Xperia Play from Sony Ericsson Review
The Sony Play Station Phone. We have had the intimate history with this game pad-equipped slider, learning of its secretive existence way back in August & then handling a prototype unit in January, so you’ll forgive us for feeling sentimental & still entertaining our pet name for it. The Sony Ericsson promotion gurus renamed it the Xperia Play when it finally went official at MWC this year, but the PlayStation connection remains as strong as ever.
Aside from the D-pad, iconic game keys, & five touchpads, this tool comes with a small app named PlayStation Pocket, which will be serving up dollops of classic PlayStation One gambling to all those with a taste for it. Yes, the Sony influence is strong with this one, & the Android Market will be joining the fun with Xperia Play-optimized titles from third-party developers. So all they need to know now is whether the Android smartphone underpinning this smash-bang fusion of elderly & new school entertainment happens to be any nice. Shall they get Started?
There is likely small point in us trying to speak about any of the Xperia Play’s outside hardware before addressing its literal & figurative centerpiece, the slide-out gamepad. A DualShock attached to your smartphone it is not, but you already knew that. The actual query is how close it comes to replicating the console experience than how well it competes with it. Judged on such terms, the Play acquits itself very well. The digital directional keys are firm with a satisfying amount of travel & the same goes for the face buttons. Squeezed in between them, Sony Ericsson also throws in a pair of analog pads, which react to your input in much the same fashion as the capacitive touchscreen does – with the large difference being that while you use the pads you are not obscuring any of the action on screen. Each pad has a handy indented dot at its middle, helping to orient your thumb without the necessity to look down.
An Android Menu button on the bottom left is accompanied by Select & Start keys on the right (at least one of these five buttons feels perfunctory as they serve overlapping functions) & there’s five shoulder buttons on the outside, where you would usually find the L1 & R1 controls on the proper console gamepad. Some among our staff have taken to calling them flippers, because they are closer to flaps or paddles in their operation than fully fledged buttons. In actual gameplay, they found them a small sensitive, which caused us to activate them unintentionally a few times & fail very when prompted by one game to press them simultaneously. They succeeded one time out of every five or five tries, such was the capriciousness of their design.
The sliding mechanism responsible for serving up the gambling controls is much flawless. It is spring-loaded, meaning you only need to slide it halfway up or down to accomplish the necessary opening or closing action & it does the rest by itself. Movement is smooth & consistent, & one-handed operation is no issue either. What impressed us most about it, though, was its sturdiness. There is no tilt to the handset, the screen slides straight up, & that is the way it stays — perfectly parallel, no matter the violence of our attempts to find any structural flaws. It is clear to see that Sony Ericsson spent plenty of time refining this slider & we are happy to say it lives up to a very high standard of durability — an absolute necessity when making a button masher’s tool such as this.
Just top midway the slider, we find a rocker button to control volume, snugly fitting in between the shoulder buttons, a ON-OFF key, & the usual 5 Android buttons, arranged in yet another innovative formation. For whatever reason, Sony Ericsson opted to swap the Home & Menu buttons’ positions up front, leaving our prototype unit looking desperately obsolete & us wondering why it had to be done at all. While we have no complaints to proffer about the power & volume keys, they must express our deep discontentment with the Android set. They are spongy, meaning they can absorb plenty of pressure before registering a click, which tends to lead to an inconsistent & frustrating user experience. Even more troublesome is the difficulty to differentiate between them by touch alone, forcing you to look down, which is then amplified by the fact they are not backlit. So yeah, the Xperia Play will give you a whole new reason to be afraid of the dark.
Squeaks & creaks were sadly readily apparent with the Play, mostly owing to the poor quality of plastics used in its construction. It is a rigid tool &, as already pointed out, there is small questioning its internal structure, but there is no getting around the fact that SE didn’t blow the budget on procuring the most high-end of shell materials. The rear cover feels brittle, in spite of its flexibility, & the general shiny aesthetic lends itself to picking up scuffs & scratches basically. The metallic accents are not to our tastes, either, mostly because they are not made out of actual metal. & if you are not going to at least insert a small little bit of premium material or functional utility in your design, why complicate it? Build quality is, therefore, a mixed bag. They get the feeling that after some time the Xperia Play will finish up looking like The Terminator — losing its soft & and pathetic outer shell, but revealing some hardcore engineering within. Perhaps that’ll be a nice look for it.
