July 31, 2014

Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY Review

I’ve been playing with a Verizon-branded version of the Xperia PLAY for around two weeks now and wanted to share my opinions on the new gaming/phone hybrid.  I attended a Google IO developer session where Sony Ericsson gave these to the people in attendance.  I am also aware that there is an AT&T version on the horizon as attendees could choose which model they desired.  So, while Verizon has an exclusive on the “PlayStation Phone” for now, I don’t anticipate it will be for long.  I don’t know specifically of any differences between the two versions other than each has its own preloaded software (bloatware).  It’s worth pointing out ahead of time that this was not a retail box experience and may not fully reflect the devices that go on sale May 26th.

If there’s one underlying theme across Sony Ericsson line of Android smart phones it’s that they are gorgeous.  What started with the Xperia X10 more than continues today with the Xperia PLAY.  The phone is equal parts sleek, comfortable, and sophistication.  I used to say that their phones had a decidedly European look about them, but that’s not really the proper way to describe them.  Rather, Sony Ericsson handsets are decidedly elegant.  From the moment you take this out of the box, it looks and feels like a well-crafted device.

The Xperia PLAY might be all games under the display, but its outward appearance signals all business.  While it’s easy to dismiss this as a gaming device, it has all the makings of a solid Android experience.  Running 2.3 out of the box, it’s the latest and greatest release of the platform and capable of supporting more than 200,000 applications or games.  Should you be transitioning from any other Android handsets, you need not worry about the Xperia PLAY unable to load previously purchased selections.

I don’t own a PlayStation, and do not consider myself much of a gaming enthusiast.  When it comes to playing games on my Android phones, I’ll opt for word games and puzzles before racing and sports titles.  Having said that, the Xperia PLAY has done a very good job of trying to change me and my habits.  I found myself immersed in games like Asphalt 6 and Madden 11, largely because of the familiar form factor.  Games are very intuitive and play better than expected on its 4-inch display.  The L&R gaming buttons are present but are not so obvious as to distract from holding the phone.  They’re done in a way that they exist without screaming for attention or looking out of place.  Sony Ericsson does a great job balancing the color scheme and finish, using black with silver accents for the sides.

The phone is thicker than one might anticipate, mostly because of the full gaming controller hidden away.  If I were to use a word to describe the Xperia PLAY, it would be that it is dense.  It has a definite heft to it, and comes away feeling solid, if not slightly bulky.  Still, it’s thinner than the G1, and we all know that it goes in the pocket fairly well.  It surprised me at first but I quickly got used to it – something I imagine many of you would do.  But, going back to my not being a gamer, I sometimes feel like I am carrying around additional weight and thickness for things I do not use very often.

If you are excited at the idea of a “PlayStation Phone” then it won’t take much effort to convince you that the $199 is well worth it.  In a situation where you could easily describe the device as a ‘PlayStation that makes calls’, it has an awful good smart phone experience.  However, if you’re not yet sold on the whole enhanced portable gaming experience, then save your money and grab another Android.  Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc is a much thinner and lighter phone with nearly identical hardware and “phone” software.

I get the sense that many of you have already determined whether or not you are going to buy and Xperia PLAY.  Reviews from myself or any other outlet probably won’t do much to change your opinion at this point.  Keeping everything above in mind, I will leave you with this – The Xperia PLAY is a better phone experience than you’d think but not quite on par with today’s top handsets.  And even while there aren’t competing devices in the market, it’s an excellent gaming smart phone with a lot of potential.

Other highlights in the Xperia PLAY:

  • The camera is 5-megapixels but I found it took adequate pictures
  • The nearly stock Android experience is refreshing.
  • Decent selection of optimized games at launch
  • Sony Ericsson is trying rally support for the APIs and help developers create awesome experiences. #futurewin

Where I see room for improvement:

  • Being forced to buy games through Verizon’s V Cast is not something I particularly enjoy.  I’d love to see Sony Ericsson toss more titles into the Android Market.
  • While Verizon has been very strong about growing their network, the Xperia PLAY does not support 4G LTE.
  • Lack of lack of HDMI and DLNA might turn some away.
  • On paper, the single core processor looks weak compared to dual-core offerings in similar price range.