Sony's other handheld gaming effort

Written by David Hing

August 28, 2012 // 8 a.m.

Tags: #handheld #mobile #sony #xperia

Sony is a company with good ideas. Perplexing, sometimes poorly thought out, oft messy ideas, but good ones all the same. The PSP has always been held up as one of the company's better ideas hobbled by a little bit of poor execution, and the unfortunate fact that it was going up against a handheld gaming best-in-class heavyweight that had been clocking up experience in the market since the 80s. [break]

However, Sony didn't give up. It not only plugged away at its PSP strategy by working with the device, experimenting with a digital download only version and eventually investing in a next generation successor with the PS Vita, but it had another good, perplexing and somewhat messy idea to put PlayStation buttons on a smartphone.

The Xperia Play, dubbed as the PlayStation Phone during development, is not the phone call-making PSP that many people hoped for. Instead, it's a straightforward Sony Ericsson smartphone with a sliding undercarriage containing a D-Pad, an X, triangle, circle and square button configuration and two touch-screen analogue sticks that don't always work properly. Aside from the buttons, the only other thing that makes it any different from a regular Android toting smartphone is the fact that it is a 'PlayStation Certified' device and can access the PlayStation Suite, a slowly growing catalogue of old first generation PlayStation titles and other downloadable nuggets.

Having a play with the Xperia Play, I lament the fact that the idea of mounting a game-pad onto a smartphone hasn't been repeated. There really isn't much difference between playing on an Xperia and a PSP. The Xperia Play still feels like a phone, but once you're playing something that wasn't designed with a touchscreen in mind, there really is no major distinction other than the physical feel of the buttons.

What's interesting is that they bothered to try it. I was under the impression that it would be written off as an experiment sooner rather than later, and consigned to smartphone history as a curio.

At the beginning of 2012, Sony completed a deal which bought out Ericsson of its joint-owned mobile business and rebranded the division as Sony Mobile Communications. Under the new name, Sony has already released a new device in the Xperia range, the S, which seems to signal the end of the company's experiment as the buttons are nowhere to be found.

However, the S is still a PlayStation certified device and gaming is still being pushed as one of the core attractions of the phone. The company has even made the effort to collect a few exclusivity agreements for Android releases of titles, including Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light and Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies. Although these are hardly new titles, they are only initially available on Xperia phones at least.

Instead of completely abandoning the notion of a gaming focus in its mobile efforts, it looks to be that Sony is trying to bring some of its business units closer together. The company recently announced plans to cut its workforce by 10,000 and even more recently that it would be moving its mobile unit to Japan to further consolidate its operations.

The streamlining isn't just in workforce either. The PlayStation Suite is on the cusp of being renamed PlayStation Mobile and will allegedly have greater integration with the Vita. The unified approach also seems to be consistent with what the company demonstrated at E3, which saw a increased connectivity between the Vita and the PS3.

As for the curious and experimental Xperia Play, despite its age and technical drawbacks, I wouldn't rule out picking one up if my Samsung somehow got smashed into tiny little unusable pieces, but I'm certainly not going to rush out and pick up the newer S model. It's serviceable, but without the buttons, there's no real different from any other smartphone, even if I can awkwardly play Crash Bandicoot on it.

The very existence of the Play might have been the sign of a large lumbering giant of a company that wasn't always pulling in the same direction, but I'm glad that Sony hasn't edged gaming too far away from its newer mobile devices. The potential to bring the PlayStation brand to a series of smartphones still sounds pretty attractive to me.

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