The idea--and long-expected hope--of combining a cell phone with a Sony PlayStation Portable has finally been realized with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play. This Android 2.3 smartphone slides open to reveal PlayStation-like buttons, giving gamers more nuanced control than with a touchscreen alone. But how well does this hybrid device live up to the Sony PlayStation brand?
All-black and highlighted with silver accents, the Xperia Play is a classy slider that's solid and has a smooth enameled feel. However, the handset's plastic surfaces attract grease and fingerprints easily. Measuring 4.7 x 2.5 x 0.6 inches and weighing 6.2 ounces, the Xperia Play is a bit bulky and hefty, right up there with the HTC Thunderbolt (6.2 ounces) and the HTC Evo 4G (6 ounces), and it's an ounce heavier than the Samsung Droid Charge (5 ounces). The payoff is dedicated gaming controls, which slide out underneath the screen.
The front of the Xperia Play features a large 4-inch display, a front-facing VGA camera, and four slim Android buttons underneath the screen with corresponding icons for Back, Home, Menu, and Search. Unfortunately, these buttons are tiny and stiff and lack backlighting. Up top is a small power button that's tricky to push one-handed, and on the back is the 5-megapixel camera with flash. In portrait mode, the left side holds a microUSB port and headphone jack while on the right is a long volume rocker plus two "shoulder" buttons. There's an 8GB card under the battery cover that's easy to remove without touching the battery. The phone accepts cards up to 32GB in size. There's no HDMI port to connect to HDTVs.
Turning the Xperia Play 90 degrees into landscape mode and sliding the display up reveals PlayStation-style game controls. These include a four-way directional keypad on the left, dual analog touch joysticks in the center, and four familiar PlayStation symbol keys (circle, X, triangle, square) on the right. At the bottom are buttons for Menu, Select, and Start. In this orientation, the two left and right "shoulder" buttons sit on the top edge of the device.
Display, Keyboard, Audio
The Xperia Play's big 4-inch display (854 x 480 pixels, FWVGA) is bold and bright. Able to display 1.6 million colors, it displayed text, graphics, and games in colorful detail during our hands-on time. The YouTube trailers for Green Lantern and Cars 2 in HQ quality looked great with clear visuals of screaming fighter planes, vibrant green energy beams, and slick metallic reflections. The screen was great for playing games, too. We could almost feel the punches in fighting games and G-forces when hugging tight racetrack corners. Unfortunately, in direct sunlight the Xperia Play's screen was tough to see.
It's a slider without a physical QWERTY keyboard, but the Xperia Play's standard soft keyboard bundled with Android 2.3 Gingerbread made for fast typing. Long-pressing the top row of keys gives secondary access to numbers, and you do get an @ button to the left of the spacebar. Still, a dedicated ".com" key would be nice. No other fancy input methods, such as Swype, are provided.
A set of stereo speakers hidden under the battery cover on the phone's left edge (held in portrait) offered loud enough sound to fill a small room. "Groove Me" by Maximum Balloon sounded somewhat tinny, but audio during gameplay came through loud and clear. Dialog in cut scenes sounded rich, and explosions and airplanes zooming overhead were convincing.
Software and Interface
Android purists will appreciate the Xperia Play's clean Android 2.3 Gingerbread install. The standard five home screens are here, which you can customize with widgets and shortcuts. By default, a digital clock widget graces the home screen. As per usual, dragging a finger from top to bottom (within apps or on a home screen) pulls down the notification shade to view system-wide alerts. The standard Android lock screen displays cellular network info, plus time and date. Dragging the lock icon to the screen's center unlocks the device, while doing the same to the speaker icon will set the phone's sound modes.
With a name like Xperia Play, there's no doubt that this device's primary purpose is gaming, a job it does pretty well. While users can launch games directly through the app tray, sliding the phone open launches a slick landscape interface showing all Xperia Play-optimized games currently installed (tapping the Xperia Play icon also launches this menu). This UI also provides an area to download more titles. Downloads are purchased through Verizon's V Cast store.
The Xperia Play has six titles pre-installed that are optimized for the device and its controls. These include Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior, Madden NFL 11, Star Battalion, Sims 3, and the old PlayStation favorite Crash Bandicoot. New titles typically cost $5.99, but absent are any purely PlayStation classics or PlayStation exclusive games such as the Final Fantasy series. Most games offered are by Gameloft, whose titles are available on multiple platforms. For instance, the Brothers In Arms Global Front game ($5.99) is also offered for the iPhone and iPad. At the moment there's no way to load PlayStation Portable games onto the Xperia Play, nor does the device connect to PlayStation Network. Tailor-made Xperia Play content is expected to debut at the E3 trade show in June.
Gameplay on the Xperia Play was smooth, with fast graphics and no lag. Whether we were blasting enemy spaceships in Star Battalion or zooming around corners in a tricked-out hotrod in Asphalt 6, the Xperia Play provided a very immersive experience. We especially liked Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior, which has a kick-ass soundtrack, lots of flying fists and feet, and detailed 3D characters.
