Sony Ericsson Xperia Play (Alternative)
Possibly the worst kept secret in Sony Ericsson's history, the Playstation Phone aka the Xperia Play was one of 4 devices unveiled at MWC in February this year. Part Android phone, part PSP, is this handset a match made in heaven or is it just a Frankensteinian mix that was never meant to be?
Read on to find out!
The 10 second review:
- Device: Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
- Price: around £389 VAT
- Summary: A fully fledged Android phone with PSP gaming controls that will be a certain hit with mobile gamers.
- Best of: PSP Controls, Games, Timescape, Design, Camera
- Worst of: Screen scratches easily, Can only use Sony's earphones, Size and Weight, Only 480p video recording
- Buy it now from: Clove Technology
What's in the Box?
- Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Handset
- USB UK 3-Pin Mains Charger
- Micro-USB sync/charge cable
- "My First Hour" Getting Guide
- Warranty Info
Don’t forget to check out Matt’s Xperia Play unboxing video too!
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Specification:
- Operating System: Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) with Custom Timescape Skin
- Processor: 1GHz MSM8255 Snapdragon and Adreno 205 GPU
- Expansion Slot: MicroSDHC (Up to) 32GB
- RAM: 512MB
- ROM: 512MB
- Display/Screen: 4" Touch screen, LED backlit capacitive, 480 x 854 pixels
- GSM/GPRS: Frequencies 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- 3G/HSPA: Frequencies 900 / 2100
- Bluetooth: 2.1 with A2DP
- WiFi: IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
- DLNA: Yes
- Hardware Buttons: Full gaming controls - 4 button d-pad, 4 button playstation symbols, 2 shoulder buttons
- GPS: A-GPS
- Camera: 5 Megapixels autofocus with LED flash
- Front Facing Camera: VGA
- Proximity Sensor
- Light Sensor
- Battery: Capacity 1500 mAh
- Dimensions: 119 x 62 x 16 mm
- Weight : 175 grams
The power button is the only thing on the top of the Xperia Play.
There is just the microphone hole and the battery release on the bottom of the handset.
The left hand side has the 3.5mm headphone jack and the MicroUSB charging port.
On the right there are the two Playstation shoulder buttons and the volume rocker.
On the back there is the 5MP camera, the LED flash and the Xperia logo.
Underneath the screen lies the PSP controls. The D-Pad is on the left, the replacements for the analogue sticks are in the middle and the X square triangle and circle buttons are on the right. Underneath these controls is the menu button and the start and select buttons.
On the front of the Xperia Play is the 4" 854x480 LCD screen, the front-facing camera, the ear speaker and the 4 hardware Android buttons. The orders of said Android buttons are Menu, Home, Back and Search - different again from other Android handsets from the likes of HTC and Samsung. I wish that Google would force manufacturers or somehow they would see the light themselves and standardise the button layout. I wish...
- PSP Control pad
- Timescape skin
- Screen scratches easily
- Very reflective screen
- Can only use Sony's own earphones
- The size and weight
- 480p video recording
As an avid gamer, I was really excited when I found out that I was going to write the review for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play. I loved the concept of having a PSP with me all the time with PSP games specifically developed for the Xperia Play. When the device arrived, I wasn't disappointed.
I immediately started playing games like Crash Bandicoot and Asphalt 6 but we will get into more detail of the gaming aspect of the Xperia play later on.
So,I'll first talk about the hardware. The Xperia play is made entirely out of plastic. Now before you scream to the heavens saying that it is cheap and the hardware is bad - stop. It may be made out of plastic but because of the weight it feels really good in the hand. It doesn't creak when moved and because it is made out of plastic, you can hold the handset easily and it won't fall or slip out of your hand as long as you don't hold the Xperia play upside down!
