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Review of Sony Ericsson Xperia Play GSM/UMTS Smartphone

Live photos of Sony Ericsson Xperia Play


  1. In the box
  2. Positioning
  3. Design, Dimensions and Controls
  4. Screen
  5. Battery
  6. Communication Capabilities
  7. Memory Platform
  8. Camera
  9. Gaming Keys and Ergonomics
  10. Gaming Games
  11. Gaming PS1 emulator
  12. Gaming Verdict
  13. Peculiarities of Android by Sony Ericsson
  14. Bottom Line

In the box:

  • Phone
  • Battery
  • Charger
  • USB cable
  • 16 GB microSD memory card
  •  MH650 stereo headset
  • Pouch
  • User Guide


At the beginning of 2000s Sony Ericsson created new trends in mobile phones industry. For example, they realized a huge potential of cameras built in phones. The company pioneered the solution and reaped success. Another area was represented by music phones united by the brand name of Walkman. Camera phones were labelled CyberShot with the name again belonging to Sony. Sales were going through the roof and rival companies copied models from Sony Ericsson. The manufacturer was technologically in front of the chasing pack. Those were the days of the Sony Ericsson flourishing and domination. In 2004 appeared the prototype of the gaming phone and the model was released in 2005 as Sony Ericsson S500.

The phone was remarkable by keys for games, but because of the limitation of 100 platform and the solitary support of Java nobody expected huge success from the phone. Moreover, it was not the first attempt of SE to achieve gaming success. In 2003 Z600 received Gameboard EGB-10 manipulator, which borrowed controls elements from Playstation and gamers were familiar with it. The popularity did not come due to high prices for the phone and the absence of quality games. It was merely a toy for kids.

Ideas to come up with a gaming solution and capitalize on the pedigree of Playstation did not appear from the blue as the idea was blowing in the wind for years. The whole range of models was slated for development. Taking into account the importance of games for the phone SE aspired to integrate their phones with Playstation from Sony. A simple strategy was devised games had to receive additional features enabling their use on phones (fewer features and inferior graphics) and on the gaming console. Those who play using both gadgets were to get additional bonuses. The idea was not successful as a result of technical problems and games developers were not happy as well. Sony was also not ready to give away its games and the brand name to Sony Ericsson. Sony decided to pay all attention to consoles and believed that similar phones would take the market share. In 2004-2005 several teams of developers started creating gaming phones and the company received several patents, which became public in 2007-2007. One of the models was a handset with a rotated screen and dedicated keys, but did not use the sensor technology. We even did not get a prototype as the model was considered not innovative and targeting only usual games of the period. SE wanted a breakthrough to impress gamers and achieve staggering sales.

This model was being developed at the same time and had to become a sensational product planned to be launched simultaneously with Apple iPhone.

The innovative element was a large touchscreen to emulate the console and boast a vibration effect during pressing. All PSP games had to be launched on this handset. First assessment showed that Sony Ericsson could sell as many phones in the first year as Sony would ship consoles. These plans were so good that Sony killed the project and all subsequent attempts to create a gaming phone were blocked. It was one of the reasons behind the resignation of the first CEO of SE Miles Flint. As the company grew bigger and more successful it suffered from the increased interference. The products the market craved for were often derailed. In 2007 SE started destroying itself by not pursuing future developments. The idea of a gaming phone was revisited in 2010.

The reasons for rejuvenating research in the area are easy to understand. Sony Ericsson is currently looking for profitability and the games represent a perfect opportunity to get the maximum markup. In 2010 SE returned to the idea of creating the gaming smartphone with modern characteristics. Moreover, the disastrous state of affairs at SE allowed for getting the permission from Sony to use the Playstation brand. Unfortunately, in this case the idea of better late than never will not work. Arc was taken as the basis for the future model and added controls from Sony PSP Go, which got a smaller body and inferior ergonomics. Bear in mind that PSP Go was not popular among gamers due to the same unimpressive ergonomics. Two approaches of the same company used in 2005 and 2010 are dramatically different. Now Sony Ericsson views the gaming phone as the source of maximum profits and minimum expenses (same components, few unique games, weak hardware and so on). In 2005 the company was ready to start from scratch and create the new segment. Different approaches reveal different worlds.

