Sony Ericsson describes its new Xperia Play as a “smartphone first”, but let’s be honest – the Play is for gamers. Not all gamers, either, but specifically those who are into old school PlayStation games. The main distinguishable feature is a PlayStation gamepad, so saying it’s a phone first isn’t doing anyone any favours.
Fortunately for Sony Ericsson, New Zealand is, and has always been, a ‘PlayStation Nation’. Those people who were rocking Crash Bandicoot back in the day are going to love this phone – if they can afford it, given they’re probably all around 25 years old now.
There’s a lot to love about the Xperia Play. It’s a chunky phone, but understandably so, as it has to accommodate not just a 4-inch, 480 x 854 screen, but also a slide-out gamepad, and a battery that can fight through several hours of non-stop game time – five and a half hours, to be exact. The gamepad itself slides out with very reassuring solidity, and for the most part is brilliant. The tactile response is fantastic and nothing seems easily breakable.
The one let-down is the pair of circular touchpads that are supposed to stand in for analogue directional sticks. While they’re relatively well thought-out – with indents in the middle and around the edges so you don’t have to look at them to know what you’re doing – they just don’t feel anything like a stick does to use, as you can’t move them in circular motions. The touchpads might as well be directional buttons, except you can move on angles as well as up-down-left-right. As such, we found we used the D-pad far more often than the touchpads.
Our review device came with The Sims 3 and a port of the original Crash Bandidoot installed, but there are many more games available for the Play. Some games on the Android market are compatible with the Play’s gamepad, and big companies like EA and Gameloft have made games available to download through their own websites (although you’ll have to fiddle with the Play’s settings to allow external downloads).
Of course, none of this is any good unless the Play is powerful enough to run those games – rest assured, it is. It has a 1GHz processor with 380MB RAM, and we haven’t found a game that lagged yet. We did, however, find that games had a tendency to crash sometimes, but the version of the software on our review device is not the final retail version to be released in June, so hopefully some bugs just need ironing out.
The Play is nice to use as a phone – it’s running speedy Android 2.3 and will be capable of updating if a new version of the operating system becomes available. There’s 400MB of onboard storage and a preinstalled 8GB microSD. However, because smartphone-based versions of Android display vertically (in portrait), we found it annoying that when we had the gamepad out, we couldn’t navigate the menu without turning the phone upright – which was awkward – or sliding the gamepad back in.
The problem with the Xperia Play is that, when it comes down to it, the device tries to do too many things. Don’t get us wrong – it’s a nice phone, and it does most things pretty well, but it doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. Still, if you’re big on gaming, have the dosh and want some serious geek cred, the Play could be the smartphone for you.