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First Impressions: Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

Sony Ericsson created quite a buzz when it revealed of a PlayStation-esque phone. Rumours started buzzing that the future of the PlayStation brand will be the marriage between phone and gaming device, and many were convinced.

But as more and more information about the “PlayStation phone” start to surface, it became evident that Sony intends to keep its PlayStation brand distinctly separated from the Sony Ericsson line of mobile phones.

So the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is very clearly not a PlayStation in the purest sense but it is PlayStation Certified. What does this mean? Well essentially, the certification guarantees that the Xperia Play delivers a gaming experience that is as true what you would get on a PlayStation as possible.

Also PlayStation Certified means game titles that play on certain PlayStation devices (like the PlayStation One) can be ported to certified devices without much being lost in translation.

Does this hold true? Can the Xperia Play play the role of an Android smartphone and a dedicated portable gaming machine well or will it follow the footsteps of Nokia NGage?

This is our first impressions of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.

Display, Design and Built-Quality

The Xperia Play features a 4-inch LCD display with 854×480 pixel resolution that’s similar to the Xperia arc but as the arc has a slightly larger 4.2-inch display, this technically means that the Play has a slightly higher pixel density.

In everyday use however all this means nothing as both displays are crisp and sharp while colour reproduction is pleasingly accurate but of course the arc does a better job at everything with it Bravia Mobile Engine engine helping out considerably. Though with the Xperia Play we would like for the display to be brighter because even in the brightest setting it looked somewhat dull compared to other displays. A curious thing to note is that the Xperia Play does away with automatic brightness. Because of this we had to constantly toggle between low and high brightness settings when switching from phone mode to gaming mode — as you want the dimmest setting possible in phone mode to conserve battery life and you want the brightest display setting for when you’re playing video games for maximum impact.

In terms of touchscreen response, the Xperia Play is pretty responsive, very accurate and a joy to use. Probably one of the best we’ve tested but this has come to no surprise with the new Sony Ericsson devices. They’ve really upped their game in almost every aspect.

In terms of design, we’ll put it out in the open, the Xperia Play is not one of the prettiest phones Sony Ericsson has ever made but it’s not the ugliest one either, but it is certainly one of the fattest phones we’ve ever used. The slideout gamepad really adds a whole lot of bulk to the phone and it’s very noticeable. In light of super-slim phones in the market this 16mm thick (close to double the Xperia arc’s thickness, as thick as a 5sen coin) phone is something we’re not going to get used to. But then again, you can say that it’s a necessary trade-off considering the thinner phones won’t be able to offer a gaming experience like the Xperia Play, but does it have to feel so thick and bulky?

Maybe a Z-hinge arrangement could yield a thinner overall design; we’re surprised Sony Ericsson didn’t implement this on the Play. Sony Ericsson has proven to be capable of designing beautiful and elegant phones; we can’t help but feel that the Play didn’t get the same care and attention as the arc.

Built quality on the Xperia Play drew a mix bag of reactions for us. While the slider action is solid it seems poorly engineered and doesn’t feel like it’s going to last repetitive use. The point where the two halves connect feels flimsy and loose. When closed, there is almost no resistance to keep the phone closed, so the two halves are constantly sliding up and down in your hands.

Some of the buttons on the Play are victims of poor quality as well, the major culprit being the excessively loose power button. The shoulder buttons exhibit too much free-play for our liking as well. Speaking of power buttons, the one on the Play has a discreet notification LED built-in. It’s a novel idea but something that is not practical because the placement of the notification LED is so discreet that it is very easily missed.

There are four navigation buttons on the Xperia Play as opposed to just three on the arc, the difference being the addition of a dedicated search button on the Play. We like the arc’s three-button layout so much better. The four navigation button on the Play feels cramp and to add to this they are not lighted. Numerous times we find ourselves pressing the wrong button when executing a command in the dark. It’s hard to believe that Sony Ericsson overlooked all these niggles considering how well designed the arc is.

Having said all that, the gamepad is top-notch. Although we could probably do with a little bit more depth in the buttons, the overall feel of the gamepad is nice. We like the metallic feel and the texture as well. Button size is just right for our hands as well. The only let down here is the rather flimsy left and right shoulder buttons. Sony did a good job in making sure the PlayStation experience is not compromised in this respect, although those with bigger hands and longer fingers will find the gamepad cramp.

Internals and User Interface

Specs-wise the Xperia Play packs a 1Ghz single-core processor with 512MB of RAM and a rather small 400MB worth of internal storage, thought Sony Ericsson have included an 8GB microSD card in the box. You can expand the add-on memory of the Play up to 32GB.

In terms of camera the Play comes with a VGA resolution front camera and a 5.1MP rear camera flanked by a single LED flash. Camera performance is not great, just average. We expected more from Sony Ericsson in this respect.

One other notable feature is the active noise-cancellation secondary mic located at the back of the device just next to the LED flash. There’s also a decent-sized 1500mAH battery for you to be able a decent amount of gaming between charges.

In terms of interface, it’s pretty much a straight forward affair. The Xperia Play runs Android 2.3.3 with a very light custom Sony Ericsson skin on top. There’s really not much to say here. Everything works as it should; navigation is intuitive and pretty much straight forward. User experience is responsive as well. No complaints so far.

Well maybe except for one. We don’t like that when you slide one the gamepad and the device is in landscape mode, the homescreen interface stays in portrait mode. That gets annoying.

In terms of gaming experience, the Xperia Play delivers the good. We’ll be the first to confess however, we’re not hard-core gamers and haven’t picked up a PlayStation controller for years but as first impressions may have it, we were impressed at the gameplay experience on the Xperia Play.

Although its fair to assume that other phones can probably deliver similar smooth graphics and lag-free, fast-pace gaming but the gamepad on the Xperia Play transforms the experience into something else. Immersed in a game, it is easy to forget the Xperia Play is an accomplished mobile phone as well. That is how good the gaming experience is.

In terms of games, there are multiple sources you purchase games for the Xperia Play, one is to look for compatible PalyStation certified games directly in the Android market. Two is you can go into the PlayStation pocket application and select PlayStation One game from there. Unfortunately, option two in not yet available in Malaysia.

At the same time games like Angry Birds and all that is playable on the Xperia Play as well, the only thing is for non-PlayStation Certified games you’re back to using the touchscreen as your primary control interface.

Plans and Pricing
Currently, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is available from Celcom for as low as RM848 when you sign up with the Celcom Exec contract plan. It is also available outright for RM1,649 with retailers like the IMCC network, so to go for a contract or no contract the choice is yours.

At the end of the day

None of us here at are hardcore gamers so a specialised device such as the Xperia Play is not going to be something that we will be interested in but it is indeed a curious device and it does what it says on the box.

As a mobile phone, we have some issues with the navigation buttons but it gets the job done. That’s not to say Sony Ericsson couldn’t do a better job. We know that can.

It is in terms of game play where the Xperia Play shines. The PlayStation experience does shine through and gaming on the device is indeed enjoyable.

But does the gaming experience justify the RM1,649 asking price? Well it depends on who you talk to. Gamers have a lot to like with the Xperia Play but even so, it’s hit and miss built-quality is a genuine concern. From a non-gamer user perspective, there are a number of Android phones out there that do a better job.

So based on our first impressions of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, we can’t say we want one but gamers will see some appeal in this device. Even so we do recommend you try before you buy.