The debate over the potential (or not, depending on your perspective) for cellular handsets to supplant dedicated portable gaming consoles was already at the 'dull roar' stage when Steve Jobs unveiled the first-generation iPhone in January 2007. Successive iPhone iterations, along with iOS ecosystem expansion to the iPod touch and iPad, have upped the argument amplification a notch or few, as have competitive offerings based on the Android, RIM, WebOS and Windows Mobile (now Windows Phone) operating systems.

Sony's approach to addressing the standalone-versus-cellphone debate is, if nothing else, intriguing. The multi-subsidiary company includes the game console division, of course, which is determined to do its utmost to maintain a lucrative dedicated-function portable hardware business. Yet Sony Computer Entertainment is also responsible for a plethora of game software titles, whose developers are likely challenged to sell as much content as possible, ideally but not necessarily exclusively running on Sony-branded hardware. And then there's Sony Ericsson, a joint venture company chartered with maintaining and expanding its status as a top-tier cellular handset manufacturer.

On one end of the strategy spectrum, Sony has to date produced four different models in its PlayStation Portable line; the original PSP-1000, PSP-2000, PSP-3000 and PSP Go. The upcoming PlayStation Vita successor, formally unveiled at June's E3 Conference with availability (beginning in Japan) slated for later this year, aspires to one-up even the most powerful current-generation smartphone with features such as a SoC containing a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU (clock speed currently unknown) and quad-core 200 MHz Imagination Technologies SGX543MP4+GPU, not to mention PS Vita's 5" OLED display. On the other end of the spectrum is Sony's PlayStation Certified program, unveiled in late January, which conceptually enables generic Android-based hardware to run PlayStation Suite content.

And in-between these two extremes is the subject of this particular writeup, Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play gaming cellphone:

The mythical 'PlayStation Phone' had been rumored for several years, but when it finally appeared in late March in 11 countries (not then including the United States), it was curiously absent any explicit 'PlayStation' branding. Sony Ericsson's initial U.S. carrier partner was Verizon, who began selling the handset in late May subsequent to its first official U.S. unveiling, a commercial which ran during February's Super Bowl. More recently, AT&T picked up the handset in mid-July. One week later, Verizon dropped the Xperia Play's contract-subsidized price to $99.99, from $199.99 at introduction. Was Verizon's action a competitive response to AT&T's entry, a reaction to poor Xperia Play sales, or some combination of these and/or other factors? Verizon's not saying, but let's see how well (or not) the handset performs to get a sense of its degree of market appeal.

Form Factor
POST A COMMENT

34 Comments

View All Comments

  • SilthDraeth - Monday, August 08, 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...
    Reply
  • LordOfTheBoired - Tuesday, August 09, 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).
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, August 09, 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.
    Reply
  • MacTheSpoon - Monday, August 08, 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. Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Monday, August 08, 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.
    Reply
  • seamonkey79 - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    ^ This Reply
  • Exodite - Monday, August 08, 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.
    Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    Then Sony should do phones. Reply
  • Zoomer - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    Not outside Japan, anyway. Reply
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, August 09, 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).
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now