Sony Ericsson Xperia Play MWC 2011 hands-on! (updated with video)

We've spent extensive time with our prototype of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, but how's it feel to use the real, near-finished model? Quite a bit better, actually. The phone looks identical, to be sure, but the hinge is much sturdier. The speaker quality has gone up, too, although in the crowded room it was much too noisy to really make a solid judgment call there. The screen attracts fingerprints like no other, but it's basically on par with other Xperia models. Its skinned Android Gingerbread UI was snappier, to be sure, and the customizations obviously a lot more complete, but really our biggest concern here was the games. (Check out our Pro, Neo, and Arc previews for more thoughts on the interface.)

We were able to play three titles: Star Battalion, FIFA, and Asphalt. All were found via the applications pane amongst all the other software, but they were also highlighted by the eponymous Xperia Play app. (There was additionally the infamous PlayStation Pocket app, but more on that later.) The former title, very much a StarFox ripoff, had tight controlling via both the gamepad and optional accelerometer option. The trackpads wasn't supported, however, but when we swapped over to FIFA, we found the left "pad" could be used for moving the player. Though definitely usable, it felt rough under our thumbs and we couldn't smoothly slide about as we would with an analog nub. It is large enough to do varying degrees of a direction like an analog stick, but you won't really be fine-tuning your shot so much. The indents work really well to help gauge your thumbs' position without having to look down. Both titles took quite a while to load, crashing a few times in the process; we were told multiple times this was largely due to early software. Multiplayer was not an option at the show, but we did make it through Asphalt far enough to notice it was being run still by Gameloft and not via Sony servers. As for Xperia Play (the app), we couldn't help but notice the Get More Games section, no matter how simple, does a much better job at highlighting individual games than the Android Market currently does.

The PlayStation Pocket app on most demo units was as barren as our own model, but we found at least one running Crash Bandicoot for PS One (the "legendary pre-installed title," as referenced in the press conference) at a smooth 60 frames per second. To compensate for only two L and R triggers, the settings menu offers six different button layouts where you can use the trackpads as secondary shoulder buttons (which prevents their use as analog nub replacements) or have L2 / R2 on screen virtually. Thankfully, jumping out of the app saves the game's state, and you can return by clicking on the app. An additional confirmation screen confirms you're really ready to play, which though we can see being a nuisance to some, will be welcome to others who often mis-click. The rep told us no multiplayer, but still you can toggle between the game pad being seen as controller one or two. We also heard that the PS One library will likely be rolled out on a weekly basis and not be available all at once.

What we needed to convince us of the Xperia Play's viability as a game platform was the games itself, and we will say that Sony and SE are doing well to assuage our concerns there. The form factor is still sleek despite the slide-out gamepad, which feels great to use. The initial PlayStation Suite launch line up is... promising, but we hesitate to give it higher marks without more flagship original titles. What it'll take to attract more developers is a larger reach for the platform, which ironically will take more PlayStation Certified devices -- and as for when that'll happen, no one's saying yet. We'll have hands-on video of the Xperia Play later tonight; meanwhile, find hands-on pictures of the phone (and dock!) in the gallery below!

Update: Fleshed out impressions, and video after the break!