There have been going around about a new PlayStation-phone for a long time. Pictures appearing on the internet where thought to be showing the new PlayStation-phone.
After a long time of speculation it's there: The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, with Android 2.3 Gingerbread. We tested it.
With it's sliding controller the Xperia Play pretends to be the perfect combination between a mobile phone and a hand held game console. The device is the only one of it's kind, at the moment. That makes it difficult to compare with any other device. But if we leave aside the gaming part, it is comparable with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc. Of course we were very curious about the possibilities of this unique device. Has Sony Ericsson succeeded in creating a good balance between a perfect gaming experience and usability? We'll test it for you.
The Xperia Play comes in a green and white box. The first thing we saw after we opened the box were the phone itself and a 1500 mAh battery. Under a cardboard flap are the USB cable with adapter, a 3.5mm in-ear headset (with rubber caps in different sizes) and the documentation. All the supplied accessories are of good quality.
The portrait slider-phone consists entirely of plastic. The most striking of course is the retractable game controller, instead of a physical keyboard which you would expect.
The front of the Xperia Play is almost fully covered by the screen. Above the screen are the speaker and a secundary camera. Four physical buttons are beneath the screen: a 'back', 'home', 'options' and 'search' button. The 3.5mm headset connection is placed on the left upper side of the device.
The back of the phone comprises the battery cover with a little cutout for the camera (with flash). The volume buttons are on the right side of the phone, just as the two 'shoulder buttons' needed for gaming.
At the bottom you can find the microphone and the connection for the USB cable. At the upper side is only the on and off-switch (or time-out button) attached.
When we open the device a full PlayStation-controller appears. With on the left side the four directional-buttons and on the right side the well known triangle-, cross-, circle- and square-button. There's an oval multitouch-touchpad in the middle. In addition, the start- and select-button are also present on the controller.
The SIM-card is located under the battery cover. You can take it out without removing the battery.
Since the Xperia Play carries an entire PlayStation-controller it unfortunately became a little bit heavy. With it's 175 grams the device is heavy to carry with you. It's also not comfortable to hold cause of it's size. However, slid open while gaming it's much better to hold.
With the possibility of playing games (in a hight quality!) you should expect a short battery life. But during our test the opposite was true. The 1500 mAh battery lasts a surprisingly long time, even at extensive use. Very easy, if you'd like to game a lot. And if you still want to play longer you can shorten the screen's timeout-time. Unfortunately that's the only option to improve battery life.
Concerning the call quality there's nothing to complain about. The volume is both at normal settings and on speaker loud enough, and very bright.
While calling there are several options. You can end the conversation; let the phone show your contacts; activate the speaker; mute the microphone and consult the numeric keys. There's also the the physical button below the screen which puts a conversation on hold.
The call history can be found with the phone-button in the menu. It includes a chronological list of dialed phone numbers. Selecting a phone number in the list gives you an overview of the date, time and call duration of the last conversation. In the same screen you can choose to call or text the person immediately, or to add her or him to your contacts.
The Xperia Play features a 854 x 480 pixel TFT-display with a diagonal of 4.0 inches on which 16.777.216 colours can be displayed. So, the screen is large enough and is also able to show images in high quality. Also during gaming the images are bright, smooth and sharp.
If we took a look at the options for the display settings, we are able to change the brightness and screen's timeout-time; to switch of the autorate-function and to hide the the system's animations.
The Xperia Play runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The home screen consists of five screens and an fixed menu bar at the bottom. Incorporated in this bar are shortcuts for 'media', 'messages', 'contacts' and 'call history'. Also the button for showing the app-menu is present.
At the middle home screen you'll find the Google-search-bar and the TimeScape-widget. TimeScape shows all the messages and updates of your social networks. One screen left of the middle screen reveals a list of games to play on this device. If we go one more screen to the left different buttons to set WiFi, Bluetooth, sound and brightness appear.
The screen right of the middle screen shows the music-widget, thumbnails of our pictures and shortcuts to music, photo's and film. Two screens to the right we see a big digital clock and agenda. In addition, there's a list of user tips.
The apps in the app-menu are placed in the familiar grid: four apps wide and of unlimited length. Besides a fully personalized format there's also the possibility of several standard formats like alphabetical order, most used or most recently installed.
The apps and widgets in both this screen, the home screen and the fixed menu bar are to set to your own wishes.
Subtly incorporated in the menu is the Haptic Feedback you get by, for example, dragging or deleting apps. If you scroll to far in a list there appears a light stripe at the end of the list. A pinching motion on the home screen makes the display gather all the five screens into one (in the form of thumbnails). This task, just as with many other tasks, involves a beautiful animations. The several animations are very smooth and make the system look very dynamic and light.
The 'phonebook-button' is placed below the 'contact-button' on the menu bar at the homescreen. By selecting it you'll get the possibility of connecting the phonebook with a Google-, Facebook- or other online account. You can also import contacts from your SIM-card to the phone here.
Contacts in the contacts list include a photograph, name, surname, telephone number (with the choice of: home, mobile, work, work fax, home fax, pager, other and custom), email, ring tone, and the option to connect an incoming call directly to your voicemail.
There's also the possibility to apply a filter on the list. You can filter all your 'online-contacts', or all the contacts with a phone number, for example. In this way it's easier to find the contact you're searching for.
Typing and sending messages is no problem with the Xperia Play. With entering text it's possible to switch off T9 and word selection. But, in our opinion these tools are only beneficial. By adding an attachment to your text message it automatically becomes an MMS-message.
On the Xperia it's possible to manage multiple email accounts. Besides a Gmail-account you can also add POP3-, IMAP- or Exchange-accounts.
Instant Messaging is also no problem for this device as it supports Google Talk standardly. And also other Instant Messaging providers are no problem for the Xperia Play. In this way you can always and anywhere keep in touch with everyone.
