You wait weeks for Reader Reviews and then two come at once -- what fould wizardry is this? This review in particular is a very good one. If you've ever thought about getting an Xperia Play for gaming, then this is about as definitive a review as you'll get. Great job Michael Hart.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play So you may have heard about the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, or "Playstation Phone" as it has been dubbed. I'll admit that when the phone was originally released earlier this year, I wasn't too interested. But SE to their credit have kept the updates rolling in to the phone's software, fixing the little things, and have now recently announced updates detailed below. This support, combined with the announcement of the Playstation Suite, convinced me to go out and get one when my contract ended. I've now been using it solidly for about a month so I've had ample time to put it through its paces.
In the interest of keeping this review as short as possible, I'll only really concentrate on the phone as a gaming device, as that's what you're all interested in, right? Suffice to say though that the XPlay is a more than capable smartphone that handles your normal smartphone functions well.
The Good Support - Android 2.3.3 comes installed on the phone out of the box, which at the time of writing is still the latest official Australian release. SE have promised 2.3.4 in November, with 4.0 following after that. This ensures that SE is committed to the XPlay and is building a solid platform with continued support. What also has me excited is the announcement of the Playstation Suite, which is Sony's cross-platform service that they will be developing and releasing games for that will be playable not just on the Vita, but also on Playstation Certified devices, including the XPlay and Sony's two new tablets. The future is looking good.
Hardware - The phone is very well built and the quality has not been sacrificed. The sliding screen in particular is firm and strong, and all of the hardware buttons function well, with reassuring clicks as they are pressed. The analogue touchpads do take some getting used to, but also function well once you have the hang of it. The phone is pretty beefy under its hood as well, and has been specifically optimised for gaming. The stereo speakers produce awesome sound quality, and the 4 inch screen seems a perfect size for gaming too (it's actually larger than the PSP Go's screen).
Gaming - As a portable gaming console, the device really shines. There's just no comparison between struggling to play games on a touch screen phone and using hardware controls. While I admit that some games do touchscreen controls very well, you've still got the issue of your fingers covering half the screen. The XPlay doesn't have this problem, so gaming on it is superb. Being an Android phone, it obviously has access to the market where there are currently about 200 Android games that have been specifically optimised for the XPlay's controls (and the phone comes preinstalled with a handful), with more being added all the time. Of course, there's nothing stopping you downloading just about any other game if you want to just use the touchscreen. As far as actual Playstation games are concerned, the phone comes with Crash Bandicoot installed, and there's also about a dozen Playstation 1 games that are available on the market you can download for a few bucks each, with the promise of more on the way. These all function very well and play exactly as the originals did, for better or worse (Crash Bandicoot has the most idiotic save system I think I've seen in a game). SE have realised though that people will be playing this on the move, and have provided a save state feature for these PS1 games upon exiting them. Unfortunately it's a “one-time use” save state, but it's still a welcome addition.
I've found it's a little hit and miss with the quality of the XPlay control implementation from Android market games however. Some games, such as EA and Iron Monkey's Dead Space (which is currently free for Xperia Play owners until next year, by the way), implement the XPlay controls brilliantly. Other games, such as the pre-installed Fifa 10, seem to have had the XPlay's controls lazily slapped on by simply mapping the normal on-screen controls to the hardware buttons (sometimes without even changing the in-game instructions to explain what button does what). While this generally gets the job done and the games are generally playable, it would have been nice for the devs to have put a little more thought into it, but that's not the fault of the phone. To be fair, most of the games I've tried implement the controls pretty well.
Then of course you have the emulation scene. I won't go too far into this, as roms are illegal if you don't own the original game and are a legal grey area even if you do. I'll just say there's a good selection of emulators available on both the market and elsewhere (most of which support the XPlay controls), and the ones I've tried function perfectly.
For reference you can get something between 5 and 6-7 hours of solid playtime on a full battery charge, depending on how intensive the game is and if you turn off other features like 3G while playing.
The Bad Weight - At 175 grams, yes the phone is noticeably heavier than other smartphones on the market. It's the price you pay if you want real gaming controls I guess. This doesn't bother me too much, but it may bother you if you are used to carrying around a lighter device in your pocket.
Missing features - No FM Radio and no TV out. I knew these features weren't there before getting the phone, so I can't really complain, but it would have been nice to have them regardless.
Storage - The phone only has 380MB of internal storage (of which about 220MB is useable), and only comes with an 8GB microSD card, so it may be a good idea to invest in a bigger card when you get the chance. You can't uninstall the preinstalled games you don't want either (not without rooting the phone, anyway).
The Verdict As a portable gaming system, you really can't go past the Xperia Play. Yes, the Vita will blow it out of the water performance-wise, but if you only want to carry around one device, the XPlay is the device to get. It's a very capable gaming system, and a very capable phone, too. It's the perfect companion for those long train rides into work.
If you have some specific questions about stuff I may not have covered in enough detail or at all, feel free to post a comment and I'll do my best to answer them!
The Xperia Play is now available through Telstra and Optus.