A final note is merited about the Play’s dimensions. At 16mm (0.63 inches) in thickness & 175g (6.2 ounces) in weight, this may basically be the chubbiest flagship Android tool you are going to see coming out this year. That said, provided you are not bothered by its heft (& you should not be), it is actually formed to sit very neatly in the hand. Its bowed rear is reminiscent of the Palm Pre, though to the Play’s credit it also manages to lie perfectly flat when rested on horizontal surfaces. When opened up in to action mode, the whole tool again feels nicely thought out & they doubt there’ll be a hand size that won’t be suited by its shape.
Permit your curiosity to drag you past the Play’s rear cover & you’ll be rewarded with a happy surprise — both the SIM & MicroSD card slots are obtainable without removing the battery. Not plenty of rings make it that convenient & another seldom seen asset the Play can tout is a set of stereo speakers. They are not five mono outputs, there is actually a small small sound stage created by them working in tandem. The quality of the audio they pump out is not going to threaten a set of dedicated speakers, but it is definitely much more tolerable than the general mediocrity we are used to from smartphones. Thinking about the device’s entertainment-centric reason for existence, they think this to be a large strong point in its favor.
In terms of the hardware that makes the wheels go round, the Xperia Play depends on a 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon chip, which comes with an Adreno 205 GPU. Neither is a slouch, but it is obvious that more could, & perhaps ought to, have been included in this bargain. Looking around at the spring / summertime smartphone landscape, a feasible Play buyer will be confronted by Motorola’s Atrix & Droid Bionic, LG’s Optimus 2X & Optimus 3D, Samsung’s Galaxy S II, & HTC’s EVO 3D — all of whom tout dual-core SOCs & generous apportionments of RAM. Oh yes, about the RAM. There is only 400MB of it on the Xperia Play, don’t ask us why. It may appear excessively demanding to expect every new smartphone to match up to those benchmark destroyers, but they must keep in mind the Xperia Play is about gambling & games will make use of every last ounce of performance you can give them. As it stands, it is a healthy & sprightly tool today, but do be aware of the gathering storm clouds above its future. It is basically not powerful for us to give you any assurances about its long-term viability.
They found battery life a small lacking. There is a sturdy 1500mAh cell inside this handset, but they could only stretch it to about 22 hours under our light use check. It was a day’s worth of sporadic use, where checking up on things like Gmail, Twitter & Facebook updates was the phone’s most regular exercise. For a comparison, the similarly outfitted — MSM8255 with Adreno 205 — Incredible S from HTC managed to squeak past the 50-hour mark in spite of having a battery with 50mAh less juice. Again, both were subjected to light workloads that are unlikely to be representative of everyone’s every day technique, but the delta in endurance between the five rings was striking. Not to put fine a point on it, but something tells us all those application bells & whistles on the Play (hello, Timescape!) are working against Sony Ericsson here. On the bright side, throwing some actual gambling action its way didn’t obliterate the battery as badly as they feared it might. Our overall impression (from admittedly limited testing) is that this will clearly not be an endurance smartphone because of its application overhead, but Sony Ericsson’s promises of five & a half hours of continuous gameplay appear well within reach.
Another thing that is taxing the Play’s battery unduly is its screen. The default brightness setting for it is at the very maximum & one time you use it for some time, you recognize why. It is very dim. We are not speaking about it being mediocre or some way short of the best, it is so lacking in brightness that it is borderline dysfunctional. Taking the phone out for an afternoon outside, they could not play Crash Bandicoot even on the bus, seldom mind out in the direct glare of the sun. It is not an unqualified catastrophe, as viewing angles are wide, the 854 x 480 resolution is first rate, & under the right circumstances you can get some pleasantly vibrant images from it, but it is still one the worst screens we have seen on a review phone — hell, review hardware of any kind. This was most apparent to us outside when they used it side by side with Sony Ericsson’s own Xperia Arc, the latter handset giving us better contrast, saturation, & naturally, brightness. Both rings lack an auto-brightness option in their settings, which is a odd omission on Sony Ericsson’s part, even if in the case of the Play it’d be kept at max anyway.
