believe them or not, but we hadn’t counted on the ace they had up their sleeve, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play (that’s the Playstation phone to me and you).

Design

When the mythical device was first mooted, all manner of harebrained, badly-photoshopped approximations of what the thing might look like surfaced on the web. Then, as the rumoured device attained a modicum of substance, gamers and phone fans alike started worrying that the final thing would either just be a feeble attempt at cobbling bits of a console onto a phone (a’la Nokia’s white elephant N-Gage), or that it wouldn’t do the iconic PlayStation justice. Well, those fears were entirely unwarranted for the boys Sony and Ericsson done good, managing to knock up quite an impressive looking handset.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is in keeping with the rest of the Xperia range when it comes to looks, with a sleek glossy black plastic finish and some nice curved lines – all of which feature elsewhere in the rejuvenated range, most notably on the Xperia arc. A massive 4-inch TFT display dominates the front fascia of the phone and will no doubt come in handy when you’re getting your video game fix, whilst all the usual connectivity options show up, although they’re stealthily concealed around the outside of the chassis, sunken into a chrome bezel. Topping off all the non-PlayStation stuff is a more than adequate 5megapixel camera with LED Flash.

At this point, you might well be wondering just what marks this blower out as a gaming colossus, well tucked under that 4-inch screen is a flash-looking control pad which will be instantly recognisable to gamers as it’s pretty much identical to the PlayStation pad we’re all familiar with. The D-pad bit resides on the left of the controller, and the iconic square, triangle, circle, x formation sits opposite. There’s also some function buttons like ‘Start’ and ‘Select’ on the control pad, although you can navigate around most games menus by touching the options on screen.

Smack bang in the middle are a couple of touch-sensitive directional pads which replace the analogue joysticks found on the console version of the PlayStation’s Dual-Shock controller, and on the top, the L & R shoulder buttons can be found. All in all, the handset is a little chunky to be honest, but it feels sturdy and fits snugly in your hand – a bit like a grenade, but you probably don’t want to go chucking it at anyone, no matter how engrossed in that shoot ‘em up you are!

Innards

We know that all that PlayStation business is the main focus of this piece of kit, but how does it hold up as a phone? Fortunately, Sony Ericsson haven’t just concentrated on getting the gaming aspect spot on and have actually come up with a blower that can more than hold its own against some tough smartphone opposition.

The Xperia Play runs Android 2.3 and because it chugs along using Google’s Gingerbread variant, all the stuff that’s familiar to the operating is present. Five customisable homescreens, Sony Ericsson’s Timescape, pinch to zoom (which is handy for when you’re looking at webpages using the inbuilt web browser) and a link to the Android Market all show up, all sprinkled with a light dusting of Sony Ericsson’s own user interface. Also included is a link to something called the ‘PlayStation Pocket’ , which is pretty similar to Android Market, but instead of containing all those apps and what not, is the place where you come to get your games. The media player they’ve chucked in is easy to use and well laid out and will no doubt come in handy on boring train journeys, and the bundled web browser zips though webpages like a hot knife through nothing in particular.

Right, now for the good bit. Whilst most smartphones can play games of some sort these days, not many do gaming quite like the Xperia Play. Sony Ericsson have seen fit to chuck in five pre-installed games for you to be getting on with - Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior, Asphalt Racing, The Sims, Star Battalion and FIFA. Now these are yer proper Sony-sanctioned PlayStation efforts which really do look and play like their console counterparts. This is probably down to the fact that the Xperia Play contains a dedicated processor just to handle the gaming side of things, as well as that 1GHz one which sorts out all the phone stuff. Don’t leave anything to chance those Sony Ericsson boys.

The Final Word

After being battered into submission for an absolute age with endless blather about this one, we’d almost given up caring what the bleeding thing turned out like. However, scepticism was soon swept aside – Sony Ericsson have certainly managed pull it off with this effort.

In fact, the only criticisms we could muster was that it’s a bit on the hefty side and PlayStation fans used to using the sturdy Dual-Shock controllers might find the control pad a bit fiddly. But they couldn’t have really made it any bigger with making the phone massive – and to be fair, they’ve done quite a good job of reproducing the PlayStation’s controller here.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play will please gamers with its faithful reproduction of the PlayStation experience, complete with those fantastic graphics and gameplay, while phone fans will be pleased to see that Sony Ericsson have bucked their ideas up and have created an impressive Android smartphone which is a whole lot better than some of the stuff they’ve chucked out in the past. Of course, it’s success will depend on the games that become available for it, but judging by what we’ve seen, this is gonna be big.