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This PlayStation Phone was ahead of its time – Odd Phone Mondays

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Over ten years ago mobile gaming wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today, nor were smartphones in everyone’s pocket yet. Gaming on the move usually meant that you either carried a Sony PSP (PlayStation Portable) or a Nintendo GBA (GameBoy Advance).

Those were dedicated portable gaming consoles with extra features that would soon after become a staple of every mobile phone, such as video playback and access to the internet via Wi-Fi (with an adapter, in the GBA’s case).

But the company behind one of those two devices, seemingly predicting the future of mobile gaming, decided to combine a gaming console with a smartphone. A bold move that was ultimately a bit too ahead of its time, but resulted in arguably one of the most fascinating smartphones ever made.

In 2011 Sony released the Xperia Play, and we’re about to take a look back at it on this week’s “episode” of Odd Phone Mondays.

Previous Odd Phone Mondays:

Is it a PSP or is it a phone? Why not both?

Back in its day, the PSP was a huge success for Sony, and ultimately became its most popular handheld to date, with the longest lifespan. The first PSP model came out all the way back in 2004, but PSP variants continued getting made and sold all the way up to 2014.

In late 2010 and early 2011 Sony decided to attempt to recreate some of that success while tapping into the smartphone gaming market. Thus, in Q1 of 2011 the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play was released.

A charming, curvy and compact smartphone with a design that closely resembled the 2009 PSP Go model, with a similar sliding mechanism revealing a familiar set of directional controls (a D-Pad) and PlayStation buttons.

When you wanted to play, you pushed the back of the phone down and the slider mechanism did a satisfying click, revealing the controls. When you needed a phone, the controls hid behind the display, turning the Xperia Play visually into a rather conventional early Android smartphone. It was seemingly the best of both worlds. At first glance.

The phone was running the then-current Android 2.3 Gingerbread, sported a rather dim 4-inch LCD display with a resolution of 854 by 480 pixels, and was powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 processor along with half a gig of RAM.

But of course, the games are what would make or break it. Did the Xperia Play have a good library of games? That’s where things were a bit underwhelming.

Via a dedicated PlayStation Pocket app you could access a few notable PlayStation classics such as Crash Bandicoot, Syphon Filter, Rally Cross and more. Of course, as with any Android device, you could also load it up with emulators and play some classic games, as we demonstrated for our Sony Xperia Play review back in 2011.

There was also the Xperia Play app, which basically listed a number of Android games that were optimized for the phone.

But with Android gaming being in its infancy and consumers seemingly favoring keyless phones like the iPhone 4, Sony went on to release a successor to the PSP in late 2011 – the PlayStation Vita – while an alleged Xperia Play 2 was scrapped. On the phone end of things, Sony would proceed to release more traditional smartphones instead of gaming console hybrids. And today we’re all the way up to the Sony Xperia 1 III!

The sequel that never happened – Sony Xperia Play 2

In 2020 we saw reports claiming that an alleged Xperia Play 2 phone has surfaced and is up for sale on an online Chinese secondhand goods store (via The Verge). The phone was described as a prototype unit, but it’s still unconfirmed whether it was actually an authentic Xperia Play 2 successor or not. The listing is long gone, and we don’t know who, if anyone, bought it.

According to images that accompanied the ad, the Xperia Play 2 would’ve kept the sliding mechanism and button layout of its predecessor, but it changed from an overall curvy design to a flatter one, resembling a more traditional smartphone of the time. A new “3D” button placed next to the “Select” and “Start” suggests that the Xperia Play 2 might’ve had a stereoscopic 3D gimmick, akin to 2010’s Nintendo 3DS.

Android gaming lives on

In any case, while the Xperia Play may not have been a huge success, even today there’s a dedicated number of people who game on Android. And many of those players are surely aware of how many Android gamepads exist out there, for that exact hobby. In most cases, your phone would clip onto a gamepad and the two would connect via Bluetooth, together resulting in a form factor similar to the Xperia Play.

As an example, a few months ago we reviewed the Asus ROG Phone 5 gaming phone, which combined with Asus’ ROG Kunai 3 gamepad turns into arguably the coolest portable Android console of 2021 (pictured below). So there are still options for tactile Android gaming nowadays, however niche, even if Sony isn’t the one behind them.

How do you feel about the Xperia Play and Android gaming in general? Share your thoughts with us in the comments and cast your vote below on whether you’d like Sony to revive this smartphone.

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