We've had a good long wait for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, so it was with a fair bit of excitement that we held the finished product in our hands at the SE booth here at Mobile World Congress 2011.
So how does the finished PlayStation phone live up to our expectations? Well, going on first impressions, it feels a lot like a phone trying to be a games console. Which of course is what it is, so no harm there. But somehow we have to say we expected more after that ludicrous – and slightly scary – Super Bowl ad.
That's not to say the Xperia Play isn't impressive. It looks great, the features list is excellent, and performance is fast and agile, but when you physically have it in your hands the you realise the difficulty in making a device small and light enough to compete in the smartphone arena and one tactile and finger-friendly enough to withstand some hardcore gaming.
And after all, gaming is what the Xperia Play is going to be judged on. So how does it stack up as a gaming device? Very well, in fact. Our initial misgivings about the design were misguided, as once you hold the Xperia Play in your hands it really does feel entirely comfortable, and sturdier than we were expecting. The curved back certainly plays a big part in that.
And once you've settled into some serious gaming – our hands-on demo included a quick whirl of Asphalt 6 – it really does feel every bit as natural as any traditional handheld. The D-pad and PlayStation buttons are natural and springy to the touch, and the optical trackpads are a surprisingly viable alternative.
It may not be the most powerful new handset around, but the Xperia Play is certainly more than up to any gaming demands we threw at it, and didn't return the slightest stutter or delay throughout our test.
Games don't come via physical media, of course, but instead are downloaded from the PlayStation Suite, which gives us hope that this won't be the only gaming phone we'll be seeing from Sony Ericsson this year.
Gaming is such a central part of the Xperia Play's appeal that we almost forgot to check out anything else. But of course this is also a serious smartphone to boot, and our quick whirl through its non-gaming features delivered no real surprises.
In fact, our major impression here is back on the form factor: that its gaming credentials makes the Xperia Play seem like an overly bulky smartphone. But fair enough: it can't achieve the impossible, and its prowess elsewhere makes this a pretty easy shortcoming to forgive.