Posted by Mike Evans in Reviews on April 21, 2011

When writing this Sony Ericsson Xperia Play review, I kept three things in mind: how good is the Xperia Play as a phone? How good is it as a portable gaming device? And how good is it compared to the stiff competition that it faces? That makes this something of a unique review, as that’s a wide range of different things to consider, but I’m guessing that these are exactly the quesions that you want answered.

It makes sense too, as a unique phone needs a unique review.

You want to know if the phone features are good enough to sue day to day, or whether there’s been any compromise. You want to know if the Xperia Play is good enough to replace your Nintendo DS or your Sony PSP. And finally you want to know if the Xperia Play’s gaming ability is better than that of the iPhone4 and Samsung Galaxy S II, two phones which – together with Angry Birds! – represent the current state of the art of gaming phones.

So let’s see how the Xperia Play fares.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play review

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play overview

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is a brand new Android smartphone with a new user interface built by Sony Ericsson that sits on top of Android Gingerbread, the very latest version of Google’s best-selling mobile phone OS.

It looks great, with Sony Ericsson’s legendary design expertise showing it off to great effect. Of course it’s a touchscreen Android phone, but it looks very different from the many other Android phones on the market.

And that’s without unleashing the Xperia Play’s secret weapon – the Playstation Controller that slides out from underneath the main screen. This is not only the Xperia Play’s unique selling point, it’s quite possibly the best unique selling point of any phone on the market right now.

In a world of touchscreen Android smartphones, it’s very difficult to differentiate one phone from another, but by creating a unique mobile version of the legendary PlayStation dual-shock controller, complete with the iconic buttons and analogue controls, Sony Ericsson has ensured the Xperia Play will stand out from the crowd for all time, not just against the current crop of smartphones!

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play with dual-shock controller

For this is the legendary PlayStation phone that we’ve been waiting for for over five years, brought to life in a phone that might be a little thicker than others (16mm compared to the current average of around 9mm), but which offers so much more.

The Xperia Play from the outside

Usually with touchscreen phones I dive straight into the phone’s software, as that’s where all the interesting bits are these days (shame it took Nokia so long to realise!). With the Xperia Play, though, things are naturally a little bit different, so I’ll spend some time talking about the outside.

The front of the phone is as you’d expect. There’s the four navigation buttons common to all Android phones (Back, Home, Menu and Search), the large 4″ touchscreen, and not an awful lot else. Round the back sits the 5 megapixel camera, as you’d expect, while around the sides sits the 3.5mm headphone jack, the Micro USB 2.0 connector, and microSD card slot.

Then there are the buttons. Turn the Xperia Play to a landscape position, and the top of the phone reveals two shoulder buttons. These are the same shoulder buttons you get on your PlayStation’s dual-shock controller.

Sony Ericsson Xperia play

Slide out the gaming control out from underneath the touchscreen, and the PlayStation loveliness continues! The controller comprises:

  • a digital D Pad
  • two analogue touchpads in the middle of the controller
  • the four legendary PlayStation icons – the circle, cross, square and triangle.

Not only does this give you a complete PlayStation dual shock controller wrapped around a mobile phone, it gives a very unique feel to gameplay on the Xperia Play. Whereas with other touchscreen phones you need to touch the screen itself to play the game, with the Xperia Play you have the option of either touching the screen or playing the game as the game was meant to be played – with a dedicated PlayStation controller!

OK, enough with the outside – what’s on the inside?!

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play with FIFA 10

What you’ll love about the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

This one’s tricky! The Xperia Play is such a fun phone to use that this list could be as long as your arm, so I’ve had to keep it focused! I’ve split the list in two, focusing on game features and phone features independently, so you can get a real feel for what the Xperia Play is like both as a phone and as a mobile gaming device.

