Xperia Play Hands-on

Posted by Dan Mousavi On February - 14 - 2011

Yesterday Sony unveiled their new smartphone for gamers, while the phone itself is nothing new, thanks to countless leaks, having the device in the hand and seeing official games for it is something that surprised a lot of people, because the games all ran super smooth and the fun of playing mobile games increased tremendously, just because you have real buttons.

The device will be available in Europe from nearly every carrier in March and will launch in America this Spring through Verizon. So let’s start with the hands – on, so you can decide for yourself, if this could be your next smartphone.

As a reference game, we will start with the PS 1 Emulation:

The first Legacy game, that will be ported to Android will be Crash Bandicoot, it will come bundled with the device. What immediately caught my eye is the quadrupled resolution and the anti-aliasing, the games get upscaled to 640×480, which leaves small black borders, where you can put on screen controls for e.g. L2 and R2. Then there’s anti – aliasing on top, so you get a smooth picture, Crash 1 never looked this good before. The second thing is the loading time, the levels are loaded pretty fast and the overall emulation quality felt as robust as the PSP emulation of PS 1 games.
There is no fair comparison between official Legacy games and emulators like psx4droid, as soon as you played the legacy version, there is no going back to homebrew emulation.
I even think that a lot of PS2 games should finally become playable for former Xbox users, because the anti-aliasing finally does the trick, there is no flickering, at least in Crash Bandicoot. I just could not play Metal Gear Solid 3 because I was so pissed at the flickerfest on PS2, where on Xbox everything had FSAA. When Sony will start to port PS 2 you will hopefully get the flicker-free experience that you longed for in the last console generation.

But the real kicker is playing it with buttons, that’s really the most importat thing the Xperia Play brings to the table. The buttons feel really small, but are easily pressable, they don’t feel like the buttons on your Xbox or PS1/2/3 pad, material wise it’s more like a shirt button and when you press it, there is just a small travel distance. You know when you have pressed a button, but a real Joypad button still feels a little bit better. The D-pad is absolutely fine for the games I’ve played, I could even play fighting games with it. While the D-pad and buttons are great, the Flaps on the Top are totally different then what I expected.

The are not bumpers, like i imagined, but Triggers that only move down instead of inside the device. Since they didn’t feel like analog triggers, I don’t get why they build it this way, because you can only use them as another button set and not as e.g. analog gas/brake triggers, there is not enough room to use them like that. They still feel nice and will be practical, it was just surprising, because I thought they are going for a full FPS control scheme.

Now the only thing, that I didn’t like about the Xperia Play is the touch field. There were some different implementations in the games that were shown, but the only games that really made sense were games with dual stick controls like Gun Bros or Dungeon Defenders. If you have ever used the optical trackball on a HTC Desire or similar trackball, you pretty much know what to expect. It works as a dual stick layout, but since all haptics are missing, you just don’t have the precision that you get with real sticks. The racing game on display played really nice with the buttons, but analog steering did nothing to enhance the game. Sadly there was no First Person shooter on display, but every game I played with analog controls felt as bad as virtual touch screen sticks. The biggest gain is, that you have more screen space, but I doubt that there will be a AAA Killzone game specifically developed for the Xperia Play, this is more like on the first Playstation, where FPS on consoles were still niche. First Person could work for slower games, but hectic shooters like Call of Duty or Unreal won’t be much fun.But it could just take some time until you get used to the sticks and the developers are still experimenting with the perfect settings.

The graphical performance of the device is great, despite all the rumors that the used Adreno 205 GPU doesn’t have enough power for the new games, they all ran super smooth and looked astonishing. Not many games have demonstrated the graphical capabilities of the Adreno 205, but in my book this chip should easily handle all PS 2 content and has advanced shader capabilities and more power to display everything in High-res. All demos that were shown looked on par with the graphical performance I’ve seen from Tegra 2 devices, until developers are trying to push the graphics on a specific hardware to the max, there won’t be much difference, everything just runs at 60 fps.

So what are my finall thoughts on this device? I absolutely need it, this is the first device for a new generation of mobile gamers and will finally push mobile gaming on smartphones into the mainstream gaming media. The device works as advertised and games with more complicated input like Tony Hawk will be perfectly playable for the first time on a phone. It doesn’t push the mobile graphics to new heights and won’t bring first person shooters to mobile gaming in a big way , but that is what the NGP is for. I expect this device to sell really well, because it just feels right for a gamer. This will be the mobile gaming standard for 2011, while there will be more powerful smartphones, every gamer will prefer physical buttons over 10% more graphical capability. And I expect a full NGP succesor to the Xperia Play in 2 years, when all the early adopter contracts are running out.