People from Sony Ericsson understand that this phone will target not gamers, but customers impressed by the Playstation brand, which is not doing well at the moment. True gamers await the emergence of Sony PSP2 to hit the shelves at the end of 2011. It is crazy to offer a weaker phone half a year before and ask for a higher price. At least this is the position of any reasonable person or potential SE customer. Marketologists of Sony Ericsson believe that as the development costs are low and the model is unusual for the market irrespective of the sales the handset must increase the average price of a sold item. The number of handsets to be sold was limited from the very beginning, but even the most pessimistic results turned out to be not accurate. Probably, the company used not the reasonable needs of gamers, but created an artificially high price and the margin.

Who will buy the model? The list will include fans of Sony Ericsson who want to support the manufacturer during hard times and benefactors of all types. True gamers will find the product weak, so read on to learn why. It is not good enough as a synergistic gadget to play and do other things. It is preferable to purchase a separate phone with similar characteristics. The gaming component is better than in ordinary phones, but we do not get particular games. Moreover, customers use tablets not phones for mobile gaming nowadays.

The excessive price of the model represents the Sony Ericsson strategy to raise the average phone price, but not the desire to meet the demands of real customers. Quick survey among my Twitter followers showed that the two times lower price can be considered more or less reasonable. Around 100 people saw no point in buying the model at all, because it offers nothing special. It happens that its positioning as a gaming device can be viable only in ads, which were created rather professionally. Judge for yourself.

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Design, Dimensions and Controls

The phone is big due to gaming controls. In this section I will assess ordinary phone features of the model, while the gaming elements will be analyzed later on. The dimensions of the model are the following 1196216 mm, weight - 175 g. It feels like a heavy bar and I have almost forgotten the weight of heavy phones. In everyday life it is easy to get accustomed, but it still feels heavy in comparison with ordinary touchscreen solutions on Android, which are usually 2 times slimmer and much lighter. Subsequently, the ergonomics is average due to dimensions and weight.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play vs Samsung Galaxy S:

The handset is made of plastic without any metal rims or components. Engineers wanted to decrease the weight. The plastic is matte and pleasant to look at. The model is offered in black and white with both colors looking nice.

The left side hosts a microUSB jack and the 3.5 mm jack for headphones and headset is located slightly higher. The right side has two gaming buttons with the paired volume rocker in the middle. The latter one is not conveniently positioned, but this sacrifice was influenced by gaming buttons.

At the top we get a turn on/switch off button with the light indicator. During the charging it emits green light. Above the screen we see a proximity sensor with the frontal camera for calls and four hardware buttons under the screen.

At the back you can see a 5 MP camera, LED flash and the hole of the second microphone. The left side has two speakers.

I have no complaints in terms of build. The plastic can be easily soiled and keeps fingerprints well. It is better to carry the phone in the poach from the box.

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Sony Ericsson cannot purchase modern screens and Play features a matrix lagging behind contemporary TFT screens by several generations. If the screen in Arc is outdated I even do not know what to say about the one in Play. It comes straight from the history book.

Technical parameters are ordinary - 4" with the resolution of 480854. The capacitive screen with multitouch displays 16 million colors. The brightness cannot be customized and the screen is faded. Automatic brightness adjustment is absent too. It must have been made to boost the operation time especially during gaming.

The screen can be rotated automatically. In the sun the screen fades away completely and it is difficult to see anything there. Compare its performance with Sony Ericsson Arc. The screens of the two models are the worst among modern Android phones in their price range, but Play clearly offers the most inferior picture.

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The phone has a 1500 mAh Li-POL battery (BST-41). The manufacturer claims up to 425 hours on standby and 8 hours of talktime.

In real life the handset managed to get around one day and a half with medium workload (up to one hour of talktime, 30 minutes of gaming, 20 minutes for Internet surfing and several hours of music playback). Full charging takes 2 hours (80% of capacity can be reached within 1.5 hours).