What you’ll love about the Xperia Play’s phone features

  • beautiful new Sony Ericsson user interface that’s fast, responsive, and looks as beautiful as HTC’s Sense and Apple’s iOS interfaces
  • newly redesigned MediaScape widgets puts your photos, videos and music within easy reach directly on the homescreen
  • unique homescreen design lets you bring together all your active widgets on one screen just by pinching the homescreen
  • the very latest – and fastest – version of Android, version 2.3 Gingerbread, makes the Xperia Play at the cutting edge of Android development
  • silky smooth performance throughout thanks to the next-gen 1GHz Scorpion ARMv7 processor and some mighty optimizations by Sony Ericsson
  • blisteringly fast 60fps 3D graphics thanks to the on-board Adreno GPU mobile graphics processor
  • take great quality photos with the 5.1 megapixel camera complete with autofocus, LED flash, image stabilizer and touch focus feature
  • make video calls with the VGA front camera
  • beautiful 4″ screen with 16 million colours, designed to play your videos – and your games – at high quality
  • stream your videos and photos to your TV wirelessly thanks to bultt-in DLNA support
  • super-smooth Web browsing and map viewing experiences with pinch-touch zooming and buttery smooth scrolling of Google Maps and Web pages
  • never run out of storage space with an 8GB microSD card coming with the phone as standard
  • add up to 32GB of storage with standard microSD cards
  • long battery life with the large 1500mAh battery
  • great sounding videos and gaming with built-in stereo speakers
  • all of Android’s 150,000+ apps are available in addition to the new PlayStation games
  • super-precise virtual keyboard that’s been enhanced by Sony Ericsson to make it even better than the new Gingerbread keyboard
  • breakneck download speeds of up to 70Mbps thanks to 802.11b/g and n support

So as phone, the Xperia Play excels. It might not have the latest dual-core processor, but Sony Ericsson has really created an excellent overall experience. Its new user interface is extremely slick, and is super-smooth and responsive (which is very different from the Xperia X10 interface).

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play showing interface

What you’ll love about the Xperia Play’s gaming features

OK, now for the real acid test! Just how good is the Xperia Play at playing games? Here are its key features:

  • comes with 5 games including Bruce Lee Dragon Warriors, Tetris, Star Battalion, FIFA 10, The Sims 3 and Crash Bandicoot
  • 50 PlayStation titles available on launch, including Madden NFL
  • play against real people across the world with true multi-player support
  • 60fps makes gameplay super-smooth
  • genuine PlayStation experience with original PlayStation games played even more smoothly than on the original console, with all the controls you know and love from the dual-shock controller
  • the Xperia Play doubles as a complete dual shock controller, complete with shoulder buttons, d-pad, analogue controller and the glorious iconic triangle, circle, square and cross icons.
  • 5 hours of solid game play on a single battery charge
  • access the Xperia game market just by sliding open the controller
  • browse over 50 new games from the market just by sliding across the titles
  • download new games over the air – no need to download them via your PC
  • pay for the games seamlessly by having the cost added to your mobile phone bill

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play with Tony Hawks game

If you’re not excited yet you’re not into gaming enough! This truly is the best gaming phone on the market and represents a unique approach to smartphone gaming that stands head and shoulders of every other phone on the market.

Don’t just listen to me though – here’s the UK’s Gadget Show presenter Jason Bradbury saying the same thing (why couldn’t it be Suzy or Pollyanna?!)

What are the downsides?

Surely there are some downsides to the Xperia Play? Yes, of course there are, but happily, not in the gaming department!

The biggest negatives are the result of Sony Ericsson focusing so much on game play. This means the camera, video camera and processor aren’t as cutting edge as the competition. The processor is only the same as that of the Desire HD, for example, while the camera, at just 5 megapixels, isn’t breaking any records either. As such, the Xperia Play is not the all-round flagship phone of, say, the Samsung Galaxy S II.

But then it’s not meant to be. Sony Ericsson deliberately focused solely on the gameplay, and to stunning effect. The Xperia Play may not be the best smartphone in terms of features or raw performance, but in terms of gameplay, it’s absolutely unbeatable.

If you want the best flagship phone, then look elsewhere (such as the Motorola Atrix or Samsung Galaxy S II, for example). But if you want the best mobile gaming phone, then the Xperia Play is for you.

