Camera, Music, Battery, Conclusion
Sony Ericsson's Xperia PLAY is equipped with a five megapixel camera on the back, complete with flash and autofocus. The user interface of the camera app is very sparse and not as intuitive as the ones found on most HTC and Samsung phones. Pressing on the on-screen shutter button will cause the camera to focus, and lifting your finger off it will snap a photo. You can pre-focus the lens by holding down the shutter button and letting the lens focus, then sliding your finger off the button if the lens does not achieve focus.
The single-LED flash is very powerful, though the camera often had trouble metering properly with the flash. Some shots would be very bright and overblown, while others would be dark and underexposed.
The video camera does not record in HD resolution, but maxes out at 480p resolution (640 x 480 pixels). This is a bit disappointing for a $200 phone released half-way through 2011, though it is not out of the ordinary for stock Android devices. The front-facing camera is a VGA-resolution unit, and is useful for the occasional self-portrait. It was not very sensitive in low-light, though, and since the Xperia PLAY does not have a video chat app out of the box, you are forced to head to the Android Market to get more use out of the front camera.
The Xperia PLAY does not have a custom music app from Sony Ericsson, but relies on the stock one provided with Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The player is pretty basic, though there is a home screen widget available and playlist control. While you can freely download the new Google Music app from the Android Market, which provides a much cooler experience, you still need an invitation to use Google's cloud Music service.
There are no streaming music services provided on the PLAY out of the box, though there are many options available to users in the Android Market. Music can be listened to with standard 3.5mm headphones or wireless Bluetooth headphones, but Sony Ericsson does not provide either with the PLAY.
The Xperia PLAY has a 1500mAh battery that Sony Ericsson claims is good for almost 8 hours of talk time or almost 17 days of standby. The company also gives a quote of 5 hours and 35 minutes of game play time with the battery. For the most part, the Xperia PLAY lived up to those battery claims during my review period. I was able to get a full day of use (8 to 10 hours) on a single battery charge with my standard set up of multiple email and social networking accounts, and using the phone for web browsing, text messaging and a few phone calls through out the day.
As expected, extended gaming on the phone will deplete the battery quicker than normal, as both the screen and processor are taxed heavily when playing games. You might want to consider a second battery if you plan on beating Crash Bandicoot on the subway ride, as you might not have enough juice to make a phone call by the end of the day.
The Xperia PLAY is a solid Android smartphone that offers some unique gaming features, even if it doesn't execute fully on them. The basic version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread works well enough and is free of the cruft of manufacturer customizations that plague other handsets. Unfortunately, the build of the PLAY is not of the same quality as other phones in its price range, and the gaming features are not so well executed that it is worth the extra money.
The lack of game titles available is a bit surprising as well, as I would have expected Sony Ericsson to provide many more exclusives for the PLAY that would make the handset more desirable. The hardcore gamer might be happy with the PLAY for now, but the rest of us should probably wait for version 2 or opt for a different phone that does other things better (remember, you can play games on pretty much any smartphone available today).
Hopefully Sony Ericsson will correct some of the bugs with the gamepad and refine the system as a whole. The Xperia PLAY is available now through Verizon Wireless for $199.99 on a new two-year agreement.