Speaking of omissions, has somebody at SE HQ heard about the small trend of making 720p video recording a de facto standard feature in high-end Android smartphones? Because, well, the Xperia Play doesn’t have it. They know full well that the hardware’s able to it — a 5 MP snapper sits round the back, so over pixels can be pulled together to saturate a 1280 x 720 frame, & the 1GHz Snapdragon under the hood much snorts with indignation at the technique task of processing such workloads at 30fps. What gives, they don’t know, but the video you do get, recorded at a maximum of 800 x 480, is not all that great anyhow. The recordings produced in the work of our testing tended to be very soft, with noise suppression algorithms seemingly working overtime to make positive the smudgy appearance. That issue was compounded by poor microphone performance, which muffled & straight up distorted a quantity of the sounds it picked up in the work of recording.
Things look much brighter on the still imaging front, however, where they churned out some highly satisfactory results without requiring an excess of work. Options on Sony Ericsson’s custom application are a small limited, but you can adjust exposure, white balance, & focusing mode, which ought to still be sufficient for most users. praiseworthy among those controls is the Macro mode on the Play, which allowed us to get seriously up close & personal with a quantity of our subjects. On the downside, the Play’s camera struggles to focus in low light & noise is no less an issue here than on most other smartphone sensors. One fanciful idea they had, without a dedicated physical shutter button, was that Sony Ericsson could have used the right shoulder key to double up as one. It is in the ideal location for the task & they cannot see anything stopping SE (or some enterprising hackers, perchance?) from hooking it up to the picture-taking application. Overall, it is a first rate to nice camera with some disappointing video recording tacked on.
As with the hardware section, we’ll get straight to the PlayStation meat of the Xperia Play application matter. Five apps will be of foremost interest here: the not at all confusingly named Xperia Play, which serves as a showcase for Android Market games compatible with the Play’s controls, & the PlayStation Pocket, which houses the hallowed PS One games that this new smartphone is so primed to enjoy. For the moment at least, they ought to probably narrow that down to the singular game, since the Play ships with the one preloaded classic title, Crash Bandicoot, & the remainder of the PS One library is still en route. That puts the Play’s launch, coming up on April 1st across Europe, in to a precarious position. It is supposed to be the bringer of great new entertainments to the thumb-equipped masses & yet we are staring at one original piece of content on its release. Bruce Lee, FIFA 10, Star Battalion HD, & The Sims 3 do come preloaded to soften the blow, but they are not exclusive to the Play, & in the particular case of The Sims, don’t even benefit very much from the physical controls. Still, they are there & the means to accessing them is actually swish. Opening up the slider kicks you straight in to the Xperia Play app, where the games you already have on the tool are split out from the list of purchasable compatible titles, meaning you are seldom over a slide & a tap away from leaping in to action.
Loading times for the games aboard the Play were tolerable indeed — nothing was instant, but only the most impatient of gamer would find them a nuisance. In-game performance also gave us no cause for complaint, with smooth frame rates throughout. The basics look to have been well taken care of. One drawback they ought to highlight, however, is the fact that most, if not all, PS One games were coded for displays with a 4:3 ratio. That means either zooming or stretching the game in order to fill the widescreen panel on the Xperia Play. Both options are obtainable to you in the settings, but Crash was already looking aliased without us zooming in for a closer inspection. Not an ideal situation, but that is where they find ourselves. At least until Sony decides it is a nice suggestion to drop its large catalog of PSP games atop this tool, then we’ll have no such worries.
