Review: Sony Xperia Play

  • May 31, 2011 11:36 am

The long awaited “PlayStation Phone” has arrived. Although, it carriers a different name — Xperia Play. Nonetheless, this phone completes several years worth of dreams from gamers and nerds alike all over the world. The basic ingredients include a speedy processor, slide-out gaming controls, and Google’s latest Gingerbread OS. It certainly sounds like a recipe for success. Jump inside to see if Sony finally delivered…

Hardware

  • Processor: Single-core Snapdragon processor @ 1GHz
  • GPU: Adreno 205
  • Display: 4″ @ 854 x 480
  • Camera: 5-megapixel w/ LED flash (rear) VGA (front)
  • Memory: 400 MB of internal memory
  • RAM: 512 MB

On the top of the Xperia Play you’ll find a lonely power button flanked by L and R rocker buttons as well as volume up/down buttons on the right, and the microUSB charging port on the left. The rear end houses the standard 5-megapixel camera with LED flash while the VGA shooter resides up front.

The main thing you’ll notice upon holding the Xperia Play for the first time is that it’s fat. Seriously. Though we’ll go on the record as saying we like this larger footprint as it makes the phone easier to hold in your hands, especially for extended gaming sessions. But while the phone feels like a quality device, the faux chrome (painted plastic) on the back of the phone looks rather cheap to us. Such things are easily overlooked, however.

The most striking feature of the Xperia Play is of course the dedicated slide-out keyboard. With a simple push of one finger, the keypad pops out. Similarly, closing the gamepad is met with a rather sounding click signaling robust construction. The buttons (especially the shoulder buttons) and make shift joysticks feel a tad cheap, though provide plenty of travel while also offering up a good amount of feedback.

Software

In a world still full of aging Android 2.2 hardware, Sony pushes ahead of the pack with Google’s latest Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) OS. The redesigned UI is a welcome change to the almost cartooney appearance Android has had since its inception. Speaking of UI, we’re pleased to announce that the Verizon Wireless Xperia Play is void of any annoying (and performance sucking) skins — pure, stock Android, just the way we like it.

A quick trip through the app drawer will yield quite a few pre-loaded VZW-branded apps, a special Xperia Play app, and several included games including Sims 3, Star Battalion HD, Crash Bandicoot, and Asphalt 6 among others.

The inner workings of Android 2.3 are now widely known considering the OS has been available for several months. With that said, we still find it odd and simultaneously disappointing every time we see a new flagship Android device announced, only to be gimped with old pre-2.3 software.

As of writing, the special Sony inspired PlayStation branded games are in short supply. While we could easily spend a few hours playing Asphalt 6 and Crash Bandicoot, we can see people growing tired of the same few games after a couple of weeks. With that said, expect the Xperia’s dedicated game portfolio to expand in the coming months.

Gaming & Display

In short: If you want a cellphone that is good at gaming from a physical perspective, this is your phone. Most games are PS1 quality with several approaching PS2 — quite impressive from a phone mind you. No other phone comes close to offering the level of interaction that the Xperia Play does. It makes playing racing games more engaging (auto acceleration on iOS racing games is downright terrible), offers greater control overall, and is all around more enjoyable. While we specifically mentioned racing games, in reality any game is more intuitive and dare we say fun with some good ‘ol fashioned buttons.

While the Android games themselves may not be quite as nice or lengthy as their iOS siblings, the tides are quickly changing with Android developers making large strides with each passing month. We say that in another 12-24 months (along with advancements in hardware) gaming on Android will surpass iOS for more in depth, “hardcore” games.

While we’re on the subject, we’ll note that the display is both one of the better and worst displays we’ve used. Speaking strictly of color reproduction and clarity, Sony really knocked one out of the park. It’s one of the better non-AMOLED displays we’ve seen in this regard. However, viewing angles were a different story. If not held at just the angle to the user, much of the display’s strong points faltered — a sour point for us considering Sony’s gaming oriented focus with the Xperia Play.

Camera

While we should be singing praises, we’re downright cursing. While some may criticize the low 5-megapixel count, we must stress that megapixels aren’t everything. But in the Xperia Play’s case, there’s nothing going on to begin with. Staying true to the stock Android experience, the camera is void of any 3rd party additions. That’s great for the overall Android experience. The stock Android camera, however, is extremely basic. On the Xperia Play, we found taking good semi-close to close up shots pretty difficult due to the lack of tap-to-focus. The only way to know for sure whether a close up shot was properly focused was to review it after the fact — not the best way to do things.

However, when photos came out in focus, they were downright stunning. Unlike the DROID X2′s darker backgrounds, the Xperia Play kept everything nice and balanced. Considering Sony’s rather extensive background in photography, having the same experience on their mobile devices is something to be expected.

Video

Similar to the differences in lighting with the DROID X2, we noticed the Xperia Play’s video camera managed lighting a bit more efficiently.

Call Quality & Battery Life

Call quality: It’s a phone. It runs on Verizon. It rarely drops a call thanks to VZW’s far reaching and rock solid network. ‘Nough said.

Battery Life on the Xperia Play is at the top of our list of Android phones. While the lack of dual-core processor is a con in many performance-minded areas, we can easily see the added benefit a single-core processor does for battery life. Our DROID X2 while lengthy in runtime itself doesn’t feel quite as efficient 10 hours into the day as our Xperia Play does. Get hard into games, however, and things go south pretty quick. We noticed on average about 3.5-4 hours of straight gaming before the Xperia Play started throwing up warning signs.

Conclusion

The Xperia Play is an awesome phone! For gamers who also happen to love Android, it’s a dead giveaway. However, that’s not to say the Xperia Play is without faults. For starters, we found the display offered up sub-par viewing angles, though was made for with excellent color reproduction when the right angle was found. For a phone that’s marketed towards gaming, we find that a careless oversight. More disappointing, however, is the fact that Sony merely settled for average in regards to the CPU and GPU. A second generation single-core Snapdragon processor humming along at 1 GHz is fast, but no where near as fast as an Nvidia Tegra 2 device which has the power of two cores on hand. Add to that the mid-range Adreno 205 GPU and you can begin to see where Sony blew many chances to truly wow us with the first “PlayStation Phone”. But to be clear, we only noticed the reduced power potential in half a dozen instances over many days of literally flogging this phone to death. Mainstream users will rarely notice the lack of an entire core or added GPU horsepower.

Overall, while we find Sony’s first PlayStation Phone nice, it ultimately falls a short in a few key areas.

GS Rating: 7/10


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Author: Mike Norris

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Gadget lover, smartphone collector, and beer connoisseur. I've been writing about gadgets for three years now and loving every minute of it. Outside of the digital landscape, I enjoy being active outdoors. I'm always up for a good conversation, so feel free to drop me a line!