I mentioned the screen a minute ago but I didn't go into much detail. I can do that now though. That is exactly what this section is for. So, lets have a good look. The screen does use any fancy screen technologies such as AMOLED, Super AMOLED or even SLCD, it is just a regular LCD screen. I expect Sony Ericsson did this to keep the costs down as I assume it is already quite expensive to incorporate the PSP controls in this device
But enough of that, let's onto the screen's quality. One of the issues brought up in other reviews of the Xperia Play is the dimness of the screen. But I didn't seem to notice this particular issue. I have used the Xperia Play outside many times and I have found the screen perfectly acceptable. Of course there is the usual glare issues with all screens when used outdoors, but I have not noticed any glaring (no pun intended) issues with the screen.
The screen quality is actually very good. I am not sure if the Xperia Play has the Bravia screen technology seen in the Play's brother, the Xperia Arc but even if it doesn't have the Bravia Engine, the Play's screen is still really good. Colours are vibrant, text is crisp on the 854x480 resolution screen and like nearly all capacitive screens, and it is very responsive.
But the big issue to do with the screen on the Xperia Play is that it is so easy to scratch. It may be made out of glass but I have never used a phone that has scratched so easily. Sony Ericsson told me that the Xperia Play's screen had a scratch-resistant coating over the glass but it obviously doesn't work. I always take care with my phones but I am astounded by the amount of scratches on the Xperia Play after only a week and half of use. Before you ask, I haven't been placing it on nails, it has either been on my desk, in my pocket or in my hand and it is still covered in scratches. Some people do not really care about scratches but they are an extreme distraction to me. (I know, it's a bit OCD, but still!).
The internals in the Xperia Play are not up to 2011 spec. To be brutally honest they're what you might expect from 2010 internals.. The CPU is the same, 1 GHz MSM8255 Snapdragon and Adreno 205 GPU that are in the Desire HD. Now as much as I would like a dual-core CPU in the Xperia Play, Gingerbread cannot take full advantage of the dual-cores inside the CPU so it would just have a marginal performance increase and would not be cost effective. Also, you would only want a better CPU and GPU if gaming performance really lagged a lot but the truth is, gaming performance on the Xperia Play is actually really good. I will get into that later on in this review.
If you haven't seen Matt's unboxing and demo video of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, you really should. He goes into to detail about the hardware and shows the key features about the device such as the OS and the gaming aspect of the Xperia Play.
The Xperia Play runs the latest version of Android for phones, 2.3 Gingerbread. Sony Ericsson has put their Timescape skin on Gingerbread. Until now we've only seen that on Sony Ericsson's previous Android phones like the Xperia X10, X10 mini and the Xperia X8. On those devices, it was well known that Sony Ericsson's Timescape skin was horrible, unresponsive and it lagged all over the place. But it seems that on these latest Android handsets Sony Ericsson has , taken a complete 180 degree turn on what they were doing this time last year. The skin on the Xperia Play may look the same as the skin seen on the Xperia X10, but it is a whole lot better. There is hardly any lag at all when moving between home screens or by using the device and the skin is a lot less intrusive than the implementation seen on previous Sony Ericsson Android handsets.
After you get past the rather angled lock screen, you are greeted by 5 home screens where you can add widgets, apps, shortcuts and folders. 5 home screens seem to have become the standard amount right now, excluding of course HTC and their Sense UI. They always want to be different don't they?
There are some cool navigation features in this version of Timescape. For example, if you pinch outwards with your fingers, you get an overview of all the widgets that you have placed on all of your various home screens. Then if you tap any one of these widgets, you go straight to the page where the widget lies. This is similar to HTC's leap view except in this case you only see the widgets and not a miniaturised view of each individual page.
At the bottom of the Timescape launcher, there are 5 spaces. On 4 of these you can put any app, folder or shortcut or you can just put your favourite apps there. The space you cannot customise is the app drawer button. These 5 buttons stay with you when you scroll between the 5 pages for easy and fast access to the apps you have placed there.
When you open up the app drawer, a 4x4 grid of app icons greets you and you can open up these apps by simply pressing the app icon. But there is not just one page of apps, there are as many as you need for all of your installed apps. However, unlike in vanilla android and HTC's sense UI, where you scroll up and down in a list in Sony Ericsson's Timescape's Android skin, you simply scroll side to side between your app pages. You can organise the apps in either alphabetical order, most used, recently installed or you can arrange them how you like for you / us OCD types.
