I scanned some Xperia Play user feedback posts (which aren't hard to find by this point, since the handset has been available for sale for several months) in the process of doing my evaluation. In some cases, the gaming phone owners were critical of either (or both) the materials used to assemble the handset or their put-together fit. Frankly, I don't see what the big fuss is about, though I realize that other folks with other feature set priorities might come to other conclusions. Glossy black may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I personally don't think it's at all bad looking, although I admit that it more quickly collects visible fingerprints than do other color schemes (as well as being highly reflective, as you may have noticed from some of the earlier product shots I took).

Yes, the silver trim is plastic, not metal, but the materials choice not only trimmed the handset's weight but also reduced its manufacturing cost (therefore price tag) and minimized the potential for interference-induced antenna sensitivity degradation. Had Sony Ericsson put a glass back on the Xperia Play, the reviewers would have grumbled that the company had made an Apple iPhone 4-like non-ruggedness mistake. And maybe it's just me, but the very first thing I do when I get a new handset is to buy a 'gel' case for it, thereby protecting it from scratches caused by keys and change in pockets, inadvertent drops, and other day-to-day usage issues. If you're not a fan of plastic assemblies, the Xperia Play may feel 'cheap' to you, but after you consider the expense, heft and other downsides of alternative materials, you might have at least a partial change of heart.

The Android four-button suite (Home, Menu, Back and Search) at the bottom of the front panel is comprised of actual physical buttons, versus being capacitive touch-implemented. They're a bit 'mushy', as are the volume toggle and power button, but perfectly adequate and preferable to the virtual button suite found on my Nexus One and other Android phones. And yes, they're in a different order than with other Android handsets, but Sony Ericsson can't be uniquely faulted for this discrepancy; Google clearly hasn't made rigid mandates in this regard, judging from the diversity of combinations found in the Android Army.

One physical button that I missed on the Xperia Play is a camera shutter, which the Nexus One implements via its trackball. With the 'stock' Xperia Play, you can only trip the shutter via the on-screen virtual 'button' icon. Enthusiast efforts have transformed the R1 'flipper' gaming button into an alternative shutter; head to the XDA Developers site for more information. Hardware upsides include integrated 'stereo' audio playback (with sound coming from between the two slider layers; the two speakers aren't visible), as well as the ability to access both the SIM and microSD slots without needing to remove the battery.

About that 'flipper'...I'll discuss the gaming-centric control set soon, but the means by which you access the bulk of it (located on the slider's lower layer) is by sliding the Xperia Play's screen up, an action which also automatically launches the Xperia Play application.

While, as noted above, Anand found the slider mechanism to be 'loose', I was quite content with it. It seemed solid, and I was confident that it would remain so through iterative use over time. I could also easily manipulate it with only a single hand; once you get the screen ~halfway through its full travel, it takes over and completes the desired open or close operation all by itself. Anand's fondled far more phones than I, so I'm inclined to defer to his comparative critique, but from an absolute standpoint I found the Xperia Play's slider to be functionally sufficient. With that said, I'll concede at least one of Anand's points; the slider design wasn't as rigid when closed as is a single-element handset...but I've yet to find a slider that can meet that particular design challenge.

Form Factor Cellular Reception And Data Performance
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  • SilthDraeth - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    I wonder why they chose a Dpad for directional control vs a flat analog slider pad reminiscent of the Nintendo 3ds?

    I would have thought the analog slider pad would have better mimicked the capacitive touch circle control. In fact I probably would play some more N.O.V.A 2 if my Samsung epic had a analog slider pad.

    I wonder, if maybe they didn't do it, because at the time the phone was designed and released, the 3DS hadn't came out, and no one had thought of it yet...
  • LordOfTheBoired - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - link

    Interesting theory, but there's a problem with it... the PSP had a flat analog slider long before the 3DS did.
    It's also an input that is largely reviled by the fans, and not without justification.

    Though the fans think the problem is that it isn't a "real stick"(actually, two of them) rising high above the face of the device like a home gamepad(specifically, like the DualShock series of gamepads), and to hell with pocketability. See also: the upcoming PS Vita.

    Personally, I think it was just a poorly-considered implementation of a good device.
    The fault as I see it is that it's topped with a convex thumb-piece and the centering springs are fairly high-tension. Though the awkward location doesn't help matters either(I'm pretty sure the slider was shoehorned in late in the system's development and it was intended to be digital-only).

    I'm rather disappointed to know the capacitive disks don't work, as I thought they were a good idea. Especially as it avoided the preference for cardinal directions in dual-spring potentiometer designs(a very strong preference in the case of the PSP's high-tension slider).
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - link

    Good idea, terrible implementation. While I'm not a PSP owner,and have only played with them a bit, my experience was that the problems were:

    1) Horribly positioned. My hand cramped up using the analog nub on the PSP while simultaneously holding the PSP with that hand

    2) Concave form factor made it harder to grip

    3) Rough texture was uncomfortable

    4) Spring put up too much resistance

    5) Too small and not enough range of motion

    The 3DS circle pad attempts to address all of these complaints, and while it isn't quite perfect, it's a good enough implementation that it can compete with "real" analog sticks rather nicely. Of course, by giving it good positioning, it makes the 3DS' d-pad uncomfortable to use, but you can't have it both ways. Anyhow, a circle-pad would certainly fit on something like the xperia play. In fact, I wish that the circle-pad was on more devices, but unfortunately Nintendo's patents will prevent that. Hopefully Sony can come up with their own similar slider pad that, if not identical to the circle pad, at least makes the same corrections.
  • MacTheSpoon - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    This first gen phone is underwhelming, but I hope they stick with the concept and iron out the problems. The underlying concept of a smartphone with physical game controls seems spot-on. I'd love to play console-type games on my phone using physical controls instead of multitouch.
  • ImSpartacus - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    The first gen phone is underwhelming and ever single phone after that will follow similarly.

    Why? The Vita. I can't understand why Sony thought it was a good idea to split the Vita and Xperia Play. If you want to compete with iOS gaming, you can't do it with two distinct devices. Sony needs a unified gaming device. They are welcome to sell a wifi version (a la iPod Touch), but their flagship needs to be a phone.
  • seamonkey79 - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    ^ This
  • Exodite - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    Because Sony isn't the same company as Sony Ericsson?

    It's not even a subsidiary, indeed SE is made up from far more of the old Ericsson phone division than it is Sony.

    This isn't in any way, shape of form a 'Sony' phone - Sony doesn't do phones.
  • ImSpartacus - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    Then Sony should do phones.
  • Zoomer - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - link

    Not outside Japan, anyway.
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - link

    Sony Ericsson is 50% owned by Sony and 50% owned by Ericsson. They make Walkman-branded phones, Cyber-shot branded phones, BRAVIA-branded phones... Sony and Ericsson could clearly have come to an agreement if Sony had wanted to do this all in one device.

    After all, the XPeria Play and Vita are similar architecturally. They both use ARM SoCs (a departure for Sony in a game console), although the XPeria Play is using a Qualcomm Snapdragon with an Adreno GPU while the Vita is using a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 with a PowerVR SGX534MP4.

    In actual fact, the hardware in the Vita is identical to the iPad 2 except doubled (same CPU/GPU, just double the cores each).

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