The Xperia Play is the end-result of possibly the longest-running rumours in the history of mobile phones. For years, eager gamers cried out to Sony to deliver its PlayStation gaming experience on a phone, and many of these fans went to the trouble of creating concepts of what they thought this phone should look like. The Xperia Play resembles those early mock-ups, although it takes quite a bit from its Xperia heritage, as well.
Unless you've been living in a cave, you'll know that the Xperia Play is the first phone to include a fully featured PlayStation-style gaming control pad. This controller resides below the screen and is accessed by sliding the top half forward. This physical design is an excellent metaphor for the phone as a whole; on top you have Sony Ericsson's latest Android smartphone experience and below you have its gaming side. It also highlights the great sacrifice with the Play; to accommodate the controller, the handset is twice as thick and 50 per cent heavier than Sony Ericsson's companion release, the .
Gamers will appreciate the 3.7-inch WVGA display, even though it lacks the crispness and deep contrast of the Reality display in the Xperia Arc and. The Play features all the usual knobs and ports you'd expect to find on a smartphone, though Sony Ericsson are wise to position in places where they won't get in the way while you're using the gamepad.
The PlayStation style controller is well designed and easy to use.
The PlayStation controller itself is also well-designed. It features a D-Pad, the famous four PlayStation buttons, plus two extra paddles or triggers on the edge of the handset. Rather than using twin analog controller sticks like a PS3 controller, Sony Ericsson opts for two touch-sensitive track-pads, a move that is great on paper but which ultimately hinders gameplay. The sensitivity of these pads is crucial, but there is no standard method for adjusting this sensitivity and most of the games we played didn't include this setting either.
The quality and quantity of games optimised for use with the Play's controller was always going to be the make-or-break of this smartphone concept. Measuring the success of Sony Ericsson's efforts is also completely subjective, but we happen to think it has managed to pull together a great list of titles. We managed to play about a third of the games on offer at launch, and most of them are great mobile games. Included in this list and pre-installed on a new Play is Crash Bandicoot, the first of what we hope will be many classic PlayStation game ports. Crash is one of the real standouts, too, with smooth gameplay, exactly as it was when we played it on out PSOne all those years ago.
Also great is Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play launcher, a catch-all for the games you've downloaded and installed, with links to download-compatible games through the Android Market or directly through developer's stores like Gameloft. The menu in this launcher is clean, colourful and so easy to use, borrowing heavily from the PlayStaion XMB menu structure on a PS3.
Our only frustrations with the gaming implementation on the Play both concern storage. By default all new game titles are installed to the phone storage rather than the included 8GB microSD card. After installing a dozen games or so we were alerted that the phone had low memory and then spent ten minutes or so manually moving the app's data across to the memory card. Alerted to the problem we went hunting for an option to save directly to the SD card being installing more games, but to no avail. The 8GB microSD card is also on the stingy side; after installing the games and transferring some music and videos across we filled this space in no time.