Unlike vanilla Android where the notification icons have green accents, Sony Ericsson have removed this dash of colour and added a dash of white to the mix. The notification bar is just like any other seen on any other Android handset or skin aside from HTC's Sense UI notification bar where there are also recent apps and a quick settings menu alongside your notifications. To access your notifications, you simply slide the notification bar down the screen and your notifications should appear there. Anything from twitter to Facebook to text messages to emails. I personally think that this implementation of notifications by Google is the best on any mobile OS.
Also included are some widgets that are exclusive to Sony Ericsson's Timescape skin. There are some system function toggle widgets, the Timescape widget, photo, music and media widgets, clock widgets and Playstation widgets.
I applaud Sony Ericsson for the work that they have put into this version of Timescape. It is fluid, useful and good looking, which all makes it a pleasure to use and because of what Sony Ericsson has done to make this a great user experience, Timescape has now become one of my favourite Android skins.
Before we go one with the rest of this review of the Xperia Play, we must remember that is a phone first and foremost. The dialer on the Xperia Play is pretty standard. In the phone app, you have the dialer itself, the call log, contacts and favourites.
Sound quality is good in both phone mode and speakerphone and the people on the other end could hear me loud and clear. No complaints here!
One of the great things about Android is its Google integration. Everything from email to calendar to contacts is synced over the cloud.
Firstly, we will get into the email capabilities of the Xperia Play. Most Android handsets come pre-installed with an email client and the Xperia Play is no exception. Sony Ericsson's email client is pretty standard with pop3, IMAP and exchange support. Not much to say except to say that it works. Also included is the Gmail app for those who have Gmail accounts. If you do I would personally recommended the dedicated Gmail app as it offers a much better experience over its Timescape rival.
Calendar on the Xperia play is also a very good experience. You can either view appointments in an agenda, day, week or month view. This can sync with your Gmail account for ease of use and just in case the worst happens, all of your appointments are stored in the cloud so you will not lose them. There is also a widget available for you to use on one of your home screens for quick access to your next appointment.
Last but not least in this Google integration part of this review we get to the contacts. I've lost/broken/smashed my phones too many times and each time I keep forgetting to back up my some 400-500 contacts. But then syncing my contacts with Google came along which meant that I could sync all the contacts across all my phones and have them backed up to the cloud. So even if I drop my phone in the ocean or crush it under a car or drop it out of a plane, all my contacts are safely backed up to the cloud. This featured is on the Xperia play and it is an absolute life saver!
Just like nearly every Android handset, there are 3 different ways of entering text into the Xperia play. First off is the portrait onscreen QWERTY keyboard. The predictive word aspect of the default keyboard on the Xperia play is very good. A variety of words that the keyboard thinks you are going to type appear in a line above the keys. The most likely is highlighted in blue so you can easily distinguish the one you're looking for. You can select any of the words and it will instantly put that word into the sentence you are typing. But if there is a word that is not in the on-board dictionary, you can press the word on the bar above the letters. It will add it to the on-board dictionary and so will recognise it when you next type it in - clever.
The actual letter sizes on the portrait QWERTY keyboard are a little thin for my liking. I prefer the stock Android 2.3 gingerbread keyboard where the letters are a little shorter and wider. But despite my prejudice towards the stock Android keyboard, the typing experience is actually very good. I can type very fast on this keyboard and I can hit the right letters around 85-90% of the time and when I don't, the keyboard picks up on my errors and inserts the right word.
The next form of text entry into the Xperia play is the landscape QWERTY keyboard. It is very similar to the portrait variant except for the obvious fact that it is landscape. This means that everything is bigger. From the spacebar to the settings button to the letters themselves, which means everything is easier to hit and therefore, you are more likely to be faster typing in this orientation. It has exactly the same word prediction capabilities as its portrait counterpart but for some, it could be a better and faster typing experience as the keys are bigger. Not for me however. I just prefer the portrait keyboard on any device rather than the landscape version.