In gaming the operation time is predetermined by the use of headphones or the type of games. The average gaming time ranges from 3 to 4 hours, which is not enough for the gaming device. You will need a second battery if you do not want to run out of power by midday.

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Communication Capabilities

USB. When the cable is connected the phone will ask you about the mode of connection. If the PC Companion is not installed on the PC you will be asked to install it from the memory card. Two other options are standard data transfer from the memory and charging via USB. Speed of data transfer depends upon the memory card in question. Our 16 GB SDHC card reached 10 Mbps, which is more than enough.

Bluetooth. The model supports all popular profiles. Files transfer is supported in Android 2.3 and the same applies to audio transfer to stereo headphones.

WiFi. All coding standards are supported together with the search and network connection.

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Memory Platform

The phone boasts 512 MB of RAM and 400 MB of memory for user data. As far as in Gingerbread you can install apps onto a memory card the above mentioned storage is enough for any user or scenario.

Now several words about the platform. Sony Ericsson always favored Qualcomm and here we get QSD8255 with a 1 GHz processor. The speed is typical of the previous generation devices. It cannot compete with current flagships based on dual core processors.

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The phone comes equipped with a 5 MP camera with autofocus and LED flash. In broad daylight pictures will be fine, but inside or with bad light they will be worse. The camera as well as other components were selected at the end to ensure the low price. You can judge the quality of pictures yourself.

The video is recorded in the maximum resolution of 800480 (HD video is not available) and the second microphone is not used. The quality is also far from impressive.

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Gaming Keys and Ergonomics

If you have a PSP or PlayStation the controls will look familiar to you. When you slide out the back plate you see the game pad to the right the PlayStation face buttons and Select and Start buttons under them. In the middle there are the thumb pads. There are also L and R shoulder buttons on the top side of the slide-out section you will be constantly pushing the screen p[art of the phone when using them.

The ergonomics of the controls is the most important thing for a gaming console and as compared to PSP the designers have had to compromise this is still a phone so it has to fit into a pocket. The width and the length of the handset did not really allow creating a really convenient controls space especially when it comes to the shoulder buttons. Another issue is that the two parts of the handset are poorly balanced the screen part is much lighter than the gamepad section so your hands get tired after about 30 minutes of playing unlike on other portable consoles that have been initially designed for continuous gaming and are much bigger, except for PSP Go that was designed to become a compact supplement to existing consoles. The dimensions of PSP GO are actually comparable to that of Xperia Play - 128x69x16.5 mm, weight 160 g/5x2.7x0.65 in, 5.6 oz. vs. 1196216 mm, 175 g /4.7x2.4x0.6 in, 6.2 oz.

Xperia Play is one centimeter shorter than Go so the controls had to be cramped into an even smaller space. Remember that the users of regular PSP consoles (PSP, PSP Slim) usually complain about the controls being too small now in this handset they have got even smaller. Naturally they had to get rid of the analog controllers which would mean a completely different design of the device. Sony Ericsson designers were also afraid of possible returns though I think they did not have any reasons for that. I believe this gamepad could really use a couple of analog sticks because the thumb pads are not very convenient and laggy in some games, also you cannot adjust their sensitivity levels. For I week I have been trying to get used to the thumb pads playing simulators and other games but failed the key are still much handier. Ask any PSP user and he will tell you that analog controllers are much superior to buttons.

A few more words on the ergonomics this gamepad leaves mixed feelings. If you have a gaming console then you have already get used to its controls regardless of the console's brand the difference here is that the controls on a regular console are properly sized and are much more convenient to use. I have hears many complaints about PSP Go being wearisome due to the tiny controls. In Xperia Play the situation is even worse because the halves are misbalanced and your hands get tired even quicker.

My seven year old kids have a PSP and they sometimes play it but rarely for more than an hour. I gave them Xperia Play showed them the games and asked to play with it for a while. After a while I inquired about their impressions and asked which console they think is better PSP or the phone. The kids were unanimous PSP is better and that is despite their tiny hands.

