As a phone, the Xperia Play is solid - in more ways than one. Closed, the device is fairly thick - perhaps a millimeter or two thicker than my original Droid. In today's terms, that's a fat phone, and it took me a while to adjust to the fact that it doesn't have a slide-out keyboard like my normal phone. It's nicely weighted even when opened, although I often had trouble hitting the left and right triggers on the top of the handset when opened up in gaming position.
I'll get into the rest of the physical phone specs in a minute, but obviously the big draw for JD readers is the PlayStation controller hardware, so let's start there. The d-pad and face buttons feel more or less exactly as you'd expect - like the familiar PlayStation controller we all know and love. The most interesting feature are the analog touch pads in the center of the controller, which take the place of the traditional analog sticks. They take some getting used to, as the flat surfaces don't provide much in the way of feedback. But once you get used to them, they're great for gametypes like shooters and, well, shooters.
Let's dive into the actual phone and some of its more standard features. The display is is crisp, clear, and has nicely accurate touch sensitivity. On the front of the device you'll find the four traditional Android menu keys, and on the left side of the handset there's a 3.5mm headset jack and a microUSB port for syncing and charging. On the right side of the Play you'll find left and right trigger buttons with a volume rocker between them. I'm no phone expert, but I felt that the buttons were all sturdy, well-placed and felt solidly constructed.
Of course, none of this matters if the games aren't interesting. There's a good selection of games available exclusively for the phone, but I only had a chance to check out a few of the pre-installed games and a few others. Overall, I wasn't disappointed with the library, but I wasn't blown away, either.
The pre-installed Crash Bandicoot is a perfect port of the original game, but I wasn't that impressed with the game the first time around. The racing game Asphalt 6 looks good and handles well, but the gameplay struck me a bit rudimentary. The Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior game has been reviewed well, but I found its old-school fighting a little too simple for my taste. I did like Ubisoft's Star Battalion, but I've always been a sucker for arcade flight games. The twin-stick shooter Gun Bros. is good. The similar Age of Zombies is better, but that's available on just about any phone you can buy. The same can be said about Tetris - and I couldn't find any way to use the game pad to play it. How lame is that?
Obviously, how you feel about the games is going to be the real deciding factor about whether or not you should consider an Xperia Play. After spending some time with it, I think I prefer the bite-sized gameplay of titles like Angry Birds to the full-fledged console-style games on this phone. But that's just me - I rarely have a chunk of time to sit down to play a game where a console isn't available. I either have a few minutes or over an hour - the Play seems best suited to 15 minute play sessions. However, if you've got those chunks of free time, it might be a good pick. I found the hardware to be solid, the Android software snappy and stable, and some of the games quite fun. If you want to have the most robust gaming experience possible on your phone, the Xperia Play is your best bet. But if you're already eyeing a PlayStation Vita, this phone likely won't tempt you much.
The Official Verdict: 3.5 out of 5
This review is based on a product provided by the manufacturer. Sample unit returned upon completion of review.