The last but certainly not the least text entry method into the Xperia Play is voice input. This is one of the great features of the Android operating system. The ability to simply talk into your handset and for it churn out what you say into text on the screen is a huge plus point for Android. For the most part, using voice input was successful. There were some issues, for example when I said "Xperia Play Review" it thought I had said "Xperia plain view". I don't know if it is down to the background noise, the microphone quality and the distance from me to the phone, my accent, the way I pronounce certain words or some mix of all of them, but it didn't seem to get it 100% right. Always 1 or 2 words wrong. Your mileage may vary but I am sticking to the keyboards for text entry.
Good web browsing is one of the most important and essential features on any smart phone and the Xperia Play does not disappoint one bit. The Xperia Play comes pre-installed with the great Android browser. The Webkit browser in question is very fast because of the 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and 512 MB of RAM inside the Xperia Play. It renders pages very quickly, supports pinch-to-zoom and multi-touch which is very responsive and fast. You can zoom around the page by either using 2 fingers pinching the screen back and forth to zoom in or out or you can use the buttons in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. The text also re-flows to fit the screen when you are zoomed in so you don't have to scroll around the page trying to find the text that you want.
As you would expect, the Xperia Play's browser takes advantage of the built-in accelerometer which means you can view the web page that you have loaded in any orientation that you want.
One of the best/worst (you decide) features of the Android browser is the fact that it supports flash. Flash 10.2 is the latest version and is available for download from the Android market. I am pleased to report that Flash runs as smoothly as it can on a mobile device because of what is inside the Xperia Play.
The last thing I have to say about the browser is that it looks good on the screen of the Xperia Play. The 4" screen is a great size for web browsing and means that most of the time you can see the entire page coupled with 854x480 pixel resolution. While on the subject of the resolution, I might add that text looks crisp, images are clear and colours are good.
The YouTube app seen on the Xperia Play is exactly the same as any other Android device. As you would expect, YouTube is a particularly good experience because Google owns YouTube and Google develops Android. So, it would make sense for Google to make YouTube as good as it can - and they do.
You can browse through videos in a number of different categories such as most popular, discussed and most featured. You can also navigate to specific YouTube channels or videos by using the search bar. In terms of video quality, you can either choose between HQ (which is the default when viewing videos on Wi-Fi) or standard quality (which is the default when viewing videos on 3G) but they do playback smoothly most of the time on both of the internet connection types.
You can either view the videos in portrait or landscape. In the former, the video is at the top and the video information such as the description, comments and related videos are at the bottom of the screen. But the latter is focused on just watching the video. In this orientation, the video fills the entire screen with no disturbances or distractions. You can go between these modes by either turning the handset in the desired orientation or by double tapping the video itself.
The only social networking app pre-installed on the Xperia Play is the Timescape and it is all you need. The app supports Twitter, Facebook, text messages and phone events in a 3D scrollable view. It is a nice app but it is not worth opening up this app just for viewing social networks in a 3D view as you can just open up the specific app for the social network. Fortunately, Sony Ericsson has thought of this and has made a widget to go along side the app. It has the scrollable 3D UI which is fun to play around with while giving you the necessary information from your social networks.
The Facebook app for Android has been recently updated for the better. It has everything you need: your news feed, your profile, chat, messages, friends, photos and events.
Twitter clients are all but rare in the Android Market. None are pre-installed on the Xperia Play aside from the Timescape app but that doesn't really count. Personally, I would recommend Tweetdeck. It is simple, fast and smooth, yet has support for lots of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare. Or you can either install the official Twitter app which most people do anyway, despite my recommendations.
Music on the Xperia Play is actually quite good. The music player has a good user interface and sound quality put out by the handset seems good. However, there is one incomprehensible problem with sound on the Xperia Play, and that is that you can only use the supplied Sony Ericsson earphones. I don't know why but when I used my Skull Candys and my Apple earphones, it seemed like there was an issue with voices. The people speaking seem very quiet unless I turned up the volume to full and when I did this, there was really bad voice crackling and interference. It seems especially bad when someone is speaking over the top of music - you can't hear the people speaking as at the beginning of things like the Mobile Tech Addicts podcast.
