Ever since the iPhone featured gaming apps, the prospect of a mobile phone that was a full-on games console has been a dream gadget. Other phones had apps that were ideal for quick casual play but hard core gamers were left in the cold.
Who better to solve this problem than Sony with its PlayStation console and Sony Ericsson phones? The result is a phone that looks strikingly like the most recent PSP handheld, the Go.
Slide to play games
Both feature a slide-out gaming pad, and though the buttons on the phone are flatter than on the Go, it does make for a chubby handset, unlike some of Sony Ericsson’s recent catwalk-thin models. Slide the screen up and the phone switches instantly to landscape-orientation game mode, displaying available titles ready to play.
The real breakthrough on the phone, though, is that unlike every touchscreen phone, here there are real, springy, pressable buttons which are a joy to use. They’re much better than pressing on glass, though the touch-sensitive capacitive direction pads are harder to get used to.
Once you’re familiar with them, though, they offer decent analogue control. There are also two shoulder buttons which are well-placed: when the phone’s in game orientation these fall naturally under your index fingers.
Since this is an Android handset, running version 2.2.3 Gingerbread, there are thousands of regular games which can be played via the phone’s touchscreen, but it’s the optimised titles that are more interesting. At launch there are around 60 of these, including Android games with button inputs, plus original PlayStation titles.
PlayStation One titles live again
Like Crash Bandicoot, which is the full original game, exactly as it appeared on the first PlayStation. Obviously that means it’s a much longer gaming experience than most apps can offer, but there’s a drawback, too.
Although the Xperia Play screen is high-resolution (854 x 480), the original Crash was designed to be seen on a full-size telly. So though the graphics look pin-sharp and colourful, it’s often hard to pick out details (including sometimes the Bandicoot himself) on this much smaller display. Plus, it was designed for a 4:3 ratio screen so there are black bars at the side of this widescreen display.
Download Xperia games
Standard Android games come from Android Market in the normal way, though you can search for the smaller number of titles which say they’ve been tweaked for the real buttons. For the original full PlayStation One games, though, there’s a dedicated app on board called PlayStation Pocket which will guide you to these revived older titles.
Other launch titles include Assassins Creed Altair’s Chronicles HD, Worms and NOVA2 which is exclusive to Xperia Play. Not to mention Asphalt 6 which is free. Original PS One titles include Destruction Derby and Syphon Filter. Battery life is pretty impressive – you can expect more than four hours of solid gaming and still have juice to make and receive calls. Daily recharging recommended.
Beyond gaming, the phone
This is a typically stylish, competent Sony Ericsson Android phone, with its Timescape social networking interface that aggregates Facebook and Twitter streams. It’s well-built, and the slick chrome buttons look good on the shiny black casing.
The camera is a decent but not outstanding 5-megapixel job, good for stills and video. And of course, unlike the PSP Go, it’s a phone, too, with excellent call quality and signal strength. Is it the perfect blend of games machine and mobile phone, though, with gamers so used to quick, casual play on the daily commute?
Maybe not yet, but it’s certainly a good start and as more titles become available that are optimised to use those real buttons, its appeal will grow.