Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Review
The PlayStation phone is that the device equivalent of El Dorado, in that it’s spent an extended time as a golden fable to touch upon when conversation slows. Currently the fusion of gamepad and Android phone has emerged into the trendy world within the kind of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.
It’s a time when iPhones have permeated the world, ready to deliver tactile gaming on the go, and Nintendo’s 3DS is creating waves by bringing moveable 3D fun to the lots.
Even among the Sony stable, the Xperia Play has rivals to beat. there is the NGP, successor to the PSP, on the horizon, which is able to arrive boasting enough processing power to run the LHC (well, a quad-core CPU and graphics processor, at least).
What’s a lot of, it should establish itself over a variety of quick and competent Android handsets, like Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc, which is able to even have the chops for 3D gaming of the non-stereoscopic kind.
There’s likely little point in us trying to discuss any of the Xperia Play’s external hardware before addressing its literal and figurative centerpiece, the slide-out gamepad. A DualShock attached to your smartphone it is not, but you already knew that. The real question is how close it comes to replicating the console experience rather than how well it competes with it. Judged on such terms, the Play acquits itself very well. The digital directional keys are firm with a satisfying amount of travel and the same goes for the face buttons. Squeezed in between them, Sony Ericsson also throws in a pair of analog pads, which react to your input in much the same fashion as the capacitive touchscreen does — with the big difference being that while you use the pads you’re not obscuring any of the action on screen. Each pad has a handy indented dot at its center, helping to orient your thumb without the need to look down.
Squeaks and creaks were sadly too readily apparent with the Play, mostly owing to the poor quality of plastics used in its construction. It’s a rigid device and, as already pointed out, there’s little questioning its internal structure, but there’s no getting around the fact that SE didn’t blow the budget on procuring the most high-end of shell materials. The rear cover feels brittle, in spite of its flexibility, and the overall glossy aesthetic lends itself to picking up scuffs and scratches easily. The metallic accents aren’t to our tastes, either, mostly because they’re not made out of actual metal. And if you’re not going to at least insert a little bit of premium material or functional utility in your design, why complicate it? Build quality is, therefore, a mixed bag. We get the feeling that after a while the Xperia Play will end up looking rather like The Terminator — losing its soft and and pathetic outer shell, but revealing some hardcore engineering within. Maybe that’ll be a good look for it.
In terms of the hardware that makes the wheels go round, the Xperia Play relies on a 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon chip, which comes with an Adreno 205 GPU. Neither is a slouch, but it’s obvious that more could, and perhaps should, have been included in this bargain. Looking around at the spring / summertime smartphone landscape, a potential Play buyer will be confronted by Motorola’s Atrix and Droid Bionic, LG’s Optimus 2X and Optimus 3D, Samsung’s Galaxy S II, and HTC’s EVO 3D — all of whom tout dual-core SOCs and generous apportionments of RAM. Oh yes, about the RAM. There’s only 400MB 512MB of it on the Xperia Play (Update: We double-checked with Sony Ericsson and found that the Play comes with 512MB of RAM, 400MB of which is available for applications to use) . It may seem overly demanding to expect every new smartphone to match up to those benchmark destroyers, but we must remember the Xperia Play is about gaming and games will make use of every last ounce of performance you can give them. As it stands, it’s a healthy and sprightly device today, but do be aware of the gathering storm clouds above its future. It’s simply not powerful enough for us to give you any assurances about its long-term viability.
Another thing that’s taxing the Play’s battery unduly is its screen. The default brightness setting for it is at the very maximum and once you use it for a while, you realize why. It’s very dim. We’re not talking about it being mediocre or some way short of the best, it’s so lacking in brightness that it’s borderline dysfunctional. Taking the phone out for an afternoon outside, we couldn’t play Crash Bandicoot even on the bus, never mind out in the direct glare of the sun. It’s not an unqualified disaster, as viewing angles are pretty wide, the 854 x 480 resolution is decent, and under the right circumstances you can obtain some pleasantly vibrant images from it, but it’s still one the worst screens we’ve seen on a review phone — hell, review hardware of any kind. This was most apparent to us outdoors when we used it side by side with Sony Ericsson’s own Xperia Arc, the latter handset giving us better contrast, saturation, and of course, brightness. Both phones lack an auto-brightness option in their settings, which is a weird omission on Sony Ericsson’s part, even if in the case of the Play it’d just be kept at max anyway.
Speaking of omissions, has anyone at SE HQ heard about the little trend of making 720p video recording a de facto standard feature in high-end Android smartphones? Because, well, the Xperia Play doesn’t have it. We know full well that the hardware’s capable of it — a 5 megapixel imager sits round the back, so more than enough pixels can be pulled together to saturate a 1280 x 720 frame, and the 1GHz Snapdragon under the hood pretty much snorts with indignation at the routine task of processing such workloads at 30fps. What gives, we don’t know, but the video you do get, recorded at a maximum of 800 x 480, isn’t all that great anyhow. The recordings produced during our testing tended to be very soft, with noise suppression algorithms seemingly working overtime to ensure the smudgy appearance. That issue was compounded by poor microphone performance, which muffled and straight up distorted some of the sounds it picked up during recording.
As with the hardware section, we’ll get straight to the PlayStation meat of the Xperia Play software matter. Two apps will be of foremost interest here: the not at all confusingly named Xperia Play, which serves as a showcase for Android Market games compatible with the Play’s controls, and the PlayStation Pocket, which houses the hallowed PS One games that this new smartphone is so primed to enjoy. For the moment at least, we should probably narrow that down to the singular game, since the Play ships with just the one preloaded classic title, Crash Bandicoot, and the rest of the PS One library is still en route. That puts the Play’s launch, coming up on April 1st across Europe, into a rather precarious position. It’s supposed to be the bringer of great new entertainments to the thumb-equipped masses and yet we’re staring at just one original piece of content upon its release. Bruce Lee, FIFA 10, Star Battalion HD, and The Sims 3 do come preloaded to soften the blow, but they’re not exclusive to the Play, and in the particular case of The Sims, don’t even benefit very much from the physical controls. Still, they’re there and the means to accessing them is actually pretty swish. Opening up the slider kicks you straight into the Xperia Play app, where the games you already have on the device are split out from the list of purchasable compatible titles, meaning you’re never more than a slide and a tap away from leaping into action.