Mobile gaming is a big part of the smartphone agenda, or even the lower end segment. The Xperia Play was all set to revolutionize the mobile gaming industry and I was looking forward to it doing so. But I’m sure after the preview; most of you are probably waiting to see if it actually does just that. So after a full week of gaming and testing here’s a more in depth look at the Xperia Play aka the Playstation Phone.

Form Factor
Here’s a quick recap of the design – It’s fitted with a 4.0-inch LED backlit touchscreen with a hi-res mobile display sporting a 480 x 854 pixel resolution and 16 million colors. A Slide out gamepad with game keys just like you’d find on a standard PS controller of the PSP itself with touch sensitive navigation pads instead of joysticks is added on. Left and Right corner keys are also available. Volume keys are placed in between these keys. A 3.5mm handsfree (that somehow only seemed to work with a Sony Ericsson kit) is placed on the right above the micro USB 2.0 port.

A little bulky

A little bulky

Although, Sony Ericsson provides an 8GB microSD card (hot swap under the rear panel)  with the Play, it might have been a good idea (considering the price as well) to throw in scientifically more internal storage. It’s a bit of a heavy device at 175g and at 16mm in depth the Play is also a little bulky. But, till a next gen model is announced that manages to shave off a few millimeters to include a slimmer gamepad, we can’t really expect more.
On the whole though I have to say, weight and plumpness taken into account, the Xperia Play still manages to look pretty good and feel quite functional for gaming and regular use.

Features and Performance
Interface
Gingerbread is the version du jour and Qualcomm’s 1GHz Scorpion processor and Adreno 205 GPU make functioning slick and fluid. I’m not too happy with Sony Ericsson’s customized UI, but I’m sure most will find it quite usable. The menu can be customized and icons can be moved around and sorted out according to – most used, alphabetical etc. or just according to your own whims and fancies. You can also create folders and drag and drop icons into them. It’s designed to be very functional, as well with very handy and well thought off widgets for various purposes. TimeScape allows you to have all your SN (FB and Twitter) along with messages and calls in the one frame or you can opt to use separated widgets for each. It’s a lot less cluttered that way.

Android 2.2 on a Scorpion Processor

Android 2.2 on a Scorpion Processor

I did find the calibration of the virtual QWERTY keypad a bit off though and even after a factory reset, it was still much too sensitive for my liking. I compared it to the Incredible S, Samsung Galaxy Ace and the Motorola MILESTONE and they come out on top, of course. There’s no way to re-calibrate it or reduce sensitivity.

Media
The audio player is capable of dishing out excellent tone quality via a very comfortable handsfree kit and comes complete with EQ presets and Sony Ericsson’s Infinite button that locates YouTube corresponding videos for your tracks. The handset provides deep bass tones with a very balanced layer of higher and mid range frequencies that can be customized to an extent with the presets. Like any other mobile player you can sync playlist or create your own on the device itself. TrackID for recognizing music from external sources worked like a charm for Hindi, English, Trance and even some Arabic songs (yes I do happen to listen to a few now and then). Sony Ericsson’s Play Now is also on board but somehow, even after all this time, didn’t seem to be available for India. If you’ve been able to access it, please let me know.

Well designed game-pad

Well designed game-pad

I’ve managed to get past the whole high end, high priced Android handsets not coming with native video players that support DivX or XviD codecs since I’m sure manufacturers have simply assumed we’d just download free apps for this off the Market. Still for this kind of money it wouldn’t have hurt.

The lack of an FM radio is also an issue, a minor one, but one none the less further making the price tag seriously stand out. Active Noise Cancellation via a secondary microphone helped quite a bit when in crowded locales. So voice clarity was a non issue -both incoming and outgoing.
Gaming
And now for the Play’s USP – Let’s face it, Mobile gaming has come a long way since Nokia’s N-Gage and things are only moving forward. Games are getting better for portable devices and although I can’t say that the Xperia replaced my PSP, I did while away quite a few hours on the handset. The Play will ship with a total of 6 games that included – Bruce Lee, Crash Bandicoot, Asphalt 6, FIFA 10, The Sims 3 and Star Battalion.

Comfortable in the hand

Comfortable in the hand

Sony Ericsson has already opened its own addition to the existing Android Market Place with games and apps designed for their handset, it’s very similar to LG’s or HTC’s suggestive app features that are embedded into their handsets. For games, though, A PlayStation Pocket app that only had Crash Bandicoot available was available. Here you’ll find very specific games built and designed for the Xperia Play. A separate app called Xperia Play is preloaded and lists all the Xperia friendly games you’ve downloaded for the handset and also offers an option to get more from Gameloft or other developers. Some of the games available off the Market Place are already customized to be played with the gamepad or without.

PlayStation Pocket for all your gaming needs

PlayStation Pocket for all your gaming needs

Game play was, in a word, satisfactory. I did encounter a few minor bugs with a couple of the preloaded games like them shutting down immediately after completing a stage or frame rates dropping in certain cases. However I could attribute it to this being a tester and not a retail device. If you happen to own the device already and have faced similar issues, do let us know. The touch sensitive controls will take a little getting used to but other than that the pad itself was well enough designed to facilitate comfortable game play.

Connectivity
The Xperia Play is well equipped with all kinds of connectivity options from 3G (HSDPA, HSUPA) to EDGE/GPRS, GPS (assisted for Google Maps), Bluetooth (2.1) with A2DP, USB 2.0 and Wi-Fi with media sharing via DLNA. Being an Android phone of the Gingerbread variety a Wi-Fi hotspot option and tethering are also part of the deal. Adobe Flash 10.2 is supported so the browsing experience was quite seamless. Sharing images to your various social networking accounts, Picasa or emailing them via any of your accounts is a simple function.

Misc. Features
All of Google’s extras like YouTube, Gtalk, Voice Search and the add-ons to Google Maps like Places, Latitude, Navigation and the Gmail app are all present. Standard mobile features like a calculator, calendar, alarm clock, world clock etc are also on board. A news and weather reader app as well as the same Postcard app that came with the Arc are also thrown in.

Camera
A 5 megapixel auto-focus camera with an LED flash is strapped onto the Play and features a range of settings that includes exposure settings, white balance, scene modes and color settings. The highest resolution for video capture is WVGA i.e. 800 x 480 and quality was quite average.

Issues with focus

Issues with focus

Image quality was quite good indoors, surprisingly, outdoors, I can’t say it did any better than the most handsets in this range. However, there was a bit of an issue with focus. There was nothing wrong with Macro focus though as details remained quite sharp in this mode.

Battery
The Xperia Play was designed to offer about 3 hours of consecutive game play and it managed to deliver quite well on that promise. With its 1500mAh battery I was able to use the handset for two days without charging. That usage included a little music, calls, messages, emails and social networking active. It averaged in at 6 hours and change of stand alone talktime.

8Gb microSD card (hot swap) provided

8Gb microSD card (hot swap) provided

The Bottom Line
The Price tag on the Xperia Play is Rs. 35,000 (MRP) with a Market Operating Price of about Rs. 32,000 (depending on your location). It’s a tad expensive even for its USP. The weight and bulk of the handset could be a make or break decision for some buyers. It won’t replace the PSP or take any of the glory away from Sony’s NGP of course, but it does bring a little something new to the table. So hardcore gamers, this isn’t exactly for you. I’d say stick to the PSP or wait for the NGP.

The Xperia Play is for the casual gamers looking for a convergence of a portable gaming device with a fully functional smartphone and media player, and it does deliver quite well on these fronts. Now you’ll just have to get past the looming price tag.

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