One of the most popular accessories for PSP Go is external gamepads like the one on the picture. Such devices allow you to enjoy the compact size of the console and proper controls. Unfortunately, you cannot attach one of these to Xperia Play.

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Gaming Games

A phone for gaming must naturally have some games to play and there are already about 60 games available for Xperia Play. Some may get an impression that all these games have been created exclusively for the phone and are not available on any other platform. But as a matter of fact most of them have been long known for Android users and Android is not exactly a gaming platform as well as iOS.

For example, Dungeon Defenders First Wav in HD looks great on NVidia Tegra 2 because HD quality requires serious hardware. Unfortunately the HD version of this game cannot run on Play because this phone has a rather obsolete hardware. Second Wave, the developer of this game, created a version for Play with basic graphics, changed the story a bit and adapted it for the phone's gamepad. The majority of games that will be available for Play will be simply remastered versions of already existing titles no one is going to create games exclusively for the phone. The reason is simple the production volume of this phone is miniscule and will not pay for development of exclusive games.

To my taste even the games that are already available for Play are very nice but you should not be expecting spectacular graphics or performance this is the PSP level 2008. I liked the 3D shooter N.O.V.A. 2 the gamepad controls work much better than the screen ones in this case. Also, it is much more fun playing Need for Speed with the gamepad. Due to the reasons mentioned above all games for play can be played by means of screen controls or the key pad it is less convenient than on Play but possible.

No doubt, hard button are always more convenient than the screen. But I cannot really say that Play is great for gaming it is a compromise: a bizarre hybrid of a phone and a console. For a few weeks I have been playing various games on Play both preinstalled and purchased separately. In 2008 this phone would be a bombshell but today when we have dual core processors and games optimized for them, the Unreal Engine and new Apple products this phone looks a bit outdated. It definitely won't attract any hardcore gamers unless they would want to satisfy their nostalgia.

So, in the menu you find the Xperia Play application that views all the games on your phone. The number of games the phone is shipped with depends on the country of purchase. Mu phone already had: Bruce Lee, Fifa10, Star Battalion, Sims 3 - a neat collection that allows you to try different gaming genres. However, if you are not a big time gamer these three might be everything you will ever play on this phone and you won't have an incentive to buy more games.

In the settings you may auto run of the application when the game pad is slid out. You can also search the Android Market for games optimized for Play. There is a separate menu that lists games recommended for Play the list is edited by Sony Ericsson. For example, you can download a decent racing Asphalt 6 for free. There are a few dozens of games so far charge from2 to 8 bucks each I was not able to find anything more expensive and the quality of games you get is respective to their price.

Also, I didn't find any Play exclusives. This is against the regular practice of gaming platforms there are always a few titles unique to a platform. Play lacks it it only offers games available for other platforms as well and on other platforms they are available earlier. In the recent two years there have not been any exclusives for PSP this platform is losing popularity to Apple iPad. Naturally, iPad is a completely different device that offers a completely different experience but it is obvious now that the future of the gaming industry is the tablets. Consoles will be able to secure a bit of the market which already insignificant compared to 2010 tablet sales. This will lead to games becoming cheaper and as strange as it may seem better.

You won't be seeing any new titles on Play it will offer old games simply remastered a bit and optimized for new controls. The gaming industry today is an arms race for better graphics. And none of new spectacular games will be available on Play because it simply does not have the performance to run them or a good quality screen.

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Gaming PS1 emulator

There are several PS1 emulators available for Android that allow you to run PS1 games on Android smartphones. It adds new controls on the screen which are not always convenient but playable. The Play Station 1 games quality is acceptable and they certainly make you nostalgic.

Since the Play sales start the PSX4Droid emulator was removed from Android Market due to the violation of the Market rules as Google put it despite the fact that it had been there for 8 months and was quite popular. The developers of the emulator made it free and you can easily find it on the web as well as any PlayStation 1 game. You will need a rather powerful Android smartphone to play games via an emulator the mid-range smartphones usually cannot run both the emulator and the game. However, the use of an emulator and downloaded for free games is illegal. But there is always demand and offer.

