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Sony's other handheld gaming effort

Posted on 28th Aug 2012 at 08:00 by David Hing with 6 comments

David Hing
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.

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.

6 Comments

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sandys 28th August 2012, 10:49 Quote
Took a punt on a play and its been quite good, course I bought it cheap when they slashed prices I guess to clear stock, having used it though it really is the best mobile gaming device, in that because its your phone you always carry it, no need for other devices, and buttons, of course they make all the difference, you can also store a lot of content on it but the OS holds it back due to its division of storage, Application storage area is too small, preinstalled apps can't be removed, I was able to clear some but I still struggle even though I have a huge SD card.

A good first device though, they also didn't mess around with Android too much so it mostly just works as you expect with out 3rd party app interference.

I would jump on a new one in a heatbeat particularly if they manage to get Vita hardware in there and would have no qualms about paying full price whereas I was a bit reluctant with the Play due to mixed reviews.
runadumb 28th August 2012, 12:20 Quote
^^This. I've long bored the internet with my rants about the play but Sandy saved me from repeating myself here. Spot on.

Unfortunately mine has died on me. I have replaced it with a GS3 which pisses on the play from a great height in every single way, except gaming. The Play is a champ at that and I was planning on holding onto it for quite some time just as my primary handheld gaming device. Shame.

I use the Icontrolpad and have ordered a gameklip (expecting it any day) to take its place but nothing will compare to the convenience of sliding out that gamepad and firing up an emulator.

I would love to see a company try again with modern hardware.
gosh 29th August 2012, 01:08 Quote
just bought one of these recently as they are going for a little over £100 at phones4u and frankly i'm a little disappointed - the phone is a brilliant
(if a little heavy/bulky) android phone that has enough grunt to play any game/emulator i've thrown at it but the actual playstation software is godawful and clunky - very few psx games available and juggles several different stores to get games designed to use the play's controls. really do get the feeling if they just got the software right, maybe by linking to to the vita/ps3's playstation store that lets you buy a wide range of psx games (and share between platforms) or a lot slicker and less confusing storefront it would have done so so much better - as you mentioned it seems like it was more an experiment than a new range of phones and a new play doesn't seem to be forthcoming.

luckily it's an android phone - not bothered messing with root/unofficial android roms yet (though it apparently does have stable android ICS 4.0 out there) but it was a quick and simple matter to install GBA/snes/PSX emulators and run roms that play great, having a physical pad gives you a sense of feedback as well as not covering half the screen with your thumbs.

really a shame there isn't something akin to a vita/psp with a touchscreen, android/market and optionally phone functionality (3g/wifi and android apps/internet browser would do) that still lets you use physical controls and the power of a handheld to play proper games - i really can't see it being that hard, psp has a 333mhz processor and can't be emulated by smartphones yet, surely they could cram the bits for a phone in there too ?
Madness_3d 31st August 2012, 16:59 Quote
I really want a modern phone, vita like specs with proper gaming buttons (I just can't cope with gaming on touchscreen displays) which I can play Monster Hunter on, would be amazing. I love devices which carve a niece in the memories of their owners, My HP Mini 311 would be an example, it was a netbook, but was based on the Nvidia ION chipset so could play some classic games, said chipset also made it overclockable so I had a stable Atom at 2.23Ghz which was awesome

Edit: Maybe something like this but a bit smaller :) http://www.reghardware.com/2012/08/31/archos_gamepad_pushes_play_with_physical_controls/
oliverr97 2nd September 2012, 20:21 Quote
Having a xperia play myself, i found that the phone in itself wasn't bad, but the playstation controls weren't great and the selection of games for it is pretty abysmal. I love the idea of this phone, but it just isn't very good. If it had much better games and it had a better control set i may reconsider, but it has a long way to go to be a good gaming system.
oliverr97 8th September 2012, 21:08 Quote
Having an xperia play myself i can say that the phone is not a great phone and not a great gaming device in general. Poor controls and a bad game selection just let it down. Its just best to get a dedicated smartphone and a dedicated handheld
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