The Xperia Play has an accelerometer so you can play games without old-school button mashing. But that's missing the point. It felt good to have PlayStation-style controls in our hands; while it's slightly smaller than a traditional controller, PSP/PS3 veterans will appreciate the familiar setup. One annoyance, however, is the analog touch joystick, which isn't very responsive. At times it registered our commands while at other times it didn't at all. The dual physical joystick setup on the PS3 or even the single joystick on PSP controllers are more precise, which makes all the difference in the heat of battle.
Specs and Performance
Though it's not a dual-core superphone, Sony Ericsson equipped the Xperia Play with a fast 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon II MSM8655 CPU, Adreno 205 graphics, 512MB of RAM, and 1GB of internal memory. As a result, the handset scored 37.9 on the Linpack benchmark, almost 24 points higher than the typical Android phone. By comparison, the HTC Droid Incredible 2 scored 37.6, while the HTC Thunderbolt managed 27.5 on the same test. The Samsung Droid Charge eked out just 13 points.
The Xperia Play's strong performance extended to the Benchmark CPU test, where it notched a swift 2,250, more than 1,075 points above the Android phone average. That's enough to best the Droid Incredible 2 (1,153), the HTC Thunderbolt (2,104), and the Samsung Droid Charge (1,569). The Xperia Play also excelled in our graphics test, but here the competition was closer. The Xperia Play scored a solid 7,055 on the AN3DBench test, with the Samsung Droid Charge close behind (6,925). The HTC Thunderbolt (6,290) and the HTC Incredible 2 (5,995) were slower.
We felt the Xperia Play's agility during everyday use. We easily moved though menus, opened applications, and popped back to the home screen with no delays.
While it can't connect to Verizon's 4G LTE network, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play's speeds were solidly in line with other 3G devices. We observed average data speeds of 1.2 Mbps (download) and 0.75 Mbps (upload) in 3G territory. It took about 5 seconds to open the mobile version of The New York Times and 4.5 seconds to open ESPN, typically as fast as 4G phones we've tested such as the Samsung Droid Charge. The full desktop version of Laptopmag.com took longer, loading on average in just over 23 seconds. 4G devices can usually open the page in approximately 15 seconds.
The Xperia Play can serve as a hotspot for up to five Wi-Fi devices. That feature will cost you extra: Verizon charges $20 for 2GB of data on top of the phone's mobile data plan.
Apps, Music, and Video
Besides the games, the Xperia Play comes with the standard allotment of Android staples, such as Google Maps, calendar, e-mail and Gmail apps. GPS directions are provided by the free Google Navigation or through the Verizon VZ Navigator service, which costs $9.99 per month.
Third-party apps include Amazon Kindle for eBooks and the OfficeSuite viewer edition for reading office documents (upgrading to the pro version for document creation and editing costs $9.99). Skype Mobile is installed, but it doesn't support video chat. In fact, there's no included video chat app at all. A basic music app handles MP3 playback. Those who want to kill time can play the full version of Tetris. If that's not enough apps for you, the Android Market offers more than 200,000 software titles for download.
Camera and Camcorder
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play comes with a modest 5-megapixel main camera with flash. Flowers, grass, and trees in pictures taken in a nearby park were lifelike but a bit washed out. The camera offers a good range of options, including multiple scene modes (Action, Beach, Night, and Snow), exposure settings, and color effects (such as Sepia, Negative, and Solorize). In darker environments, the flash worked well and didn't blow out subjects, though the autofocus took a few seconds to kick in.
Video we filmed at the phone's highest resolution (800 x 480, WVGA) was adequate but detail was not as sharp as on other handsets using HD quality image sensors. We were also unimpressed with the VGA resolution front-facing camera, which performed poorly under low-light conditions and captured blurry images. Unfortunately, the Xperia Play doesn't support Google Talk video chat, and we couldn't get it to work with any video chat app we tried, including Fring, OoVoo, and Qik.
On our test calls, others reported that they could hear us clearly and with enough volume. On our end, callers sounded clear as well, but the earpiece wasn't very loud even at its maximum setting. The same thing goes for the built-in speaker phone, which reproduced voices without distortion but didn't have a lot of volume.
The Xperia Play is one long-running Android phone. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing via 3G), the handset lasted a very long 9 hours and 58 minutes. That's more than 4 hours and 20 minutes beyond the current average. Other recent Verizon handsets don't have anywhere near the staying power, with the Samsung Droid Charge managing about 4 hours, the HTC Thunderbolt just barely reaching 2 hours, and the HTC Incredible 2 trucking along for 4 hours and 9 minutes.
Sony PlayStation Portable fanatics looking to consolidate their mobile gaming and messaging devices into one will find a lot to like in the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play. It's a stylish device with a bright and colorful display, and it has performance and battery life to spare. However, as with most hybrid devices, the Xperia Play has to make some concessions: As a gaming platform, its controls were not as easy to use as a dedicated gaming device, and as a phone, the Xperia Play is on the large side. On the whole, though, the combination works. What will make this device truly compelling is the launch of Sony's PlayStation Suite and PSOne games for Android.