Connecting the Xperia Play with other devices is possible in several ways. At first we tested the Bluetooth-connection. That proceeded without any problems. Sending and receiving files went also smoothly and quick.
Making a WiFi-connection is easy as well. The Xperia Play automatically connects with familiar networks. That way, you only have to enter a password the first time you connect to the network.
The Android-browser works quick and shows websites very well. While browsing, there are several options to choose from. We can open a new window; watch bookmarks; display open windows; refresh the page or go to a next page. Under 'more', it is possible to add bookmarks; search for a website; select text; watch the settings, downloads and page-information or share a page.
The Xperia Play features a 5.1 megapixel-camera with flash. The maximum resolution is 2592 x 1944 pixels. The camera-app is designed in retro-style, which is very good looking and pleasant to work with.
For shooting a picture several options are possible. At first you can set the focus on automatic, macro or endless. In addition, you can choose for a particular lightning in a range from 0 to +2. Also the flashlight is adjustable: on, off and automatic are the options.
The possible settings for the white balance are: automatic, daylight, fluorescent or cloudy. At the end you can add a location to your photograph as well.
The Xperia Play also features a secondary camera with VGA-resolution. The image quality is adjustable to very fine, fine or normal. You can also choose for several color effects like mono, sepia or negative. Also with this secondary camera there's the possibility of whether or not adding a location to the photo.
When we record a video, we can also choose from several options. The color effects possible are mono, sepia, negative or solarized. For the white balance you can choose for automatic, incandescent, daylight, fluorescent or cloudy. The several video quality's present are high, low, 'MMS' or 'YouTube', depending on your purposes. The flashlight can also be used during filming.
The camera quality is comparable with that of competing devices. Good shots can be taken, but it still remains a telephone camera. So, forget about advanced photography. The video's we made had a smooth view and a bright sound.
All the images can be sent directly with the Postcard-app by Touchnote.com, as a message and via Bluetooth, Facebook, Gmail and Picasa.
The Xperia Play offers the follwing programs: Contacts, Phone, Messages, Browser, TimeScape, Settings, Music, Gallery, Alarms, Camera, Email, Market, Facebook, Blogs, PlayNow, Maps, Gmail, Google Talk, Navigation, Places, Latitude, Support, Sync, Calculator, TrackID, YouTube, citizen alerts, PlayStation, News and Weather, Downloads,Postcard, office suite, Xperia Play, Search, Voice Search, Media Ever, Collecting Games, LiveWare, Control and a Clock. We highlight a few of them.
The TimeScape application provides a well designed timeline for all your social media updates. New messages, but also missed calls are displayed in a very nice view. On the home screen you can scroll smoothly through all these (as thumbnails displayed) updates. Unfortunately, TimeScape is less appropriate if you receive many updates at once.
The second app we wanted to highlight is LiveWare. With this application you can see witch accessories are connected to your Xperia Play. Next, you can set which action your device has to take when a specific accessory is connected. For example, you can command your phone to open up the MP3-player automatically if a headset gets connected.
Finally, the Xperia Play has Sync. Through this application you can synchronize your contacts, calender, tasks, bookmarks and notes with your Sony Ericsson-account online. This, on SyncML based service, is very useful.
The name already has it: The Xpera Play is a phone for gamers, and therefore a number of games are pre-installed: Crash Bandicoot, Bruce Lee, Star Battalion, The Sims 3, FIFA 10 and Tetris. You can download almost any other game want in the special Xperia Play game-store.
At the launch of the Play at least 50 games were available. One game costs between 5 or 10 euros. Much of the available games already appeared on the PS One. The games we played were of good quality. Also the supply of games is very diverse, so you won't get bored very quick.
Crash Bandicoat is an old friend from the PS One. In this game your character runs through different worlds to defeat enemies. There's no real storyline in it, which makes you lose attention sometimes.
The Sims is well known for the eponymous PC-game. The gameplay as well as the functionality is exactly the same as on PC. It's a very nice game, but you've got to love it.
FIFA 10 is the famous football game from EA. Next to playing a good football match, there's also a manager mode in which you can manage your favorite football team.
Bruce Lee is all about hand to hand combat. There is a storyline in the game, but you can also free fight against diverse opponents.
Star in Battalion is about flying and shooting. In this game there's a storyline present. Therefore you have to be totally fixated on playing the missions.
The only one game that's not especially made for the Play controller is Tetris. This almost ancient block game is addictive as always.
Of course we were very interested in the controller's performances, and fortunately, we were far from disappointed. Gaming with the Xperia Play is an absolute pleasure. The controller is very comfortable to hold and responds quickly to your commands. While playing you really forget that you're actually playing on a mobile phone!
Also the graphics are very good. Of course they're not comparable with the newest versions of for example the PSP; you have to keep in mind it's a phone. But what becomes very clear is that the Xperia Play as a game-phone is far ahead it's competitors.
A little disadvantage is that the Xperia Play features a touchscreen, which you sometimes forget while gaming.
Producing a game-phone remains a gamble. Previous attempts, for example by Nokia (the Ngage), failed. Fortunately Sony Ericsson has had the courage to make another effort. With the Xperia Play they leave their competitors a big step behind. The concept of a sliding PlayStation-controller works like a charm and gives the user a unique gaming experience. In addition, setting aside the game-mode, the phone is comparable to other new smartphones on the market.
A little disadvantage is the size and the weight of the Xperia Play. Some concessions have been made to the appearance since game- and phone-features are in one device. Fortunately this is not insurmountable. You can easily put the phone in a little handbag or your pocket.
Overall, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is a great device, primarily aimed at a younger market. This first step on the path of mobile gaming offers Sony Ericsson a promising future.