The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play – aka the PSP Phone – has got to go down as one of the most anticipated gadgets of all time. Even more than the iPhone we'd wager. Ever since the first PSP hit the shelves, people have be saying 'this is cool, but what if it was a phone as well?'. Some of course, even hacked and modded their PSPs in order to make this happen.
But the waiting and modding days are over. We finally have a PSP Phone. It's called the Xperia Play, it runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and it's heading to all of the UK networks.
Note: One more thing before we begin. This review goes out before the launch of the PlayStation Suite. The PlayStation Suite is where you'll be able to download additional PS1 games and extra content on Android 2.3 phones like the Xperia Play. We therefore will amend/change this review once the PlayStation Suite is live.
What we like
We'll start with the Xperia Play's most obvious feature – the slide out control pad. In short, it's exactly what you want it to be.
The buttons are evenly spaced out, are responsive as you'd like and feel really durable. They feel like they'll be able to withstand some proper mangling for games which require combo-ing and button bashing. The left and right shoulder buttons too, are perfectly positioned for your index fingers to pull off barrel rolls and what have you.
Overall build quality of the Xperia Play feels good. It feels weighty and not insubstantial, and the slide mechanism feels solid. The screen slides into place with a confidence inspiring and reassuringly audible click. Nice.
Size-wise it's just about right too. Big enough to provide a proper dedicated gaming experience, but not so big that it becomes an unsightly brick.
Six games in total come pre-loaded on the Xperia Play. These are FIFA 10, Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior, The Sims 3, Tetris (yay), Star Battalion and the PS1 classic Crash Bandicoot. So you've got some games to get stuck in with right out of the box.
Getting other games on to your Xperia Play is relatively straightforwards. You can buy PS1 classics through the PlayStation Pocket app, a shortcut to which has been helpfully pre-loaded onto one of the Xperia Play's homescreens. There's also a separate Get Games app, through which you can buy high-end Android games that've been tweaked to make use of the Xperia Play's unique control set up.
Android games like Gameloft's Assassin's Creed HD and EA's FIFA 10 really benefit from this; FIFA in particular. It feels so much better being able to see where other players are on the screen without having to think about what your thumbs might be obscuring.
As we said in our review of the Xperia Arc, we really like the changes that have been made to Sony Ericsson's custom UI. On the Xperia X10, swiping left and right between homescreens was a sluggish and patience-testing affair. On the Xperia Play it's much slicker and easier on the eye as well.
We really like that you can easily create folders for apps on the homescreens, kind of like you can do on the iPhone 4. This makes it really easy to keep all of your downloaded games in one place, which is ideal for a phone like the Xperia Play.
What we don't like
The back cover of the Xperia Play is made from shiny reflective plastic. After a few solid hours of gaming, the back cover starts to feel really grimy and sweaty. Not really what you want when facing an end of level boss. While the shiny plastic is consistent with Sony Ericsson's smartphone design, we really think that the trend should have been bucked for the Xperia Play, for something with a bit more grip.
Downloading games seemed to take ages, even over Wi-Fi. 20 minutes to download MediEvil and over half an hour to download Assassin's Creed seemed like a long time to us.
Speaking of games, we'd have loved to have seen some other, more iconic titles like Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy VII along with Cool Boarders 2 et al.
We could rattle off a whole list of games that'd we'd love to see (in fact, we already did), so all we can really do is hope that more of our favourite titles get the go ahead soon.
Sony Ericsson has said that there will be over 50 titles available to download when the Xperia Play launches on the 1st of April (this Friday). There's around 30 on our review model, so come Friday we'll know more.
We don't like that the internal storage weighs in at 400MB. Even with the ability to move some games to the SD card (an 8GB card comes included) you're still left with a few KBs worth of memory taken up after you've moved stuff over.
Worryingly, while you can save PS1 games to an SD card, Gameloft hasn't enabled this option for it's Xperia-optimised titles. With the likes of Brothers in Arms 2 weighing in at 16MB, you may find yourself stuck for space.
The main camera (5.1-megapixels) is also a little lacklustre. We know that the main point of the Xperia Play is it's gaming credentials, but we didn't like that there wasn't a simple digital zoom. A minor quibble perhaps – it otherwise takes pictures fine.
Right now, it's hard to deliver a definitive verdict on the Xperia Play. This is largely due to the that the PlayStation Suite online store not being ready.
However we're generally impressed with both the phone and how existing games have been integrated to use the Xperia Play's controls. We like how the new custom UI both looks and works – a definite improvement on how it used to be on the Xperia X10. One area that concerns us is memory. We hope that in time you're able to move all titles to a memory card so you won't have to worry about this.