Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play just launched on Verizon Wireless for $199.99, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
It wants to be a PSP, but the power inside of it isn’t up to par compared to other dedicated handheld gaming devices.
And when compared to other smartphones, it’s not super impressive either.
Is the Xperia Play worth your money?
Measuring in at 16mm thick, the phone is almost twice as thick as an iPhone 4. It is a slider phone, so I knew it would be thicker, but this thing just feels giant.
The Xperia Play feels especially awkward when you’re holding it in your hand because on its right side, there are two flimsy shoulder buttons that get in the way and click around while you’re holding the phone.
Holding a PSP up to my ear would’ve been more comfortable. This is also to say the Play just feels plasticky.
Compared to some of the incredibly well-built phones I’ve tested lately like the HTC Sensation, the Xperia Play feels lightyears behind. It even has some mushy physical navigational buttons below the screen. On top of that, the navigational buttons are in a strange order that we’re not used to.
The power button on top is downright horrible. Maybe it’s just the well-traveled review unit I have, but half the time it just doesn’t work. It’s another mushy button like the navigational buttons, and sometimes activates a power-off options screen, and sometimes makes the phone go to sleep.
As far as the screen goes, the phone’s 4-incher is subpar. Even at its brightest setting, it doesn’t get very bright, and the screen feels plasticky. It attracted tons of small scratches and dust, as if the screen was made of plastic. When you press down hard on the screen, you see a weird dimpling like you might see on a device with a resistive touchscreen.
The Hardware Does The Job…But Not For Long
The Xperia has a capable 1 Ghz processor, but it’s almost undone by the 512 MB of RAM the phone has built in. Brand new phones shipping with 512MB of RAM aren’t going to last for long, especially if gaming is supposed to be your strong suit.
Also, the 5.1 MP camera is weak and doesn’t even shoot 720p HD video.
One excellent feature the Xperia Play has is stereo speakers. They’re still cell phone speakers, and you should be playing games with headphones, but this was a nice touch.
The phone handles calls well enough (you’re considering this phone primarily because of gaming, right?), and was pretty speedy in my 3G tests. But when you have a bunch of apps open, scrolling and pinch to zooming on the web is a bit of a drag.
Also, the virtual keyboard Sony stuck in this one is tiny. In portrait mode, I found it nearly impossible to type accurately on, even when I was staring at the keyboard.
Is It Fun To Play?
The Xperia Play is an odd device. It feels more like a touchscreen phone with a controller strapped on than a smartphone-gaming-console hybrid.
Playing games is fun, but the experience can be plain old confusing because there’s no way to know if menus are designed to be manipulated via touch or via the directional d-pad.
With certain games, the Xperia’s slide out controller feels like an afterthought.
In Madden, for example, you can’t browse plays using the directional pad you use to move your player. I ended up feeling conflicted and frustrated, especially since the Madden controls weren’t what I was accustomed to on a home console. I have all the buttons of a PS3 controller (minus a couple extra shoulder buttons), so why aren’t controls the same?
This also goes with the analogue control pads in the middle of the controller. It often gets down to trial and error to find out which buttons work and which don’t. You can re-assign controller buttons during games, but it’s a hassle.
My old PSP is 10 times easier to use than this device.
The Xperia Play came with 7 games pre-loaded, and I would consider none of them truly better experiences because I had physical buttons. There are also 20-some games you can buy on Vcast. Developers have done wonderful jobs outfitting games for touch devices, and while I often miss the portable game consoles of yore, having both touch and physical buttons is confusing.
Lastly, why is Sony getting ready to launch a bunch of Playstation games on the Xperia Play? They have to be stretched annoyingly because they’re originally for 4:3 aspect ratio TVs. Sony should instead focus on moving over PSP games, or at least PSP Go games.
Should You Buy It?
I really wanted to like this phone, I did. I have a PSP and it’s great for what it does. But unfortunately, the Xperia Play isn’t good enough at any one thing.
You should not buy this phone unless you absolutely need a hardware controller for your gaming, but there aren’t even many games for it yet. Sony is notorious for building proprietary stores and mediums and abandoning them (remember UMD movies for Sony’s PSP? Also, PS Vita is getting Vita cards), so you’ll never know if your investments will pay off.
Of course the Xperia Play also plays games other Android phones can play, and Gingerbread is a welcome addition. Still, the phone just feels old. Like it should’ve come out a year ago.
These days people value cutting edge speed, vibrant screens, portability, and braggability, and the Xperia Play doesn’t have any of these things. It’s a good Android phone, but it’s just too big.
Here’s to the PS Vita being a little bit sweeter.
If you’re unconvinced, grab an Xperia Play for $199.99 on a two year contract with Verizon.
Asphalt looks pretty amazing on the Xperia Play. Using the directional pad is very good, but the circular touchpads are useless.
Madden is basically the iPhone version of Madden. The gamepad controls are unresponsive and I'd rather use touch.
Two shoulder buttons are on the top of the device. These buttons are not comfortable to use because they're small and close to the slide-out top.
When your thumbs are on the Xperia Play, the buttons feel smaller than on a Playstation controller, but they're still comfortable to press.
The Xperia Play's back has a 5.1 MP camera, LED flash, and the tasty-looking Sony-Ericsson jewel we all love.
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