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First-Look Review: Sony Xperia Play provides gaming thrills between calls

Consumer Reports News: May 26, 2011 10:58 AM

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, available today from Verizon for $200 with a two-year contract after rebates, is an Android smart phone with a Sony PlayStation Portable grafted onto it. Or is it a gaming handheld with a phone added? No matter; the Play does a decent or better job at both of its roles.

Behind its sharp, 4-inch touch-screen display, the Xperia Play has a slide-out game pad, complete with a directional keypad, dual touch joystick, and two shoulder buttons. The phone is 4.7 inches high and 2.4 inches wide. Thanks to the bulky controls, it’s more than a half-inch thick (0.6 inches) and weighs a hefty 6.1 ounces.

Other phone features include a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a second, front-facing VGA camera for video chats and self-portraits. Under the hood is a not-too-shabby 1GHz Snapdragon II processor with an Adreno 205 graphics coprocessor. The Play runs on the latest version of Android, version 2.3.

Here are first impressions of the Xperia Play, based on my using a press sample of the phone with help from Consumer Reports' in-house gaming expert, Matt Ferretti:

Gaming. Gaming on the Play is very much like using one of the Sony PlayStation portables, the PSP and PSP go. The Play’s display is of a comparable size and its controls, with the trademark circle, X, square, and triangle symbols, will be instantly familiar to PlayStation veterans.

The controls seem highly responsive, though the joystick, which is flat, took a little time to master. The touch screen is a real plus over the static screens of the PSP and PSP go. It lets you quickly set up and change game parameters with a tap of a finger rather than fumbling with different buttons to do so. During actual game play, the display's touch controls deactivate.

Like other gaming handhelds, the Play has built-in Wi-Fi that enables you to engage other gamers via the Web.

The Play comes preloaded with seven games. Some, like Sony's Crash Bandicoot, have a somewhat dated, first-generation PlayStation look and feel to them. But others, including a car-racing game called Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, have noticeably better graphics. The selection of preloads is rounded out by the high-action Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior and Star Battalion and the relatively tranquil Sims 3 and Tetris.

You can download more PlayStation games directly to the phone from VCast Apps, which promised availability of more than 50 titles at launch. And since the Xperia Play is an Android phone, you can also download games from the Android Market and Amazon, though such titles will only work with the phone's touchscreen and not with the PlayStation controls.

Display. Type, including the tiny type in Google calendar entries, appeared quite sharp. Colors on the 480x854-resolution display were natural in appearance, though they were a tad darker than those on other displays I've recently seen from LG, Motorola, and Samsung. The display was fine in responsiveness, and was on a par with most smart-phone touch screens, though it wasn’t quite as swift as the displays on the Atrix and Droid X2, two Motorola smart phones powered by dual-core-processors.

Data entry. The Xperia Play comes with only one virtual keyboard, the Android version. I found it more than adequate for the job, because of the snazzy tools Android 2.3 provides for fine-tuning text entries. These tools include easier text selection with subtle finger gestures and the ability to edit text while receiving alternative suggestions from the app. The voice-to-text feature on our press sample of the Play often quit, however, if the sentence contained more than six or seven words. But I attribute this flaw to a pre-production glitch.

Bottom line: Though a tad bulky, the Xperia Play does an admirable job of balancing the disparate demands of a portable gaming device and a full-fledged smart phone. But I suspect its most enduring value will be as a top-notch Android phone, since serious gamers may want to choose one of the new and upcoming portable gaming handhelds, which pack 3D displays (like the Nintendo 3DS) and other groundbreaking features that the Play lacks.

Mike Gikas

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