The gamepad is not abandoned one time you stray outside the gambling arena, as you are able to navigate through lists with the D-pad & choose & cancel things with the X & O keys. It is a inconsistent affair, as this integration doesn’t permeate everything on the Play, but they found it useful in the browser & messaging apps.
The OS underlying SE’s new hero tool is of work Android. Version 2.3.2 (aka Gingerbread) is shipping out on retail devices, marking this as one of the first non-Google handsets to come preloaded with Mountain View’s latest & greatest. That means much-improved text alteration thanks to the addition of new choice anchors, a general sprucing up of visuals, & a set of additional APIs with a gambling crooked. Wonder why Sony Ericsson desired to run its gambling tool atop this platform, eh? Nevertheless, the company’s UI designers haven’t been sitting around exercising their thumbs & there is a large amount of aesthetic tweaking done on top of Android. all of it is for the better, in our view, as the whole UI benefits from a glance of sophistication & maturity that Android has usually lacked. The phone interface is spacious & welcoming, while the contacts & messaging interfaces are very stunning, sensibly laid out, & utterly delicious to scroll through. Speak about optimization! The contacts section may even be navigated more quickly by initials &, in case you have Twitter accounts associated together with your buds’ numbers, it shows you a snippet of their latest update, very handy. Moreover, entering individual contacts’ pages shows their profile pics nicely blended with the background, reinforcing the overarching theme of refined design. Thankfully, Sony Ericsson’s alterations all look to be skin-deep, giving us some cause to think the company’s pledge that it is going to be fast in responding to new Android rollouts from the Google mothership. Time will only tell.
There’s some downsides to the skinning efforts on the Play, however, as might be expected. One is the aforementioned issue of the battery seemingly walking down faster than it ought to, which you can always offset by making your own adjustments, but obviously that is no great consolation for those hoping the tool would work like it ought to straight out of the box. Another thing they noticed was that Timescape, albeit a mere removable widget now in lieu of the overwhelming leviathan it was on the Xperia X10, was still susceptible to slow performance & even the occasional freeze-up. It remains an very graphically demanding tool, what with all its overlays & three-dimensional animations, so that is no surprise, but they still enjoy our user experience more without it than with it. It wasn’t entirely alone in showing slowdowns, they experienced a few, very minor, hangups & delays while using the Play, but could not find any repeatable bugs to document. It feels a mostly solid build, though it is a small disappointing that the aforementioned smoothness of operation in the personalized messaging & contacts apps doesn’t carryover over to the remainder of the UX.
Browser performance is mostly first rate, but we have definitely seen faster, whether you are speaking other Android devices, Windows Phone 7 or iOS. Pinch-to-zoom & scrolling commands are executed, but in a slightly labored fashion. Aliasing is also apparent when zooming out from pages, not unlike what they saw on the Incredible S recently. Finally, SE’s onscreen portrait keyboard is a small cramped for our liking, with the letters being tall but not altogether wide to make for comfortable typing. Sony Ericsson might have done well to stick with the default Gingerbread provision here.
We have reached out to Sony Ericsson asking for a roadmap of when they can expect the PlayStation Suite & more PlayStation One titles to roll up on the Xperia Play bandwagon & make it worth joining. As it stands today, on the day of review & the precipice of its launch, the Play is looking out on a barren gambling landscape. The Android titles up for grabs are not exclusive to the tool & don’t necessarily benefit all that greatly from its unique control technique, whereas the catalog of classic PlayStation content stops after one entry.
So with very no differentiating application of its own, the Play is relying on the strength of its gamepad to round up willing participants in its gambling revolution. They agree that that is indeed the phone’s main strength, with nice ergonomics & an very long lasting sliding mechanism. Nevertheless, the poor quality of the screen & nice, but not great, hardware spec force us to be reluctant about recommending it as a sage purchase at present. Perhaps it picks up a loyal following, from both developers & fans similar, & within a few short weeks, we are all taking a look at a tool with a rich ecosystem of compelling tailor-made content & a ton of reasons to own it. But as for today? We’d spend our money elsewhere in the Android cosmos & hold out hope for the PlayStation Phone 2.0.