Android is now ready to PLAY.
Over the last few years, mobile gaming has grown at a rapid pace. Having a smartphone in your pocket at all times means that your favorite games are too. The iPhone has particularly dominated this space and has posed a serious threat to more traditional handheld gaming systems like the Nintendo DS and the PlayStation Portable.
[image1]Why carry another device when you already have a capable gaming platform that you need to carry with you anyway? Likely, it’s because there isn’t enough depth and substance in mobile games, like there is on a dedicated gaming handheld. And there’s one reason for that: buttons. The majority of mobile games are played using a smartphone’s touch-sensitive screen and built-in motion/tilt functionality. Sure, that’s perfect to kill some time with Angry Birds or some Fruit Ninja, but it doesn’t work well enough to support a real Final Fantasy, Call of Duty, or Metal Gear Solid.
Enter the Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY, which was known for a long time unofficially as the PlayStation Phone due to its iconic PlayStation button layout. Instead of a slide-out QWERTY keyboard found on some smartphones, the slider reveals a fully functional D-pad, and the Square, Circle, Cross, Triangle buttons found on traditional PlayStation controllers. There are also two touch-sensitive pads that do a great job of replicating analog sticks. On the rear of the unit you’ll find L and R triggers. The Xperia PLAY is exactly what you want from a more traditional gaming device, but it’s built into the smartphone that you need to carry for work, for pleasure, for communication, or just to socialize.
People aren’t willing to give up their SMS messages, their instant access to Facebook and Twitter. But they also don’t want to carry around two devices with them, which makes the Xperia PLAY that much more appealing. It’s what you want and is what you need. Unfortunately, it’s not the perfect answer we had hoped it was. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great device, and we hope it’s a trendsetter for more gaming/smartphone hybrid devices.
[image2]As a phone, it’s good. Not great, but definitely good. The reason being is the smartphone market is a multi-billion dollar market with some of the biggest tech brands all battling to have the best specs in a phone possible. If the Xperia PLAY launched back when it was first being talked about at the beginning of the year, we wouldn’t take such issue with the handset. However, on the PLAY’s May 26th release date, a few dual-core Tegra 2 smartphones (or other comparable devices) also launched. Those processors easily trump the power of the Xperia PLAY’s 1GHz Scorpion ARMv7. In a market that moves so fast, Sony Ericsson really needed to move faster here to appeal to the gadget geeks out there. That said, it does run Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and makes for an extremely snappy, user-friendly interface.
As a gaming device, it can only be as good as the games on the platform, and right now, they're not that good. Granted, the Xperia PLAY plays these games more comfortably due to the conventional controller layout, but the games available currently boil down to be nothing more than already released mobile games tailored to use the PLAY’s control scheme. This negates the point for having these controls at all. Out of the six games that come pre-installed, there are a few examples of using the controller layout being extremely well done, and we know more are on the way (even Minecraft is coming to Xperia PLAY).
[image3]You can knock the specs, you can knock the current game line-up, but there’s one thing that you can’t touch: the hardware. The phone is absolutely gorgeous. It’s well-built. And it performs extremely well. Even the battery life is much better than most phones, lasting about 36 hours of regular usage (average amounts of games, calls, texts, web-browsing, and apps). The controller portion slides out to a strong snap, locking in place very similarly to a PSPgo. The L and R buttons seem to have little range, but not enough to hinder your gaming. Each of the face buttons and the D-pad are springy and tight. The touch-sensitive panels are a little strange at first, since there isn’t anything else like them on the market. But once you realize that the harder you press, the more response you get, it feels very similar to an analog stick. The four inch, 480×854 resolution touchscreen is crisp and clear, but not as stunning as the iPhone’s retina display.
The Xperia PLAY a great device overall. And it’s not really fair to knock it for what games it doesn’t play yet. Especially when we know that there are plenty of Xperia PLAY exclusives on the way. But we can’t help but be saddened by the timing of it all. Had it released earlier, the specs may have stood out more from the crowd. Had it released later, it may have had more notable game experiences, but would have made the processer look even more dated. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, the Xperia PLAY isn’t there yet. But it does serve a brave mix of “what you want” and “what you need”. We can only hope that it’s successful enough to see future iterations released, albeit with more game support out of the gate and specs that can hold up longer than 6 months in the ferocious mobile market.