Sony Ericsson Xperia Play review

Smartphone and games combo that doesn't quite work
Photo of Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
£480 , SIM-free; free on contract.

Sony’s much-trailed PlayStation smartphone has had a difficult launch, with a number of UK mobile operators refusing to offer the handset. But now that we have the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play in our hands, does its strange marriage of Android smartphone and handheld games console really work?

Two devices in one
The idea sounds very alluring. Take a high-quality Android smartphone and build on its ability to handle games by adding a slide out gaming pad. And because you’re Sony Ericsson, you can use Sony’s PS One games as a starting point. While conceptually the idea offers the best of both worlds, in practice the reality is far from that.

The gaming pad slides out of a long edge of the handset just as a more conventional Qwerty keyboard does. It has direction buttons, the familiar PlayStation-style square, triangle, circle and cross buttons, two touch-sensitive pads, Menu, Select and Start buttons. Shoulder buttons sit on the opposite long edge and are comfortable for forefinger use during gaming.

To fit the gaming controls in Sony Ericsson has had to sacrifice good looks and lightness, and the Xperia Play is a bit of a beast for the pocket at 119x62x16mm (wdh) and 175g. That’s unavoidable, but the plastic chassis feels a little cheap in the hands, which is rather disappointing.

The Android part
The handset’s specifications are good, with a 1GHz processor handling gameplay and other aspects of the Xperia Play well. It’s nice to see Android 2.3 ‘Gingerbread’ here, and there’s a 5-megapixel camera. The 4-inch screen, with its 480×854-pixel resolution, is great for gaming – and of course does a good job with smartphone staples like web browsing, looking at photos and video, and reading mobile email too.

Android features work well enough, and uses a familiar Sony Ericsson layout incorporating five home screens and its TimeScape widget, which brings together your social networking contacts from Facebook and Twitter. On any home screen you can pinch inwards to see an overview of all the widgets you’ve got in place, then tap on one to go to it in its home screen. We really like that system.

And on to the gaming…
Gaming on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is about two things – ease of use, and access to the games themselves. On the ease-of-use front, there’s good and bad: the gaming pad buttons feel good under the fingers and are comfortable to use, but the touchpads are not so responsive, and the shoulder buttons are spongy.

Accessing games can be carried out in several ways. On one of the phone’s home screens is the PlayStation Pocket app, which takes you to any ported PlayStation titles you have installed; and the Xperia Play app, which is a base for Android games. Only one PS One game comes pre-loaded – Crash Bandicoot – and that hasn’t been tweaked much for the screen size, with black bands left and right. There are four other games on board in the Xperia Play section of the handset (Bruce Lee, FIFA 10, Star Battalion and The Sims 3). We’d have liked more pre-loaded gaming, but others are available to buy.

Company: Sony Ericsson

Website: http://www.sonyericsson.com

Positives
  • Works well as a smartphone.
Negative
  • Not much better than average as a gaming device.

Verdict

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play works fine as a smartphone, but the gaming element just doesn't have the wow factor we were really hoping for. We'd advise anyone really into mobile gaming to buy a dedicated device instead. The Nintendo 3DS need not worry.