We’ve been playing with Sony’s Xperia PLAY, from Verizon for the better part of a month now. The PLAY is available on Verizon for $99 (and free on Amazon), after seeing a price slashed from $199 just a few weeks ago.

The PLAY is running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) with a pretty thick overlay, a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 4-inch multi-touch display, 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, VGA front-facing camera, and preloaded PLAY software.  Also included are controls to play games. Is this the gaming phone the world needs? Read on after the break for our full review.

Hardware

The PLAY is arguably the first shot at a “gaming phone”. Sony has included a slide out gamepad which has a directional keypad, dual analog touch joystick, two shoulder buttons, and the four PlayStation symbol keys you know and love. We’ll come back to the gaming part of the phone later, but first let’s go over the rest of the phone.

The 4-inch screen on the PLAY is nothing to go crazy over. It displays nice crisp colors, but is nothing comparable to the iPhone’s Retina Display or Samsung’s AMOLED technology. You’d think on a gaming phone, Sony would strive to have one of the top screens on the market.

Below the screen you’ll find four hardware buttons: back, home, menu, and search — respectively. On the side of the device is a volume rocker and left and right shoulder buttons. The volume rocker and shoulder buttons feel flimsy to say the least. To me, it would have been smart if the left and right shoulder buttons were made volume rockers while in the vertical position. The camera doesn’t take the best pictures in low-light, but does okay in good light.

The Snapdragon processor is almost necessary in an Android phone these days. Qualcomm’s processor is pretty snappy, and is suitable for most tasks. Of course, there are dual-core processors on the market, but this device seems speedy enough. Call quality and battery life seem just fine to us — up-to-par with many other Android devices.

Overall the hardware on this device, gaming hardware aside, is subpar. There are many other better technologies we feel Sony could have taken advantage of, like dual-core processors and better screens, but it gets the job done.

Software

The PLAY is running Android 2.3, or Gingerbread. Luckily, Sony hasn’t loaded the PLAY with a crappy skin. You’ll find a couple of Verizon apps preloaded, like the usual Backup Assistant, My Verizon Mobile, etc. Also preloaded are a few games and Sony’s Xperia PLAY software to launch games, which we’ll get into later. The Snapdragon processor loads all of the software just fine. Overall, the OS is snappy, but nothing insane.

Gaming

The focus of the PLAY is to provide a gaming experience alongside a phone. The gaming aspect reminds me a whole lot of the Sony PSP. Included on the PLAY are seven games, titles include: Madden NFL 11, Crash Bandicoot, and Tetris. Personally, Crash Bandicoot is my favorite.

So let’s get down to it. How do games play? Personally, games just didn’t cut it. Games didn’t feel very high-quality, and I couldn’t see myself just sitting there playing the games. For me, I like the occasional download from the Android Market — like Angry Birds. You can see in the video above how the gaming works.

Conclusion

As far as the phone goes, gaming aside, this phone seems like a year behind. If you’re looking for a day-to-day smartphone Verizon definitely has some better options like the upcoming Droid BIONIC or the Thunderbolt. Of course, this device is only $99 on two-year contract, but why not get the Samsung Continuum, which is currently free, if you’re looking for a good deal? This device isn’t for someone looking for just a phone, but…

If you’re a gamer, you know who you are, this phone is for you. Sony has a pretty good variety of games on the Vcast Apps market place and a pretty good set of hardware in place. This phone is perfect for the user who is looking for great functionality of a smartphone and games mixed into one, but if you’re looking for a day-to-day smartphone look elsewhere.

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