Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Review

In a nutshell: The Sony Ericsson Play is the first ever Playstation phone. The Play takes mobile gaming to a new plane, with Playstation-like controls, plus motion control and gesture control using the phone's front-facing video camera! It's also a high-powered smartphone running Android Gingerbread. The hardware is top notch too, with a giant 4 inch display, 5.1 megapixel camera, assisted GPS with Google Maps and Street View and a DLNA connection so you can plug the phone into a HD-ready TV. Available in Black or White.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
Is it a phone? Is it a PlayStation? No, it's the PlayStation phone, properly known as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.

At first, it seems to be just another touchscreen smartphone. A rather heavy one, and a little thicker than most. But slide it open and it turns into a PlayStation game controller, with access to a range of 3D games. It was a concept just waiting to happen - all it needed was a processor fast enough to power 3D games (1GHz Snapdragon processor and Adreno 205 GPU) and a big 4 inch screen and voila!
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
The Sony Xperia Play is built on the Android operating system and uses the latest version of Android, called Gingerbread. This means that you get a fast, powerful and user friendly operating system, with power features and access to over 100,000 downloadable apps. Sony Ericsson have been releasing Android phones for over a year and have brought a number of novel concept phones to the market, including the tiny Xperia X10 Mini and the futuristic-looking Xperia Arc, but the Xperia Play is probably the most original concept phone so far. The implementation of Android on the Play is similar to that on the Arc, with five home screens plus Sony Ericsson's Timescape enhancement providing seamless integration of facebook, twitter, email, calendars and contacts.

To transform your phone into a games console, you simply turn it into landscape mode, flip open the slide and a genuine PlayStation game controller is unveiled, complete with D-pad and face buttons (circle, square, triangle and cross). The buttons work well although the touch-sensitive thumbpads in the centre are perhaps less responsive. There's an accelerometer to sense which way up you're holding the device, and you can touch the screen to make things happen too. Does this tactile "in your hands" experience compensate for the fact that you've only got 4 inches of screen and less than HD resolution? Well, the success of other portable games consoles indicates a clear "yes" answer to that, so the question really should be, "how does the Xperia Play experience measure up to the 3DS experience?" The truth has to be that a dedicated portable games console will give you a better experience, as it's built to do just that one job. But there's still plenty of enjoyment to be had from the Xperia Play.

In addition to the gaming features, the Xperia Play comes with a 5 megapixel camera with flash and autofocus. At this price point we might have expected an 8 megapixel camera, but we can't have everything. The Play also has a front-mounted VGA video camera.

The Play has assisted GPS of course, with Google Maps pre-installed. This is the very latest version of Google Maps, with plenty of extra features to play with, such as Street View and Latitude (share your location with your friends). It's remarkable how polished the system is and how well it works on a mobile device.

The Play is a fully-featured media machine too, with a media player capable of handling playlists and album art, plus an FM radio with RDS. Sound quality from the stereo speakers is really quite good for a phone, and you can plug in a proper set of headphones with the 3.5mm headphone jack.

A feature first seen on the Arc and also present on the Play is the Noise Shield. This uses a secondary microphone at the back of the phone to pick up and cancel ambient noise, so the person you're talking to can hear you better.

Connectivity is outstanding, with 3G HSPA and Wi-Fi for fast internet access, Bluetooth wireless access and USB. There's also an HDMI port, so you can plug your phone into a HD Ready TV and play your games large! Web browsing on the Play is a good experience, with pages loading quickly and rendered well. The browser responds well to the touch, whether you're scrolling with your finger or using two fingers to pinch-and-zoom. Flash video is supported and you can watch youtube clips.

The built-in memory of 400MB is less than we'd have liked, with many other high-end phones having 8GB or more, but you can augment this with a microSD memory card up to 32GB. An 8GB card is included in the sales package.

Battery life. Hmmm. The Xperia Play has a 1500mAh battery, which is the largest you'll find on a mobile phone at present. But it needs it! Sony Ericsson are claiming 5.5 hours of game play, but if you plan to make calls and do other stuff you'll have less time playing games. But it's only a mobile device, so this is perhaps the best anyone could realistically expect. Just remember to charge your phone every night and you should be OK.

Finally, let's talk money. The Xperia Play is one of the most expensive phones on the market, more expensive than the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc or the Google Nexus S for instance. For this kind of money you could get a less expensive Android phone plus a Nintendo 3DS. You'd have a better phone and a better games console. Sure, you'd have to carry two devices instead of one, but that's the way life is sometimes. It's perhaps inevitable that combining two devices in one leads to compromise. There are certainly compromises here. The games controller isn't as polished as a dedicated one (3DS for instance) and as a phone the Xperia Play is rather large and very heavy. It's very expensive too. We'd recommend it, but with reservations.

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