Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Review

If you’re none the wiser to its little scheme, the Xperia Play will pwn you right out of the gate. The top half of this Android 2.3 slider glides up to reveal not the usual QWERTY keyboard but rather a mobile-ized game pad, complete with a four-way D-pad, the usual control buttons, and two touchpad-like analog “sticks.” It’s a gaming phone, people!

Sony Ericsson isn’t the first company to attempt to meld the portable game console with a cell phone (Nokia N-Gage, anyone?), but it’s arguably the most successful iteration of this bold idea. With this handset Sony Ericsson attempts to meld the PS3 universe with Android 2.3. To that end, it does a pretty good – though wildly imperfect – job. Never mind the fact that the Play ships with a version of Android (2.3.2) that you’ll have trouble finding on many phones available now, the real focus here is the gaming.

You activate Sony’s custom game center simply by sliding out its controls. A menu of installed games – and those available for download – pops up front and center, and a quick tap takes you away to your chosen experience. Gaming itself is a bit of a mixed bag. As with many cell-phone and portable titles, the simpler the game, the better the experience tended to be. Our biggest beef was with the phone’s analog “sticks.” After a day of testing, we still hadn’t mastered the delicate balance between the sticks being hair-trigger over-responsive and completely non-reactive to touch. If you can use the D-pad, things are easier, but, as with any console game, it takes a lot of the finesse out of the experience. There are also two shoulder buttons on the back of the phone, and these are also difficult to use: They’re quite narrow and, when the screen is popped up, hard to reach while still holding on to the top-heavy phone. Still, playing a shooter or other immersive title with the phone’s dedicated controls is vastly superior to jabbing at a touchscreen like some high-tech gorilla.

Games themselves look pretty good, but, as always, are dependent largely on the effort that went into developing them. That said, if Sony Ericsson had held up its end of the bargain and given these games a worthwhile screen on which to strut their stuff, imagine how much better they’d be. The dim 854x400 screen on the Play is almost unconscionable. Any serious gamers will immediately bemoan the knowledge that the Play's lack of brightness will not make them go blind.

Another serious problem with the Play is its cheap chassis. Aside from the fingernail-clipping-sized buttons on the front of the phone, the Play looks good. But then you pick it up and feel the slick, greasy plastic that covers it entirely. Sony Ericsson is clearly looking to shave a few grams off the device, but these are corners it just shouldn’t have cut. This is a phone that’s going to be tossed into backpacks and dropped repeatedly on cafeteria floors and skate park cement. I don’t imagine it will last long in the slippery hands of your average gaming junkie.

These issues aside, the more pedestrian aspects of the Play are fine, if unremarkable. The 5.1-megapixel camera takes perfectly acceptable photographs, though the 480p video is short of impressive. The phone’s menus and touchscreen are responsive and snappy: There’s virtually no waiting for programs to load or to switch between active apps – although the phone did crash on us a couple of times during routine testing. The narrow screen can make vertical touch-typing a little tricky, but overall it’s easy to navigate.

Ultimately the true test of the Play will be in its gaming library. Right now the selections are limited, but Sony Ericsson says they’re being cranked out like a methed-out monkey with an organ grinder. As for whether any of these games will be worth playing, that’s another story.

$199 with 2-yr Verizon contract, $449 unlocked;


Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
OSAndroid 2.3.2 (Gingerbread)
Processor1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon II
Storage1GB onboard; microSD up to 32GB
Display4-inch, 854x400
Cameras0.3MP front; 5.1MP back with flash
Connectivity3G; WiFi 802.11 b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.01; Mini USB 2.0
Weight and Dimensions6.2 ounces; 4.68x2.44x0.63 inches

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
Neocore56.9 fps

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