Hands on with Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

If a top-of-the-line smartphone were chocolate and the PSP Go were peanut butter, the two would go together to create the delicious Xperia Play, which we managed to have a little hands-on time with at GDC.

For those who haven’t heard about Sony Ericsson’s newest wunderkind phone — or those who missed the insanely expensive Super Bowl commercial that officially debuted the phone to the world — the Xperia Play is essentially the fist smartphone made for gamers.

Combining an Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system with a design made to simulate a Sony gaming device, the Xperia Play packs a 1GHz Scorpion ARMv7 processor, a 4-inch touchscreen, and a slide-out controller that goes where a slide-out QWERTY keyboard is usually found. The controller is modeled on the familiar PlayStation design, with four buttons, a D-Pad, two shoulder buttons, and it introduces two circular pads that simulate analog thumb sticks.

The Xperia Play is a lightweight phone that contains a necessary thickness due to the slide-out controller, but it is actually less cumbersome than you may expect. The phone weighs just 175 grams, (or just over 6 ounces), and measures 119mm x 62mm x 16mm. The phone itself is what you would expect from a top notch smartphone, and it will offer all the amenities that Google’s newest OS offers. Android 2.3 feels fast and responsive, and the multitasking helps the multiple programs function well, something that will be put to the test when users are playing games and phone calls, e-mails, voice mails and text messages break through. But the real question that most people who are eyeing this phone want to know is how does it work as a gaming system? Well, it has potential.

A phone as a console

In theory, the Xperia Play is the ideal device to let gamers get the most of their smartphones. In practice…well, in practice it is the ideal device to let gamers get the most of their smartphones. Or at least it could be if the software can match the potential of the hardware.

The trick will be in how the games can use the device to its fullest. Right now, there are only a handful of games on the system designed for the Xperia Play, which limits the amount of potential the Xperia Play may reach — although with no official launch date in sight, the titles released with the Xperia Play may be everything we could hope for. At GDC, Sony Ericsson also announced that among several new partnerships. Havok Software, the company that has loaned its development tools out to help create games such as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, StarCraft II and Elder scrolls: Oblivion, will release a set of development tools for Android, with the Xperia Play specifically in mind. Once those titles begin to flow in, the Xperia Play might earn the respect of gamers.

The controller is an interesting design that will appeal to gamers, but will also take them time to get used to. Using the pads in place of analog sticks feels counterintuitive at first, and contradicts years of familiarity that gamers have with the raised thumb sticks. Odds are that most will reach for the D-pad first, but once they give the thumb pads a try, the phone may win them over.

Although the controller will take some getting used to, the potential is there for the Xperia Play to become the gamers’ choice for smartphones. Sony Ericsson hasn’t given an official release date other than Spring of this year, but we will have a full review in the coming months.

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