We followed it from rumour to rumour, leak to leak, and it sounded like a match-made in heaven; the best parts of a smartphone fused with a PSP. When the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play was finally officially unveiled at MWC 2011 back in February, it seemed we finally had the device to truly converge mobile and gaming platforms.
On the surface, it seemed that Sony Ericsson had succeeded where others, most notably the N-Gage, had failed. Running Android version 2.3 and with a silky form factor that sees it slide out to reveal a fully-certified PlayStation control scheme, it is as comfortable to use as a touchscreen phone as it is as a handheld games console.
Now finally ready to face the public, the Xperia Play may have run aground before it has even left the mobile shop window however, thanks to the incredibly high price it has been given.
Three are the latest UK network to announce their subsidised price plans, and they’re staggeringly expensive; £99 for the handset as part of a £35 a month two-year deal, or £49 a month for the device on a £40 a month two-year deal. The handset from Three, sim-free, costs £499. Proving this isn’t a Three-only price hike, Orange likewise are listing the phone at a hight cost; £99.99 on a two year £40 a month deal, or sim-free (with £10 top-up) for £449.
It places the phone very much at the top-end of smartphone pricing; by comparison, the iPhone 4 which is often considered too expensive for many consumers is on sale from Three at a £19 upfront cost followed by a £30-£35 a month contract.
It’s not just the pricing that’s the problem though. The phone has already been subject to a series of delays, with O2 withholding the release of the smartphone on their network as its software was found to be buggy.
Then there are the games themselves. Though 60 games were slated for release within the phone’s first week on sale, many were disappointing Xperia Play-optimised versions of readily-available Android games, few of which were anywhere near the quality of the best iOS games, let alone a dedicated handheld console like the Nintendo 3DS which costs a fraction of the price.
Though the availability of six PS-One titles may add an element of nostalgia to the launch offerings, they are games now well over a decade old, and are very much showing their age. Crash Bandicoot, available for the Xperia Play, is now 15 years old; older than the demographic that such a mobile phone is most likely to appeal to.
Far from capitalising on the growing credibility of mobile phones as a genuine alternative to games consoles, this hybrid is beginning to look very much like a cash-in job. From pricing to software, Sony Ericsson seem to have very much missed a trick here. Though the hardware is respectable, the Xperia Play so far hasn’t offered up a compelling enough reason to pick it up over the competition, be they games consoles or smartphones. We may very well have another N-Gage disaster on our hands.