Launched to much fanfare, with a press event set in London but somehow representing a dystopian war-town Eastern European obscurity with Tinchy Stryder in the middle of it, we were curious about the handset beyond the hype.
Let me just say, the agency that looks after the Sony Ericsson account is prompt, helpful and professional. But alarm bells rang when I was offered another journalist to talk to who really liked the phone.
Opinions are not definitive, they're subjective. This is just mine, so to that fairly new adage, your mileage may vary: It's unbeleivable how wrong Sony got it with the Xperia Play when, actually, it could have easily got it very right. Some customers must feel let-down after locking themselves into a two year contract with a phone that promises more than it delivers.
We'll start with the obvious USP which is the built in PSP-a-like. History tends to repeat itself, so, following the Nokia N-gage all those years ago, TechEye is desperate to have a look through the sales figures.
Sony Ericsson itself has said that the product won't be another N-Gage, according to The Escapist, and that it is a unique, stand-alone product. Meanwhile,Sebastian Moss at Playstationlifestyle.net took PS1 game sales direct from the Android Market, and they didn't look great. The page has since been removed, but it said they tallied in the low hundreds. Here is a mirror.
Because of the pull-out controls on the under-side of the phone, it constantly feels as if it is about to break. Considering the weight of the handset, it's bizarre that it feels so flimsily put together. You really do feel like you can snap the thing off very easily - and you might, if you gave playing the games a go...
Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play suffers from one totally fatal flaw. The iPhone and iPod Touch, whether you are into Apple or not, have done a lot for handheld gaming. Rather, innovative developers have done a lot for compelling handheld gaming. Instead of wishing they could attach joysticks to the handset, they found other ways to make hand held, touch screen games, at a low price point that are a delight to control and to play.
The same can't be said for the games we tested on the Play. Having followed Sony's efforts since the PSX, we tinkered around with Crash Bandicoot and FIFA, two familiar franchises we knew our way around. Crash Bandicoot was never a favourite, being as it is one of the original Playstation's attempts to drum up a mascot for the hardware, it is a fairly standard 3D platformer. Loading times sucked, the image quality was fair, but the Play's built in controls were unresponsive and difficult to get used to. As such, we were flinging Crash into bottomless pits with abandon. The bandicoot is now endangered.
FIFA was worse. As cynical hacks we thought some impromptu field testing would be a better idea. Everyone seemed to agree - simply using the phone's touch screen controls is easier than the clunky Playstation effort.
As for the phone itself, it is quite likeable. There are some frustrations but it's a functional Android phone. The camera works great and we experienced no jitters or slow-down, force closes or any other kind of crash on the Android apps. The call volume tended to come out too low even on the maximum setting, which presented some difficulties, but nothing major.
Its problem lies in that it is not fit for the kind of gaming that is becoming increasingly popular. Anyone who wants the PSP functionality, in this scribbler's opinion, would probably be better off with... a PSP. Besides, Android has a licensing deal with Sony which means there will be more to come on different platforms anyway. The Play appears to be a slight false-start, or even testing the water for adapting the model for future releases.
Yes, the handset has its fans, and we expect to see them tip up in the comments.