The preinstalled emulator in Play is the worst I have seen the picture is worse, no anti-aliasing and games are always full-screen. I compared playing Crash Bandicoot on PSX4Droid and the Play emulator and the former is dramatically better. But this discussion may be superfluous for you since there are a lot of good new games. The SE emulator is called PlayStation Pocket.

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Gaming Verdict

I like the idea of a gaming phone I remember discussing it with the first Sony Ericsson CEO Miles Flint in 2006. Five years have passed and the market has changed a lot now gaming shifts to regular phones and tablets. Their controls are optimized for touchscreens what makes playing more intuitive. Just remember Angry Birds the most popular game for mobile devices you don't need any buttons to play it. Also Worms are more convenient to play on a touchscreen than on keys. This is the trend today and there will be more games that require no buttons whatsoever.

Unfortunately, Sony Ericsson once again missed the trend and is too late. SO, who need Play for gaming? The phone has a mediocre screen worse than any Sony console, the worst controls among consoles so basically it is a regular phone, not a gaming console.

There seems to be enough games for Play but there are not many really interesting titles. The compatibility with PlayStation 1 is not that big of an advantage there are only about a dozen games available from this source so far while unofficial emulators offer all of the PlayStation 1 games.

I have another bad news. Taking into account that there will be very few Play handsets produced and the ones that out are not selling very well no one including Sony Ericsson is going to develop the console-phone ecosystem. There will be new games for Play this year but later the developers will drop this platform. Also in the end of this year PSP2 will be released and it is far better ion any respect than the phone and cost three time less.

Today the optimal solution for mobile gaming is a phone and a portable console. Even if you want a a console and a decent smartphone you can get them separately for 2/3 of the Play price and buy a present for someone for the money left. The inadequacy of pricing has become a part of Sony Ericsson image.

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Peculiarities of Android by Sony Ericsson

The phone uses the Sony Ericsson interface and you cannot turn it off. All the basic Android features are the same so I am going only to specify some differences. The Android version here is 2.3.2.

Full review of Android 2.1 (Eclair)

For events monitoring the phone uses Timescape you can connect it to you LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Sony Ericsson has removed Mediascape which was obviously futureless as well as Timescape that will be gone soon. There are also a few interesting widgets.

The main menu is divided into several screens all icons are arranged into a grid. This is more convenient than the regular Android list representation of icons. This is it for customizing Sony Ericsson does not have funds to produce anything more interesting but a superficial changes.

There is no FM radio in the phone.

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Bottom Line

There are no connectivity problems and the handset has very decent speakers, the ringtone is loud enough. The vibration alert is weak due to the thickness of the body. If you compare this phone to regular smartphones it falls behind not only to the majority of its peers but also to the last year's phones like e.g. Galaxy S being twice more expensive. The designers were saving every cent the cheapest screen, the cheapest and obsolete camera, little memory, no in-built storage space and a cheap bundled class 2 16GB memory card. On the one hand they tried to make an impression with the case and decent headphones in the package but on the other hand they were misers about the stuff that matters.

In Europe Xperia Play costs about 650. The first month of sales has shown that the phone is a flop. The reason is obvious in regard to Android this is just an obsolete phone for outrageous money. In regard to gaming the phone is worse than even PSP Go which is also not very popular and is criticized for poor controls. Few games and no prospects of them appear a couple of months after the release. And, most importantly, PSP 2 release in the end of the year which is parsecs ahead of the phone in terms of technology. Another attempt to sell old technologies in a new wrapper has failed. While Arc has attractive design to offer to someone who is not a gadget geek and might buy the obsolete hardware the youth are much pickier. They understand how consumer electronics work and know what they want for them the best price for a smartphone is around 350-400 which is unachievable for SE. So the only thing left for Sony Ericsson is to give away the handsets to report "sales". This phone is the company's biggest failure since Xperia X1. It is a dead baby designed to show the shareholders that the company is active on the market. This phone had absolutely no future from the beginning.

Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion be known to the author and everybody else.

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Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
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Translated by Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 15 May 2011

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com



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