Yesterday evening I had a hands-on with Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play (the "PlayStation" phone) at the London #XperiaMWC event.
The Xperia Play is the only new Xperia not to share the same DNA as the Pro, Arc and Neo. It doesn't have a Bravia reality engine, nor does it have the cracking 8MP Exmor R backlit sensor that graces the back of the other Xperia phones.
As a gaming device, the Xperia Play houses a slider that contains the gamepad, not too dissimilar to Sony's PSP Go. Here you will find the four directional pad, dual touchpad (to simulate dual-analog on PS1 games), four action buttons (with classic none-coloured PlayStation shapes), start/select buttons and a another button that I assume emulates the analog button of the original PlayStation Dual Analog controller.
I found the buttons to be small. In fact smaller even than those you find on the original DS Lite. Tactile feedback isn't particularly good, particularly the shoulder trigger buttons. It isn't the most comfortable portable console out there, though I do have to stress that it is the only modern (and small) smartphone with a built-in gamepad.
The body was mainly made of plastic (in fact all the Xperias were mainly made of plastic). This was likely a design decision to not only keep costs down, but also to keep the weight down. Fortunately while it felt cheap, the built quality was great. The slider was solid and did not wobble or creak. How long will it last is another matter.
The Xperia Play contains an ageing Adreno 205 GPU and 1Ghz Scorpion processor. While no slouch by itself, the effect of using such an outdated architecture was immediately felt when gaming. Games like Asphalt 6 was slow to boot and suffered from frame drop outs. Not only that but I took issue with how Gameloft did not optimise the interface to be used with the gamepad. At times I am required to use the d-pad to navigate and sometimes I am forced to use the touchscreen.
On the upside it was obvious how much the gamepad (however bad it is) improves upon mobile gaming. Touchscreen gaming gaining traction lately, but the lack of controls has always hindered gameplay. Even a simple Gameloft game (and people know how much I hate Gameloft games), was much more enjoyable because I do not have to resort to on-screen buttons to do tasks, or use the dreadful accelerometer to move. I see more of the screen as well as it isn't blocked by the large thumbs.
No doubt by the time the Xperia Play launches, games optimised for the Xperia Play's architecture and unique gamepad will appear. Only time will tell if gamers will be tempted to ditch their PSP and DS, or away from the 3DS and pending PSP2/NGP for the Xperia Play, but for everyone else - the lure of the PlayStation brand could sell them this device, or at least that is what Sony Ericsson are hoping.