The Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY is the first phone to be "PlayStation certified", which means its designed for playing games. It can do much more, though, as it has a very capable web browser, email software, navigation app, and loads more. It runs the latest version of Google's Android OS, and has a 1GHz processor, a 5 megapixel camera with a front-facing camera, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking.
This model was recently launched by Verizon Wireless for $200 with a new two-year service contract.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Xperia PLAY is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the HP Veer that I reviewed recently. Unlike the Veer, which is so small you can almost lose it in your pocket, much less in a purse or larger gear bag, the Xperia PLAY is rather large. It's 4.7 x 2.4-inches. It's relatively thin at 0.6 inches though, of course, it's a bit thicker than some smartphones because of its slider design.
Even though it's something of a bruiser, at 6.7 ounces it doesn't feel too heavy to me; the Xperia PLAY is solid and very well built. The slider functions smoothly, and the corners are rounded appropriately for comfort. It looks very good too, mainly black with a few chrome accents on the buttons underneath the display and on the sides.
Strangely enough, it also doesn't seem too big and bulky in real life. It's curved in just the right places, so it seems smaller than it really is, especially in your pocket. The Xperia PLAY is smaller than the Samsung Droid Charge, for example, though it is a bit thicker due to the slider design.
The 4.0-inch, WVGA (480 x 854) touchscreen is just gorgeous, with saturated colors and no jaggies or pixels to be seen. Photos and videos look great, but where it really shines is when you play the games that come pre-loaded on the phone. They look far better than I ever remember seeing them look on other mobile platforms, and the display really brings the characters to life.
Even though it appears a bit washed out in direct sunlight, the display is still readable and usable outside. Sometimes I had to angle the phone a bit to do so, but it worked.
There's no keyboard here, which may seem strange at first since this is a slider-style phone -- until you realize that the slider portion of the device is strictly for gaming controls. So you'll be using the on-screen keyboard, which worked just fine for this experienced touch-typist.
I especially liked the fact that there was no haptic feedback when I pressed the "keys" - -I hadn't realized how distracting I found that to be on other devices. If you're fine using a virtual keyboard you won't have any trouble at all using the one on the Xperia PLAY.
Other Buttons & Controls
There's a lot to talk about here, since the Xperia PLAY isn't your typical smartphone. At first glance, it's pretty normal -- the power button is on the top edge, and the Back, Home, Menu, and Search buttons are on the front of the device, under the display. These are real buttons, not areas on the touchpanel.
Continuing the tour of the device, the charge/sync port is on the left side. The right side has the volume buttons, as well as two extra trigger buttons.
Underneath the display, on the slider portion, you'll find what you're probably most interested in: several more buttons arranged in the classic PlayStation controller format: directional buttons on the left, and the square/triangle/circle/square on the right. There are also two analog pads in the middle of the controller portion, but my attempts to use them weren't too successful in real life, and I stuck to the regular buttons after trying them out for a while.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY debuted running Android OS 2.3.2 on a single-core 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It has 512 MB of RAM, which is a bit low. Nevertheless, this is a very capable device that offers excellent performance. According to a Quadrant benchmark test, the Xperia PLAY receives a score of 1269, outperforming all of the reference devices except for the Google Nexus One, which outscored the Xperia PLAY by a very small margin.
What that means for the user is an excellent experience, with apps that launch quickly, fluid switching between apps, and little to no waiting, no matter what task your device is performing. Even loading the Playstation-certified games went very quickly indeed, with no opportunity for this reviewer to get bored or frustrated.
Call quality on the Xperia PLAY was surprisingly good, even with just one bar on the signal strength meter. There was no background noise at all -- my test callers couldn't tell that I was outside, and I was near both a busy street and a playground where children were playing. I was pleasantly surprised with just how good the voice experience is, considering that most of the folks interested in picking up this device are probably more interested in playing games than talking on the phone.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (and GPS too) work exactly as expected, so no surprises there. This model supports Verizon's 3G service, but not its 4G LTE one. Does that matter? Depends on the user.
The social networking experience is somewhat lacking straight out of the box. There's no built-in Facebook app on the Xperia PLAY, making me miss the HTC Friendstream app. You can download the free Facebook and Twitter apps from the Android Market, of course, and once you do they work just as you would expect. There are plenty of other free and paid options in the Market, especially for Twitter, so it's up to you to find the best solution for your needs.
Email is great, of course -- it is one of the strengths of the Android operating system, after all. The web experience is also top notch, with fast loading pages, even when visiting flash sites like Moodstream. You'll find smooth scrolling, and the pinch to zoom functionality is also smooth and easy to control, not jerky. Tap twice on a text area to zoom in automatically, which makes actually reading web content on your device much easier.
Like any Android smartphone, you'll find that once you enter your Google account information, all of your personal contacts and calendar entries will be sucked down into your device -- all you have to do is wait just a few minutes for the process to complete. Calendar, Contacts, the calculator, etc., it's all here. There aren't any extras included like a task manager or a notepad, though.
