So, of course, what sets the Play apart form other phones is its hardware game controls, and we must admit to being very impressed. As well as the two shoulder buttons, there's a D-pad on the left and your classic Triangle, Circle, Cross, Square (TCCS) buttons on the right. These all have surprising amounts of travel and a defined action, giving you a more than adequate amount of feedback. The shoulder buttons sit perfectly under your forefingers when holding in gaming mode but are a little cramped to be truly comfortable. Below and to the right are small buttons for Start and Select, and a similarly sized one for opening the context menu sits on the left. These are fiddly to press, but they're not used mid game so it's fine.
In between the conventional controls are the optical analogue sticks. We didn't actually give these much of a going over (as we got a bit carried away playing using the normal buttons and ran out of time) but what we could tell was that things would get rather precarious if you were trying to use those as well as the shoulder buttons and the TCCS buttons - a scenario best left to when you're sitting comfortably, not on a busy train or such like.
The games themselves are tweaked versions of your fairly typical high-end Android, but with support for the gaming buttons. We tried Asphalt Adrenaline 6, a racing game, as well as Star Battalion, a spaceship shooter. Both looked graphically quite impressive and played very smoothly but more importantly were great fun thanks to the far more intuitive and accurate method of controlling the game with buttons rather than tilting the phone back and forth and using onscreen controls.
Obviously it will be the A titles like Assassinâ€™s Creed and Dead Space (there will be 50 titles at launch) that will really make this platform a proper gaming device, but even for more casual games the physical controls do make for a far more enjoyable experience.
Perfect, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play most certainly isn't then, with its single core CPU and plasticky build, but the concept is sound and is quite well executed. All told, we're rather excited for its arrival. Are you? Let us know in the comments.
Video coming soon.