Back in April I attended the launch of the Sony Xperia PLAY, the first Playstation Certified phone. At the event I got a bit of chance to have a quick go on the mobile, but now I have been able to explore it further thanks to being able to try out a review unit for two weeks. It is a rather unusual device, a smartphone running Android 2.3 with a crisp high resolution display with a slide out joypad that transforms the device into a mobile gaming experience – one that is both fun but maybe a little unpolished in places. This is a phone that will keep you entertained while dealing with some of the user interface frustrations that sometimes crop up in mobile gaming.
There are actually two sides to the gaming experience on the Xperia Play. It runs Android games and some games developers have chosen to include support for the joypad. In some of the games I tried this meant switching between the accelerometer and the joypad which gives two quite different gaming experiences. The other gaming experience on the device is a Playstation emulator which runs Playstation 1 titles that have been remastered to work with the device. These games tend to be a little bit more expensive that the Android titles, but more worryingly they seem to be a little restricted in number. So if you were hoping to play your favourite Playstation 1 title from the mid-90s there is a risk you may be disappointed.
Playing games on the device was great fun. I tried out a few Android titles and they all looked good on the high resolution screen. The joypad is actually a bit smaller than the joypads on the Playstation consoles so that might take getting used to, but the key layout is the same. I tried out a few different games. The rather charming Cordy worked very well and the joypad meant that it was hardly ever necessary to actually touch the screen making it easier to appreciate the graphics. I tried out the sports game Icebreaker hockey which showed how the joypad was useful for allowing quite complex interaction without having to obscure the screen.
Gaming need not be a solitary experience either, a few games support multiplayer modes. I managed to find an Xperia Play owner and we had a go on Fifa 10 which despite being a football game was quite good fun with two players connected over Wifi. When you open the joypad the screen changes to a games launcher showing titles installed on your phone and other available titles. I installed Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six from this menu (as a free download) but was surprised when it sent me directly to a website to download the game rather than go through the Android Market. This of course meant that it was necessary to change security settings to allow application installations from outside the market, which I am not sure is a good idea for many people. The game itself played well though and showed that the device could be used for periods of quite involved game play.
On the Playstation emulation side I tried out Crash Bandicoot. On the emulator I found that I had to change the screen setting to get the game to fill the whole screen which was a bit odd but once I did that the game worked well and was fun to play in a slightly "retro" way which might make the device popular with people who have enjoyed classic Playstation games. The graphics did look slightly blocky in places though and perhaps the game was showing its age a little.
Away from game playing you get all of the usual Android goodies plus a handy app for sharing media from your phone over your local network to devices that understand uPNP. I was surprised to find that the phone completely rejected by HTC headphones, which was a bit annoying but it did work with normal headphones. The built in speakers seemed to offer quite decent audio quality. You get a front facing camera that is ready for video chat (but Google Talk on the device doesn't support the camera yet) and a 5.1 Megapixel camera on the back. Sony have customised the look of the Android and it does look quite smart but swiching between pages of icons seemed a bit slower than just having one continuous menu.
This would be a great phone to have if you enjoy computer games and find yourself with time to kill, maybe on the train or bus, or following your partner around shopping – a top use case from one person I spoke to! The joypad gives it a unique edge and allows mobile game play that will be familiar to console owners and perhaps opens up the opportunity of a more immersive gaming experience. It maybe has a slight "retro" appeal on the Playstation side and is an unusual device that will prove to be a talking point. The lack of classic Playstation titles was a bit of a shame and the whole distinction between Playstation certified and Playstation phone might prove confusing for customers, particularly while there is only one such device on the market. It is always good to see fresh thinking about what a mobile phone can be though and this is a phone that can really bring out the entertainment side of the Android platform.