Xperia Play • Page 2

The other PlayStation in your pocket?

Slide the Play open the action feels a little stiff and ill-defined and it assumes a form factor very close to the PSPgo's. A brushed-metal plate holds the d-pad and four (rather small) face buttons as well as start, select and menu buttons.

The recessed digital controls are precise and responsive but have a hard, microswitch-style 'click' to them which contrasts with the soft, springy touch of a PSP or a Dual Shock pad. There are left and right shoulder buttons recessed into the handset you need to find these with the tips of your index fingers, rather than the joints as you're used to.

The most interesting inputs are the twin circular touch-pads between the buttons. These effectively replace the on-screen virtual analogue sticks that blight so many smartphone games and they do the job well.

It's amazing the difference a little physical definition can make. Each pad has a tiny raised stud at its centre and a raised line indicating its circumference. They work best when tilting or rolling your thumbs across their surface, rather than sliding, and could well offer the best way to control traditional shooters or racing games on a phone.

The controls feel high-quality, but they don't feel like a PlayStation something which holds true for the Xperia Play as a whole. Despite the nominal similarity to PSPgo, it doesn't bear any family resemblance to or design hallmarks of SCE products, and indeed is only passingly identifiable as a Sony Ericsson phone. It's very much an anonymous Android handset with the added novelty of game controls.

More worryingly, the Play doesn't feel like a luxury item. It's reasonably well-specced, with a 1GHz Qualcomm processor, 8GB of memory (expandable to 32GB), HDMI support and a 5-megapixel camera.

The finish is good, but it's not up there with Apple and HTC's best work. And this machine is BIG.

But while the slide-out surface for the game controls has an excellent finish, the back of the phone has a cheap, hollow, plastic gloss. And with its bulging profile, it's far from sleek.

Sex appeal is everything in the leisure smartphone market, and the Play has none of the allure of Apple and HTC's finest handsets. In fact, downstairs at the same event, Sony Ericsson was showing the stunning Xperia Arc, a wafer-thin and feather-light Android handset with a concave back and even more enormous 4.2-inch screen. I know which one I would have walked out with, given the choice.

So it's left to the Xperia Play's gaming credentials to justify the 40-a-month contracts that Sony Ericsson is aiming for with all the major UK network operators. This is where things get rather hazy.

Xperia Play will launch in April in the UK with seven pre-installed games and 50 compatible launch titles. Since it's the only Android phone with physical controls, games have to be re-engineered to make use of them. Sony Ericsson promises it's sending out as many dev kits and talking to as many developers as it can to ensure wide support.

EA and French copycats Gameloft are the biggest names to offer support at launch. The seven pre-installed games are The Sims 3, FIFA 10 (Madden in the US), Tetris, Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior (a fighter!), Star Battalion (a space dogfighter!), Asphalt 6 (a racing game!)... And Crash Bandicoot.

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