Editors' note: For this review, we focused on the performance differences between AT&T's phone and the Verizon model. For a full analysis of the Xperia Play's design and features, check out our review of Verizon's Xperia Play.
When Sony Ericsson finally launched the Xperia Play "PlayStation phone" back in February at Mobile World Congress, it shocked the world by saying that the handset would make its global debut in the United States on Verizon Wireless. Not only was Sony Ericsson new on Big Red, but also this was a hard pill to swallow for the largely Eurocentric audience in Barcelona, Spain. But even for us statesiders, the news wasn't exactly what we wanted to hear. We had been waiting for a while to see the phone, after all, and we hoped that Sony Ericsson would share the carrier love.
Fortunately, that time has arrived with the arrival of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play 4G on AT&T. Though essentially the same as the Verizon Xperia Play, the AT&T model adds support for AT&T's "4G" HSPA+ network. That will add a bit of extra speed over 3G AT&T phones, but it's actually a bit slower than Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network. Call quality, on the other hand, was decent and you get enough features to keep you busy. As before, we don't love everything about the design and we wish it had an HDMI-out port, but the Xperia Play 4G is a nifty gaming device.
Like its Verizon twin, the Xperia Play 4G has a bright, 4-inch display and a responsive touch screen, and the phone is big (4.68 inches long by 2.44 inches wide by 0.63 inch) and hefty (6.17 ounces). A relatively clean version of Gingerbread powers the phone, which we welcome. Sony Ericsson's Timescape interface is onboard as well, though it doesn't take away from the Android experience too much.
You'll find the same controls as on the Verizon Xperia Play for making calls, sending messages, using the standard smartphone features, and playing games. For the most part, they're easy to use, though the gaming controls pose a few challenges. The circular touch controls can be unresponsive, for example, and the shoulder buttons feel rather flimsy.
We still think that for a phone as highly anticipated as the Xperia Play, Sony Ericsson could have come up with a few more features. It's certainly respectable, but not exactly meaty. You get Wi-Fi, messaging and e-mail, a 5-megapixel camera, a smaller front-facing camera, a personal organizer, a full Web browser, and the usual assortment of Android apps. One feature we particularly missed was an HDMI-out port. On the other hand, we like how the Xperia Play 4G lets you arrange apps manually or by most used, recently installed, or alphabetically.
As for differences from the Verizon version, AT&T doesn't stray too far. You'll find a few of the carrier's custom services like AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T Family Map, AT&T Navigator, Live TV, and the MyAT&T account portal. You'll also find Media Discovery, Office Suite, Yellow Pages Mobile, and Amazon's Kindle app. Gamers get seven installed titles (Asphalt 6 Navigator, Crash Bandicoot, Dungeon Defenders: Second Wave, Madden NFL 11, Star Battalion, Tower Bloxx: My City, and The Sims 3), along with access to many more games for download.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Sony Ericsson Xperia Play 4G in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was generally agreeable with clear audio, little static or interference, and loud volume. We didn't notice the fuzzy voice quality that we found on the Verizon phone, but callers sounded a tad robotic.
On their end, callers said we sounded quite good. Here again, we didn't hear the fuzzy effect that we encountered on the Verizon phone. In fact, some of our friends couldn't tell that we were using a cell phone. If we had a complaint, it's that the phone tended to pick up a bit of background noise on both ends. It wasn't enough to be distracting--we could use it in a busy place without any problems--but it was there. Speakerphone calls were satisfying, with quite loud volume and clear audio.
The Qualcomm 1GHz Snapdragon processor keeps things moving along relatively swiftly. We didn't notice a lag when opening features and we could switch back and forth between apps smoothly. On the data side, AT&T's ballyhooed HSPA+ network wasn't amazingly impressive. It fared just about the same as Verizon's 3G EV-DO Rev. A network and in some cases it even took longer. For example, the AT&T phone took 10 seconds to open the mobile CNET page and 32 seconds to open the full site. The Verizon phone, in comparison, opened the same pages in 6 seconds and 24 seconds respectively.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play has a rated battery life of 6 hours 25 minutes and a standby time of 17.7 days. That's a bit more standby time than the Verizon phone, but not as much talk time. According to the FCC, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play has a digital SAR of 0.6 watt per kilogram.