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By Dan Seifert

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The Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY is the first PlayStation certified mobile device to hit the market. This means that it has access to special ports of games from Sony's legacy of PlayStation titles, in addition to the growing number of games available to the Android platform. In order to make good use of its PlayStation certification, the PLAY features a unique slide-out gaming pad with controls that mimic a PlayStation controller, including two touch-sensitive pads in place of the usual analog sticks.

As far as its phone capabilities go, the PLAY is no slouch. Itís fast and responsive, and the version for Verizon Wireless in the U.S. has a basic version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread user interface, instead of the modified one that Sony Ericsson installs on the versions of the PLAY for the rest of the world.

Is the Xperia PLAY the mobile gaming fanatic's dream phone? Maybe to an extent thanks to the gaming pad, but for the rest of us itís just an average Android phone which is both good and bad. Read on for more details and watch MobileBurnís videos for some hands-on action with the Xperia PLAY.


Hardware

The first thing you notice when you pick up the Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY is its size and heft. At 119mm x 62mm x 16mm (4.68in x 2.44in x .63in) and 175g (6.17oz), the PLAY is no small phone in your hands. The real problem for me was the thickness of the device. While I understand that it facilitates the game pad, the Motorola DROID or DROID 2, both of which have slide-out physical keyboards, feel anorexic in comparison.

The tapered edges of the back cover do help the PLAY fit comfortably in the hand, but when I was using it as I would any other smartphone (read: not gaming), it just felt like it was bigger than it had to be for the task.

The front of the PLAY sports a 4-inch, FWVGA (480 x 854 pixel) touchscreen above four physical keys for the standard Android functions of back, home, menu, and search. The screen itself is not bad, though it definitely does not have the punch or wow factor of a Super AMOLED Plus or even a Super LCD display. It could stand to be a bit more responsive to my touch as well, as sometimes it would take multiple presses or swipes before the screen would register my input.

The display is also positioned off-center towards the bottom of the phone, which provided an awkward handling position when used in portrait orientation.

The buttons themselves are small and a bit fiddly, though they did work when I needed them too. The cheap chrome finish on them has got to go, though; it looks bad now, and I imagine it will not wear well over time. The rest of the phone is made of glossy plastic, which not only gives a cheap feel to the PLAY, but is also a serious fingerprint magnet.

The rear cover constantly looked filthy with smears and fingerprints, so I was constantly wiping it off with my t-shirt. A textured or soft-touch back would have lent a lot to the feel one would expect to get from a $200 smartphone. The power button, which is tucked in the upper right corner of the phone, is very tiny and hard to access. It features an integrated notification light, which is cool, though I found it a bit tough to notice since the button is tucked behind the display.

As far as the gaming pad goes, certain functions worked well, while others missed the mark. The four-way directional pad and the square, triangle, circle, and X buttons worked nicely and were responsive during game play. The touchpads that are designed to mimic analog sticks were a different story though. I found it hard to use them to control objects in games, and found them to do different things from what I was expecting quite often. With the thickness of the Xperia PLAY, I think Sony Ericsson could have used the analog stick found on the PSP gaming handheld without much trouble.

The shoulder keys that are accessible with your index fingers when gaming were not very responsive either. There were multiple times when I would press the keys and not get any response in games. Thankfully, the actual slider mechanism of the gamepad feels solid and sturdy, and should withstand a good amount of use.