The first thing that stuck us when we saw the Xperia Play at Taipei's annual games show was that Sony Ericsson was getting just as much attention as the bigger PlayStation 3 stands. The Xperia may be small, but it's also proving very popular.
Sony's jump on the increasingly popular and potentially cash-rich mobile gaming bandwagon clearly aims to merge the casual iPhone/Android experience with something a little more hardcore. That's not to say the Xperia Play can't play all the normal Android games on the market as well, however. And it's a phone too.
All that, we like. It's also a reminder of why Sony didn't brand the Xperia Play as the 'Playstation phone' too; it would make people think of it as a gaming device first with phone functionality, rather than as a phone that also plays games. The Xperia Play is clearly the latter and that's obvious as soon as you get hands-on with it, but so much fuss has already been made over the gaming angle, we wonder if Sony Ericsson's efforts are already in vain.
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Going hands-on with the Xperia Play also immediately reveals the device to be more impressive than the meagre spec sheet suggests. It's thinner and lighter than you'd expect for a slide-out phone - the size is nice too, mostly thanks to its heavily rounded backside (um...). Despite using a LCD display instead of AMOLED the viewing angles are very impressive as well, as you can see in our video. The benefit of LCD is not only greater availability but finer pixel pitch too, although the latest Super AMOLED's claim better visibility in direct sunlight - an issue which may be a problem for the Xperia Play, with its glossy plastic chassis. Sadly, buried deep in the confines of the convention hall, we weren't able to check this for ourselves.
The Xperia Play feels remarkably solid too, considering the two segments of the slide-out design are held together by a mere centimetre. It flips easily and simply between gaming and phone modes too, with buttons that are comfortable to use for either. We did find the shoulder buttons a bit uncomfortable, however, when we played two of the games that will come loaded on the Xperia Play - Bruce Lee (read: Tekken) and FIFA 10. You can take a peak at both games in our video, below.
You can watch it in HD on the Youtube website
The Xperia Play's OS is basically Android 2.3, but with Sony Ericsson's own tweaks added on top. The most notable of these is the Sony Playstation Pocket Store to buy the games specifically made for the device. A list of games is quickly accessible from two static shortcuts along the bottom of the screen - a 'recently played' list and another for quick-launching several favourite games. Unfortunately, the fact that the OS was in Chinese meant we had no testing time for all the features and couldn't decipher some of the options.
It's easy to forget the display is touch sensitive when you're in gaming mode too, by the way. The touch capabilities make menu selections much easier, providing they can be reached with your thumb.
While compared to mobile phones of 2011 that are due to launch with dual-core ARM A9 CPUs, the Xperia Play specs are more 2010; a 1GHz Qualicomm Snapdragon (ARM A8) and Adrendo 205 GPU. It's easy to forget that, while not cutting edge, it's still a capable, affordable combination and leagues ahead of the 333MHz CPU in the PSPGo.