Sony Ericsson has always been famous for the quality of the cameras that they put into their devices, and the Xperia Play is no exception. While not as high a mega pixel count as seen in the Xperia Play's brother, the Xperia Arc, where a 12 MP camera lies, the 5 MP camera inside the Xperia Play is nothing to shake a stick at. The images produced from the Xperia Play are fantastic. The colours are vibrant yet accurate and the quality of the actual images is great. So much in fact that I could easily see someone replacing a normal point-and-shoot camera with the camera inside the Xperia Play.
Despite the good quality photos, the Xperia Play only records video at a resolution of 800x480. Yep that is right, a handset with a 1GHz CPU and a 5MP camera which we know can handle HD video recording, cannot record video in a 1920 x 1080 resolution. I don't know why Sony Ericsson did this as the hardware it is obviously up to it. It may just be a problem that will get fixed in a software update (it better because it really is unacceptable for a 2011 handset to record video in 480p).
Before I show you the sample pictures, let me show you the camera interface. It is the standard camera user interface seen on many other Android handsets. It is an okay user interface but this is one area where I feel Google should try and do a complete makeover to make it look a bit nicer and look easier to use. I feel like Google should take a page out of HTC's book because the camera app on HTC Sense UI devices is frankly great. There are loads of effects and it just looks a lot nicer than the stock vanilla Android camera app that is seen here on the Xperia Play.
Another great advantage of Android is that it has Google Maps and Google Navigation pre-installed on the Xperia Play. Nothing has changed on the Xperia Play in terms of these apps from vanilla Android but I thought I'd mention it because it is a great feature in Android.
I recently used the navigation app when I went up to the north of England on holiday and it was a great experience. Google navigation gave me the fastest directions, showed me where the traffic was so I could avoid it and it has turn by turn directions which are easy to follow when driving.
Along with the driving directions the Google Maps app are covers journeys on foot. This is especially good for walking around cities you don't know your way around very well.
GPS locked on within a minute 95% of the time and kept locked on during the navigation session every time I used the app. This is really good as most of the time when you are using navigation, it's in a place that you are unfamiliar with, so keeping a GPS signal locked onto your position is essential.
Last but not least is the Android Marketplace. Second to only the might of Apple's App Store, the Android marketplace has almost every app you could ever need. Everything from games to social networking apps from business apps to even pointless apps . In the Android market your entire app craving can be catered for.
Let's now get into the meat of this review - the gaming capabilities of the Xperia Play. The unique selling point of this handset is the sliding PSP controls underneath the screen, which enables you to play games on the Xperia Play by utilizing these hardware buttons.
The gaming pad on the Xperia Play is a little small for my liking and if you have ever held or played with the PSP Go, you'll know the size I am talking about here. It is not small enough to make gaming painful or uncomfortable but it is not a position my hands automatically fall into. Despite this however, playing games for hours on end on this hand set wasn't painful at all. In fact after the initial protest from my hands, I did start feeling more and more comfortable as time went on. The buttons themselves do have good tactile feedback and Sony Ericsson have placed the D-Pad and the X, Square, Triangle and Square buttons right where your thumbs would naturally fall, which means no strain on your thumbs when gaming. That is good isn't it! The replacements for the analogue sticks are in the same place where they would expect them, slap bang in the middle. The texture of these pads are a little weird when you start using them, but soon they feel really good and are easy to pass over. Around the back of the handset are the shoulder buttons. These again are placed in the right place so that when the gaming controls are exposed, your index fingers naturally fall into place right above these buttons. These buttons, much like the others on the Xperia Play are responsive, tactile and feel really good in the hand.
There are two types of games that can take advantage of the hardware gaming controls on the Xperia Play. The first are emulators (This includes the pre-installed PS1 Emulator) and the second type are those specifically designed and coded to take advantage of the Playstation controls.
I will start with the latter (just to shake things up). There are now over 60 games available from the Android marketplace or from other download venues such as from Gameloft's store. There are 5 Xperia Play specific games pre-installed on the handset. These are:
- Asphalt 5 - An enjoyable and realistic driving game made by Gameloft.
