Sony Ericsson Xperia Play review

The PlayStation Phone finally lands - but can it live up to the hype?

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This is what you came for, right? How does the Xperia Play hold up as a gaming device and can it compete in the same league as the portable big boys?

Well, controls are the lifeblood of any console, dictating how the software experience plays out (if you'll excuse the pun), and the Xperia Play's are a real mix.

The D-pad and familiar PlayStation face buttons (circle, square, triangle and cross) are excellent, delivering a definite click and a really pleasing action. They're nicer on the fingers than the 3DS equivalents too, and a refreshing change from on-screen controls.

Sony ericsson xperia play review d pad

The dual thumbpads are far less laudable, though. The degree to which they worked varied a fair bit depending on what we were playing, but the core problem we had with them was always the same – they're too picky and there's not enough feedback.

Yes, there's a little metal circle at the dead centre of each one to help you orient yourself, and they're set in a dimple in the face of the device to let you know when you've strayed beyond their bounds, but even with those aids we found accurate control a struggle.

We'd often strike out at an angle slightly off what we really wanted, walk when we'd meant to run or overshoot the pads with half our thumb, causing plenty of confusion.

We have a few theories about why this is, but part of it is that the pads are quite small, meaning every little movement is a big deal. Also, they're not good at understanding quick changes of pace. As we said, picky.

We've found dual-stick shooters on the iPhone far more forgiving, perhaps because you can see where your thumb is in relation to events. And the thumbpads can't hold a candle to the circle pad on the Nintendo 3DS.

Then there's the shoulder buttons, which are a wee bit mushy for our tastes. Of even more import is that your digits are prone to rubbing on the back edges of the screen. This made us hold the Xperia Play awkwardly at first, but we did find a comfortable position after a while.

Sony ericsson xperia play review shoulder buttons

The Start and Select keys are good, as is the dedicated menu button. However, the latter seems a little superfluous, given it only replicates the function of other buttons on the device.

The slide mechanism is an unqualified success, though. It's rock solid, moving the pad up or down with a satisfying snick. The screen stays put with no wobble or flex too.

The dual-personality nature of the Xperia Play is continued in its gaming software. There are two apps that serve as launching stages: the confusingly titled Xperia Play, which is effectively a housing point for Android Market games that work with the device, and the PlayStation Pocket, which handles the honeypot PS One ports we were actually excited to play.

Sony ericsson xperia play review ps pocket

Bizarrely, it's the Xperia Play app that starts by default when you slide out the pad – the PlayStation Pocket is found in a Home screen widget and lurking in the menu. We've yet to find a way of switching them over and the inconsistent approach is cumbersome.

Our test handset came with five games preinstalled: Crash Bandicoot as the sole PS One offering, with FIFA 10, Bruce Lee, Star Battalion and The Sims 3 apps to finish the package. The latter barely benefits from being on the handheld at all, but some of the former will make good showcases for the hardware come launch day.

Sony ericsson xperia play review xperia play menu

We're conflicted about the Xperia Play as a gaming package. The controller section, while far from perfect, is a significant step up from playing on a touchscreen phone. But with so many niggles and the higher barrier to entry of the price, it's hard to see who this will suit.

If gaming on the go is important to you, we reckon you should wait for the NGP or go grab a 3DS. Having tested the Xperia Play and Ninty's console side-by-side, we can safely say the latter offers a better gaming experience, even if you never turn the 3D effect on.