Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Review

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Report

We're big fans of companies who think alternatively within the mobile landscape. Phones like the dual-screen Kyocera Echo, microscopic HP Veer, and stereo speaker-clad HTC Surround may not be the most popular choices on the market, but they definitely spice up the scene. Then along comes the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play with its slide-out game controller for use with Playstation titles and the smartphone world gets a whole lot more entertaining. Not only is the Xperia Play the world's first Playstation-licensed gaming phone with dedicated controls, but it flaunts Android 2.3 Gingerbread and a speedy configuration of processing guts working overtime to provide lag-free graphics. In that sense, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play (specs) was not merely a gimmick, but the phone stood up to its hype in our eyes. Most of our time was spent playing Bruce Lee and Hockey Nations 2011, but we managed to pull out a full diagnosis on the rest of the phone, and it was a good one.

There's a lot on the blueprints for the Xperia Play, thanks to its ample game controls. This slider phone unsheathes a four-way directional pad, pair of analog joystick controls, Menu button, Start and Select buttons, Left and Right shoulder keys, and classic Triangle, Circle, Cross, Square button configuration. This is basically what you'd find on any universal Playstation controller, though the buttons were shallower and not as enjoyable to press as a real controller. We also found the analog joystick controls to lack sensitivity and perform awkwardly, so we relied on the directional pad for all of our gaming.

To compliment the controls, the Xperia Play offered a 4-inch FWVGA capacitive multi-touch screen with a great screen resolution and impressive display, so there were no complaints when it came to graphics representation. The Xperia Play was also one of the more polished and refined phones when it came to its overall design, which highlighted a curved backside with flashy chrome accents. Slide action was smooth and snappy, and we loved the fact that Sony Ericsson retained tangible Back, Home, Menu, and Search buttons, despite the fact that their order did not follow the typical Menu, Home, Back, and Search Android layout.

For sound, the Xperia Play rocked a set of left and right stereo speakers that pumped out the loudest sound we've ever heard on a phone. This was even louder than the HTC Surround, and the quality was superb. For storage, we expected more from a stalwart gaming machine, for the Xperia Play only gave us an 8GB MicroSD card out of the box. The phone ran on a 1500mAh battery and had a 5-megapixel camera with embedded flash and SD video capability, which we'll address a little later on.

Software and Interface
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is one of the few phones to showcase Android 2.3 Gingerbread, next to the Nexus S and Nexus S 4G—two phones we raved about for their superior speed and fantastic battery life. The Xperia Play gives us the same goods, specializing in a more intuitive text highlighting system and much more convenient keyboard design to aid faster text input. Aesthetically pleasing changes also added to the Xperia Play's overall delivery, especially the glowing yellow bars that activated when we reached the bottom of a list, ultimately signifying its end. The Launcher menu was simplified to Call, Applications, and Browser, while we still had the ability to scroll through the 5 Home screens and add widgets, shortcuts, folders, or alter the phone's appearance.

When it came to speed through all of this, the Xperia Play was just as quick as any of the faster devices we've reviewed thus far. Its 1GHz Snapdragon processor was fortified with Adreno 205 GPU goodness and the phone sucked off of 512MB of RAM, so we never really experienced any lag in any departments. The Xperia Play had Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi with DLNA support and HotSpot functionality, and of course an accelerometer for gaming and the like. The Xperia Play's Internet browser was typical, giving us pinch-to-zoom and double-tap-to-zoom. Though the phone was exceptional at handling Flash content, never missing a beat.

The Main Event: Gaming
So yes, the Xperia Play is a solid Android phone, ranking up there with the best of them. Office Suite allowed us to remotely work on Office documents, we had a nice Email and Calendar system, and the phone had full support of Google's applications like Maps, Gmail, Talk, and the Android Market. We could download games from the Android Market, but they were not compatible with the Play's game controller. That was a bummer, and hopefully we'll see some games developed by independent programmers that are specifically designed for the Xperia Play. A Super Mario Bros. or Castlevania throwback to 8-Bit NES would be most desirable.

But instead, we got Sony's Xperia Play application, which highlighted six games that were preloaded on the phone. This is nice, as we were expecting 1 or 2 titles. Instead, we got Asphalt 6, Bruce Lee, Crash Bandicoot, Madden 11, Star Battallion, and the Sims 3. We also downloaded Hockey Nations 2011, and most of our time was spent with that game and Bruce Lee. We will say that if this was 1998, the games would be beyond thrilling, but even the HD games like Star Battallion gave us that late-nineties PC game look regarding graphics. That's not to say the games were not fun. But, we really think the Xperia Play game selection needs to grow. We will say that manning actual controls rather than annoying touch screen controls was a blessing. Now if only we could tap into old-school Nintendo and Sega. We could use some Sonic the Hedgehog action as well.

The bottom line is that if you're an extreme gamer who's used to the latest graphics and PSP game library, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play will not appeal to you. However, those who would rather have games with them at all times and play them with real controls will definitely want the Play. It really helped pass the time waiting for planes and taxis over the weekend.

Call Quality/Battery Life
Most Verizon phones we test are fantastic when it comes to calling, though the Xperia Play was just great. Calls were highly audible and we never had a dropped signal. However, we did notice some slight background hiss. It wasn't huge, and most users won't even notice it or care.

Then there was battery life. The 1500mAh battery pack claims 6 hours of talk time and 5 hours of gaming, which we found to be closer to 4 and 3 on our Sony Ericsson Xperia Play review unit. Continuous gaming will yield a decent battery life, though the device gets hot and will need a charge if you spend your entire mornings at the office entrenched in Madden. Overall, the Play gave us a good battery performance, though it wasn't in Samsung Infuse or Nexus S territory.

The Xperia Play's 5-megapixel camera with flash and peculiar 800x480 video capture was just okay. Nothing special at all in this department. It was obvious that Sony Ericsson threw all of its eggs into the phone's gaming capabilities and lost sight of its camera. Images were noisy and low light sensitivity was poor. Yes, a typical phone performance. Videos were really nothing to write home about either. The good news was that the phones controls were generous, though there was no touch focus and once the video record button was tapped, there was no turning back—controls like the video light could not be accessed. Gamers won't mind a crappy camera anyway.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play – infoSync Diagnosis
Another niche phone review comes to an end, and for the first time, this is the first device to score serious merit within the InfoSync labs. Not only did the Xperia Play offer the latest Android 2.3 Gingerbread right out of the box, but it proved to be one of the fastest, most equipped phones on the market.

And its secret behind the slider phone snap action will make gamers very happy. Although we're limited to the Xperia Play store and library, any diehard gamer would hope that Android Market games will soon be released that take advantage of the phone's controls.

Though the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play may not have the best camera and its battery life could use a minor boost, we like this phone for its originality. Once the gaming library has been expanded and Mario Bros. can be played on this thing, sales should increase. But we have to hand it to Sony Ericsson for cranking out something fresh, for the Xperia Play is certainly a phone we'd consider owning.


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