A month or so ago I decided that I would take advantage of the recent price drop of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play Android mobile phone. They had been dropping price quite substantially from the £349 RRP to a recent low of £129.99. I picked mine up direct from O2 for £149.99 knowing that I would be using my new favourite network GiffGaff (powered by O2).
My motivation for this choice of phone was that a) It's an Android based device b) It was no lower in hardware specification to my HTC Desire (in fact a few areas see an improvement) c) the aforementioned HTC Desire was starting to exhibit some hardware faults (back and volume buttons not working all the time) and d) spending time in doctors waiting rooms would become less of a drag thanks to the Play's gaming controls.
And its at the gaming controls where I will begin. Quite simply they are excellent. For anyone wanting evidence of this, first try playing any touch screen game with the touch screen first (like FIFA 10) and then use the physical controls. I doubt you'll be going back. The response of the D-Pad is great with just the right amount of travel and perfect position for your thumb. The other buttons too work great including the nicely weighted shoulder buttons.
My only complaint is the attempt at including analogue controls. These work in a similar fashion to touch screen efforts but one improvement is that they have a defined middle and outer to stop your thumbs wandering. This perimeter definition does make them much better than the touch screen equivalents but no match for physical analogue controls. Even the original PSP one is better than these. The slide out mechanism works well and so far no sign of any play or movement developing that other users have reported.
Display is provided by a 4" 854 x 480 pixel LCD TFT screen which in my opinion provides a brighter, more vivid output than the 3.7" AMOLED on my outgoing HTC Desire. My only complaint is that there is a greater amount of reflection from the Play's glossy screen. Using it in my car as a sat nav highlighted this problem the most.
The rest of the hardware is well built with a nice feel. Undoubtedly the phone is larger and heavier than most of this size, particularly so it can compensate for the gaming controls, however I've not found this to be a problem. The sound quality from the built in speakers is simply the best I've heard from a mobile phone.
Onto the software compliment and thanks to recent Sony update, the Play now sports Android 2.3.4 which means not only is the battery life much improved (over 60% remaining after a day or normal use with a spot of gaming playing) but also you can now make use of the phones front facing VGA camera in Google Talk.
Thankfully there isn't too much bloatware and since the 2.3.4 update I've been able to uninstall a lot of it. Space on the phone isn't as limited as the Desire. More has been made available for those large game installs that won't move to the SD. Speaking of the SD, the Play came with a 16GB... which was nice. The Play comes with a few games to show off it's gaming intent including FIFA 10, Crash Bandicoot (PS One classic), Bruce Lee Dragon, Sims 3 and Star Battalion. EA are also doing some freebie games for the Play including Battlefield Bad Company 2, NFS Shift, NFS Hot Persuit and Dead Space. All of which are very good and of course make use of the Play's gaming controls.
One nice touch is that the Xperia PLAY App allows you to browse the Android Market whilst refining the search to Xperia Play optimised apps. This includes the PS One classics that have been ported to the Play. Destruction Derby on the move is a hoot!
As a phone the Play is as good as the Desire. Decent voice quality and reception has been impressive. Certainly no complaints in that department. The headphones that come with the phone are adequate for freebies. I'm sure audio aficionados will scoff at them though!
My only real complaint is that the Play does suffer from a lack of RAM at times. Whilst the phone could do with more than the 512MB provided, it would be helped if Apps were written better to ensure memory is released when they are dormant. Inevitably some games eat the lot!
All things considered I have to say that the Play is firstly a good phone but secondly makes a very good portable gaming device. With more and more games making use of the gaming controls on the Play, I hope either Sony are working on a Play 2 (doubtful as I think sales haven't been that great) or that more developers get on the gaming control bandwagon. I do believe that Sony are still the best people to take this forward but with the Vita only months away from a worldwide release, it remains to be seen what their intentions will be. One positive sign was the recent hack of the PSN Store onto the Play from the Sony Tablet S. For more info check Xperia Gamer's Website or see it in action in this YouTube video.