OfficeSuite is a wicked fast viewer for Microsoft Office documents. You're not able to do any editing, so if you need the ability to do so you'll have to purchase an app like Quickoffice from the Android Market. If you don't need to edit, OfficeSuite is probably all you need. The zooming and scrolling are all very fast, and even complicated spreadsheets with multiple worksheets and charts are perfectly reproduced.
You have two choices for navigation, Google Maps and the Verizon VZ Navigator application. Both work well, though I personally prefer Google Maps because it's quicker and easier to use. Also it's cheaper. Either one will offer maps, directions, and local point of interest information. Google Maps excels with more information about those POIs, like user reviews and one-touch directions, but they both suffer from some of the same out-of-date information. In my area I saw listings for two restaurants that had closed, for example, though that's not strictly the fault of this device.
As you might expect from a phone capable of playing PlayStation Certified games, the Xperia PLAY is an entertainment powerhouse. The built-in music player isn't anything special, not doing much more than allowing you to sort your music by album, song, or artist, and create your own playlists. But the sound quality and volume from the external speaker is excellent -- you won't have to plug in your headphones every time you want to listen to something (unless you just happen to need/want a private listening experience), which is nice.
Games are of course fantastic, and the phone comes with several preloaded: Asphalt 6, Bruce Lee, Crash Bandicoot, Madden NFL 11, Star Battalion, and The Sims 3. Even though the Xperia PLAY isn't built exactly the same as a traditional game controller, it's obvious that a lot of effort and care went into creating a great gaming experience. The buttons don't have the same travel, though they work well; the shoulder triggers are excellent and are a joy to use.
The games themselves may have aged a bit, but still look great. There's a lot of nostalgia for me personally with the Crash Bandicoot series, and this version plays just like a remember. The platforming is spot on, and I could just play, without having to fight with the controls as I had feared. When real life intervenes, such as when you receive a phone call or text, your game is automatically saved and you can get back into the game right where you left off when you have a free moment. There are more than thirty other games to choose from as well.
It would have been great if Sony Ericsson has built a video-out port into this device, so you could play games on your TV, using the handset as your controller. Here's hoping that's included in the next version.
Since the focus is on gaming, you won't find a lot of other extras in the Xperia PLAY. The Amazon Kindle app is preloaded if you want to read books, or you can download the reader of your choice from the Android Market. The only other included extra is the YouTube app. The video quality is excellent, depending on the quality of the source, of course -- professional videos like music videos are fantastic, and sound great too.
The camera takes surprisingly good photos. Since this is a gaming phone, I wasn't really expecting the quality that I was able to get. That's especially true since this is "only" a 5 megapixel camera, but perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised -- I've been a Sony digital camera fan for many years now (I currently use the TX-9).
This isn't the fastest camera you'll ever use -- when you press the shutter button there is a short delay while the camera focuses and takes the shot. The flash is automatic, if you choose, and does a very good job in low light conditions. Finished photos come out clear and generally well exposed, with few of the exposure issues I'm used to from most mobile phone cameras.
There is no zoom capability, which is my only major complaint with this camera. My only gripe (and perhaps this is more my problem than the phone's) is that I ruined many photos with my finger partially obscuring the bottom of the lens -- and that's not a problem I've ever had with a mobile phone camera in the past. I'm not sure if the lens is just farther down than I expect it to be due to the gaming controls (the lens is close to the left trigger button) or if it's the way that I grip the phone. I could certainly train myself out of it over the long term, but I thought it might be worth mentioning in this review.
The Xperia PLAY is one of a growing number of smartphones with a front-facing camera, allowing you to do video conferencing. This works over 3G or Wi-Fi.
I was expecting that battery life this would be a major problem with this device, considering that the extra gaming capabilities would tend to make me use it a lot more during the day than other phones. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really didn't have any issues, and was easily able to get two or even three days from a single charge.
It's just a 1500 mAh battery, which is pretty standard these days, but the battery performance was still impressive. I certainly wouldn't leave my charger at home during a week-long business trip, but I might be able to get away with a long weekend. In any case, while I would probably charge it overnight for form's sake, I found that I didn't worry about it that much and the phone never let me down -- no matter how much time I spent each day playing games, surfing the web, or taking photos.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY is a truly excellent device. It's quick and responsive, an entertainment powerhouse that also has a very good camera and great sound and call quality. It's a bit thicker and bulkier than comparable smartphones, but not too heavy. The gaming experience is top notch, and the controls work very well. The only real trade-off is that those gaming controls take the place of a physical QWERTY keyboard, but if you're a gamer you'll be glad to make that trade.
I can easily recommend this phone for gamers who want an all-in-one device. It's the first real gaming phone, and there's a good selection of PlayStation-certified games that are compatible with it. And when it's time for a little work, the Xperia PLAY still has you covered. Sounds like a win-win to me.