- Bruce Lee Dragon Warrier- A martial arts fighting game starring Bruce Lee.
- Fifa 10 - Realistic football (or soccer for our American readers) game that had me playing for hours.
- Star Battalion - A futuristic spaceship game.
- The Sims 3 - Simulation game that is very addictive.
But you can download some other games, like I did. I downloaded Age of Zombies and N.O.V.A 2. The former, I downloaded the Xperia Play version from the Android Marketplace and the latter, I download from Gameloft's site.
Some of these games are 400-500 MB in size so you can only have as many as the phone can hold in storage.
The quality of the games are in fact really, really good. They offer a much better experience over normal smart phone gaming. In a game like N.O.V.A 2 which is a Halo 3 style First Person shooter, without the gaming controls, you'd have to use the on-screen controls which are inaccurate and your fingers cover parts of the screen which could have an enemy hidden behind them - fatal. Whereas when you use the gaming pad to play N.O.V.A 2, you have much more accuracy because the hardware controls rather than the software controls and the screen isn't blocked by your fingers sliding all over the place. I really do think that the gaming experience on the Xperia Play is second to none on any mobile device. This includes the fully dedicated portable gaming systems like the Sony PSP or the Nintendo DS. The graphics are similar (maybe slightly less quality but really marginal, so still good), the controls are good, and the games cost a whole deal less. Also, if your phone and your games console are incorporated into one device, you've got less to carry around making it a whole lot more convenient.
The second type of games that can use the Xperia Play's Playstation hardware controls are emulators; specifically, PS1 emulators. Crash Bandicoot is the only Playstation 1 game that is pre-installed on the Xperia Play. Ah this game took me back. I remember playing this on my PS1. It is as everything I remember, all the quirks and strange things that I remember being associated with Crash Bandicoot are there. Everything from the bouncing boxes, to the collectable apples and the African masks that shielded you from the turtles that would otherwise kill you! Everything that I remember is present!
You access the PS1 games through the Playstation Pocket App. Sony Ericsson is reportedly going to be adding more and more PS1 games from its great-grandfather. We have no idea when these games will be added to the Playstation Pocket but according to Sony Ericsson, it's coming "soon". Personally, I hope they do it sooner rather than later as it would increase the value and the attractiveness ten-fold of Playstation certified phones that will hopefully be coming out in the future; all depending on the success of this handset first of course. But I personally hope that it is!
So if you are a gamer and a smart phone fan, like me, I would 100% recommend the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play for gaming and as a smart phone.
Battery life is one area that you might think would be severely affected on a gaming smart phone, but I am pleased to report that the cells inside the Xperia Play have serious longevity. In day to day use, that included several 20-30 minutes gaming sessions, the battery lasted pretty much all day. I got around 8-9 hours in that scenario but without those moments of enjoyment (or hours of fun), I did see a slight increase in battery life from around 8-9 hours jumping up to about 9-10 hours.
I genuinely enjoyed my time reviewing the Xperia Play, not just because it is a good Android phone coupled with Playstation controls, but because Sony Ericsson is innovating in what minimal ways it can when it is dealing with the almost unchangeable form factor of Android devices. As a gamer myself, I see many other people like me being attracted to the Xperia Play because of what it can offer as a phone as well as a portable gaming console.
The Xperia Play is a very good Android phone. It is fluid and it has all the great features that you would you expect from an Android phone. Actually, not great because of the 2010 internals but still good. I'm sure that this won't matter to potential owners of this device as I am sure they will be getting this particular one for the unique fact that there is a gaming control pad present and that they won't complain because gaming is a great experience on this device.
However, if you do plan to get this device, you need to remember what is important to you. Can you live without HD video recording? Can you cope with the really scratchable screen? Are you able to cope with the size and weight of the Xperia play? Can you feel good with yourself about taking a risk with an unknown gaming platform? If yes (or even "I probably could.") is the answer to those questions, then the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play could be the phone for you. But, as I always say, try out the handset in a shop and see if you and the Xperia Play are a match made in heaven!