updated 03:00 pm EST, Sun February 13, 2011
Xperia Play due for Verizon and tested by us
Sony Ericsson as promised tonight unveiled the Xperia Play. The Android 2.3 flagship is the first to support PlayStation Suite and is designed to not only run PS1 and original games with PSP-style controls but to run them well. A 1GHz Snapdragon with an Adreno 205 graphics core runs many games at the full 854x480 resolution at 60 frames per second.
The phone will come preloaded with multiple games, in many cases including Bruce Lee, FIFA 10, Asphalt 6 and others. Some titles will have full multiplayer support to hop online either with 3G or Wi-Fi. EA, Gameloft and others have already signed onboard. A dedicated PlayStation app, PlayStation Pocket, will aggregate games optimized for the controls, although these won't have to go through a PlayStation-specific store.
As a handset, the Xperia Play revolves around a four-inch, 480x854 screen and has a five-megapixel camera for photos. Android 2.3 here has Sony Ericsson's new-for-2011 Timescape UI including rare design touches such as a pinch-to-zoom on the home screen to see all widgets and support for iPhone-style home screen app folders.
Sony Ericsson is promising a very quick launch for the phone and will ship it to many areas in March. In a rarity, the Xperia Play is coming to the US first and will be available through Verizon in early spring. Prices and other details haven't been given out, although a custom PlayStation Suite store isn't yet ready and will come later this year; Android Market will be used for now.
We tried the phone at Sony Ericsson's event in Barcelona tonight and came back fairly impressed with its odds of taking on the iPhone as the de facto gaming phone. While the graphics weren't any different than a current iPhone's in terms of visual detail -- though they looked good -- they ran as smoothly as promised, which is imperative for gaming. Many of the games loaded reasonably quickly as well, although they sometimes too a bit longer than expected. We'd also like clearer visual cues in some games that you can move to the next screen.
The physical controls are mixed but positive. Regular buttons, such as the D-pad, front facing buttons and the shoulder buttons, have a wonderfully tactile feel. They press quickly but feel well-built and give a steady grip. The two optical trackpads, however, we're not so sure about. From what we could try of them, the precision seemed fairly coarse. In FIFA, for example, it tended to result in all-or-nothing movement rather than fine-grained steps. We'd need to try games where precision is more important to confirm this.
The games themselves behave much as you'd expect for modern mobile 3D games more than they do PlayStation titles, but that's not a bad thing. The physical controls definitely help for action titles by taking your hands off the screen so you can focus on the full field of play. We had the most fun with Bruce Lee, since it would be difficult to have a true fighting game on an all-touch device like the iPhone and the game mechanics themselves are well-executed. Asphalt feels too much like a direct port, though, and other than needing to press a button for the gas, there's not much different.
As a phone, it's very much like the Xperia Arc, which is mostly good. Timescape has been cleaned up significantly in 2011, and much of it is much more responsive and less gimmick-oriented. We most liked the folders, which were overdue for Android and a needed catch-up to the iPhone. Pinching on the home screen is helpful as well, though it bogs down very heavily; we suspect it's either unoptimized even a month before launch or just too much to ask for the 1GHz processor.
Our main misgiving is just that the phone is designed around an experience from late 2010 hardware. With many Android phones and even the iPhone likely to go dual-core, the visual detail and even just what kinds of games are possible could be limited. Also, we don't know the full extent of developer support in the long run. As a subset of Android, the Xperia Play can only court so many game developers. It will need widescale adoption to work, and right now many teams still skew towards the iPhone.
Still, as a first effort at a true, modern gaming phone, the Xperia Play shows lots of promise. If you wish you could spend more than just 20 minutes with a game at a stretch, it's probably a better pick, at least in the short term.