Is the Xperia Play good enough to replace the Nintendo DS?

Ah, the acid test – can the Xperia Play really be your only dedicated mobile gaming device? Happily, the answer is a resounding yes – but only if you’re a PlayStation fan! In every respect, the Xperia Play is a PlayStation on your mobile. They truly are genunine PlayStation games, the controller is a true PlayStation dual shock controller, and the whole experience is, if anything, even faster and smoother than the original PlayStation.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Bruce Lee game

If, however, you love your Nintendo DS because of Nintendo’s games, then of course you’re not going to throw it away. You’re not going to find Mario on the Xperia Play anytime soon, so if that matters to you, you need to keep your DS!

But if the thought of playing Angry Birds and Metal Gear Solid on the same device sounds mouth-wateringly good, then the Xperia Play is the phone for you!

Is the Xperia Play the best mobile gaming phone?

The Xperia Play has competition. The iPhone4, for example, has great graphics abilities and a catalogue of gaming apps that’s second to none. The Samsung Galaxy S II uses the same graphics accelerator as the Xperia Play, but has a more powerful dual-core processor, so should be able to be even more capable of driving high-performance graphics on any mobile games that are thrown at it.

NVIDIA, too, are getting in on the mobile gaming action with their TegraZone app that lets you download games that have been especially optimized for the power of the Tegra2 dual-core processor.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play and Crash Bandicoot

Windows Phone 7 devices all integrate with your XBox 360 (at least in the sense of syncing profiles).

And finally, Sony Ericsson is effectively competing against itself with the PlayStation app that brings all of the PlayStation games you can play on the
Xperia Play onto any suitably equipped Android smartphone.

So with all this competition, why should you buy the Xperia Play over any of these other devices?

One word: the controller (OK, that’s two!). The built-in dual shock controller adds a whole new dimension to the Xperia Play that you won’t find one any other phone. You might be able to get the same quality of games on other devices – and in some cases you might even be able to get the same games – but you won’t be able to play them as intuitively as you can with the Xperia Play.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play showing controller and FIFA 10

Because the Xperia Play has the dual-shock controller wrapped around it, you get to play the games as if you’ve got a handheld gaming device in your hands, not a phone.

Tapping the screen to control your player may work for Angry Birds, but it’s no solution for Street Fighter!

In short, the controller is the unique feature of the Xperia Play that puts it head and shoulders above any other smartphone that pretends to be a good gaming device, and no app is ever going to take that away from it.

So for the controller alone, the Xperia Play is certainly the best mobile gaming phone there’s ever been. Add in the PlayStation games, the quality of the hardware powering it all and the smoothness of the graphics and gameplay, and the Xperia Play is without doubt the current best in class sin terms of mobile gaming phones.

Video reviews of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

OK, time for some videos of the Xperia Play in action!

Sample Video Clip

The next video shows a sample video clip taken by the Xperia Play, to show you the quality of its video recorder.

Summary – should you buy the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play?


OK, I’ll be a little more specific! If you want a mobile phone that gives you the best gaming experience of any phone on the market – either now or any time in the past – then buy the Xperia Play. It is, quite simply, head and shoulders above all other phones when it comes to playing games.

Remember, game playing isn’t just about the hardware – the Nintendo Wii didn’t outsell the PS3 3:1 because it had the better hardware, but because it had the better all -round game-playing experience.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

So it is with the Xperia Play. With its unique dual-shock controller effectively wrapped around the device, the Xperia Play offers a whole new level of immersive game-playing experience that no other phone on the market can come close to.

Add to that the fact that it’s a genuinely great Android phone, and that the newly redesigned Sony Ericsson user interface not only rectifies the flaws of the Xperia X10 (namely, TimeScape and MediaScape are no longer excrutiatingly slow), it’s actually superbly intuitive and great to look at, and you have a fantastic all-round Android smartphone that shows Sony Ericsson is back at the top of its game.

If you want the best gaming phone, then buy the Xperia Play. If you want a great Android Gingerbread phone and you like playing games, then buy the Xperia Play.

For once, the decision really is that simple!