Playing Around with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

The only certified PlayStation phone. That’s what you’ll hear and see on any of the ads and commercials for Rogers new Sony Ericsson Xperia Play smartphone. The older standalone portable gaming systems are quickly being left behind as smartphones gain in power and functionality. Why buy a portable gaming unit, MP3 player, and a cellular phone when you could have all three of those, plus a whole lot more, in one nice package. That’s exactly what Sony Ericsson is hoping you will be thinking when you look at their hot new Xperia Play smartphone. But is the Play really provide the best of combination of mobile gaming and cell phone? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

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Getting Physical

In case you’re not familiar with the Xperia Play, here’s a rundown of the specs. First and foremost, the device has a slide out game controller with 13 buttons and 2 touchpads. Where did you think it got the name Play from? ;) The Xperia Play is a Quad-band phone with 850/1900/2100 for the HSPA bands. Rogers is claiming that you’ll get a whopping 14.4Mbps download speed on the Play. Of course, you’ll find the typical WiFi (b/g/n), GPS, 5 MegaPixel camera, 4 inch screen, MicroSD card support, and powered by Google’s Android 2.3.

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The Play is a pretty thick phone by today’s standards. Putting it up along side the iPhone 4 or the Samsung Focus, it’s very much a thicker phone. Of course, the Play sports that slide out game controller that the other phones lack, so e can expect it to be a bigger than those non-slide devices. But how much bigger is the question. Do you recall the Touch Pro 2 from HTC? It’s was one of the last great Windows Mobile devices offered by HTC and it sports a slide out keyboard. The Touch Pro 2 is almost 2 years old now, and the Play is a hair thinner than the Touch Pro 2. I really would have liked to see the Play shave a little more off the thickness in order to have it sit better in ones pocket and to feel a little more comfortable in ones hand.

Despite the thickness of the phone, I have received amazing results for the battery on the Xperia Play. The battery problems form Sony Ericsson’s older X10 days are a thing of the past – a very welcome thing of the past. Under the battery door, you’ll find the exact same battery as the older X10 in terms of size, shape and capacity – 1500mAh. That’s where things change because the Xperia Play can easily make it through a day and then some, before it starts to complain about low battery. I’m routinely getting 36 hours out of a single change. Good luck seeing that kind of battery life with the X10.

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Along the left side of the phone you’ll find the 3.5 mm headphone jack and the MicroUSB charge port. When you slide out the keyboard, these would then appear on the bottom of the keyboard. Down the right side of the phone you’ll find the left trigger button, the up/down volume rocker, and then right trigger button. As you can expect, this side of the phone will become the top of the game controller when you slide it open. The top of the phone has a power button in the far right hand side. Along the bottom front of the phone you have the 4 standard Android buttons – Back / Home / Menu / Settings. And all of these buttons are true buttons that require physcial pressure to work – which is a good thing if you tend to use the phone with gloves on. However a lot of phones are moving to the capacitive buttons that work the same way as the touch screen of the devices. The advantage here is that they require less force to work. Simply touch that location and the key is activated. A number of times I found myself pushing the buttons for a second time because either I didn’t apply enough pressure the first time, or the device missed it.

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Get Your Gamer On

But none of that stuff is what you’re reading this review to find out. You want more detail about the slide out game controller. There is something to be said about having a game controller attached to your phone, as there’s no question that it makes game play that much easier. Even for the simple games, it provides a better interface for you to control the action on the screen without having to put your fingers on the screen and block your view of the game. The buttons on the game controller have a good feel to them and provide just enough movement and click to register that you’ve pushed them. In that respect it’s a great portable game controller. I was disappointed in the two touchpads on the front of the controller. These touchpads work in the same way as the 4 directional buttons but these operate the same way as the touchpad on your laptop. Unfortunately, these are considerably slower to respond than the physical keys. After a couple of attempts to use these touch keys, I gave up and switched back to the more standard, directional keys.

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The two trigger buttons that I talked about earlier – the ones along the right side of the phone. I found them to be a little softer than I would have expected. They have a fair amount of travel in them, and they don’t offer the same click confirmation as the directional buttons on the face of the game controller. They also stick out a little more than I would like to have seen. I can just see one of these getting caught on some clothing and being ripped off the device.

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Xperia Play photos by Kendra

In terms of games, the Xperia Play is pre-loaded with a number of links to games that you can download. Maybe a handful of those games are free and the rest cost anywhere from a couple dollars and up. It would have been nice to see more free content, or even trial content pre-loaded on the phone. That way people could get right into a game out of the box. The Xperia Play has a special section in the Android Market app that lists all the titles that work with the Play, allowing you to find new apps fairly quickly and easily.

Snap, Snap

The 5MP camera on the Xperia Play is pretty good – in fact, it did a better job than I expected in my little test. I snapped the following pictures with 3 different cameras – the iPhone 4, the Samsung Focus, and the Xperia Play. It’s not the easiest of pictures to take because there is a fair amount of light coming in from the sun just out of the picture on the right. There’s a lot of Point and Shoot camera’s that don’t handle that situation very well. Here’s the images from those 3 smartphones and I think it’s pretty clear that the Xperia Play did the best job in filtering out the excessive light and actually showing some of the green from the tree. (Click on the image to see the original picture)

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Final Thoughts

The Xperia Play has a powerful Qualcomm 1GHz processor under the hood. Yet, there are times when switching between screens in Sony Ericsson’s TimeScape, or when loading games that they phone stutters or freezes for a short period of time. I’m not sure if this is a result of the enhancements Sony Ericsson made to Android for it to work with their game controller, or if it’s simply not powerful enough to provide that seamless experience that one expects when playing games and sliding between home screens.

Aside from the occasional hiccup when it comes to the speed, I think Sony Ericsson has done an excellent job with the Xperia Play. It provides a great portable gaming system, with the flexibility of smartphone. The battery life is off the charts – every manufacturer should be looking at what Sony Ericsson did on this device, it’s a welcome change when you can use your phone all day and still have enough power to last through the night and into the next day.

The Xperia Play offers an exceptional mobile gaming experience and a great all around mobile device. It’s definitely one to consider when it’s time for your next mobile purchase.

About Mike Temporale

Mike Temporale has written 614 posts on Mobile Jaw..

Mike Temporale grew up fascinated by computers since an early age. His first hands on with a computer came when he was 7 years old and a travelling lab of Commodore PET computers made a stop at his school. Hooked on the new world these devices offered, he took any chance possible to get in front of a computer. When Compaq launched the iPaq 3600, he was hooked again. This time on a whole new world of mobile computing. Today, Mike spends his day helping clients deploy and manage their mobile device around the world. From installing custom software, to locking and securing data, and everything in between. He is also the Editor in Chief at Mobile Jaw - a site focused on today's mobile world.