Hands-On with the Sony Ericsson Play, Neo, and Pro

In a rare moment of specialization in the smartphone market, Sony Ericsson has announced at MWC 2011 three new high-end smartphones that will be hitting stores in Spring and Summer 2011: the Xperia Play, Xperia Neo, and Xperia Pro. The Xperia Neo is focused on bringing users the best possible multimedia experience, with cutting edge camera and video technology, and the Xperia Pro is designed for members of the business world, providing an extensive suite of office applications. Of course, the most highly anticipated one of the bunch is the Xperia Play, which you probably know better by another name: the PlayStation Phone.

All three devices are fully functioning smartphones, and all run Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

The Xperia Neo is the media focused phone, and comes equipped with HDMI support, an 8 megapixel auto-focus camera with LED flash, and a 2 megapixel front-facing camera. The phone was even reportedly designed to ergonomically fit the hand of a picture-taker. Like its two sister phones below, the Neo runs on a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It also uses Sony’s own ExmorR technology, for higher quality picture and video capture. Watching video on the Neo is a dream, enabled by the Mobile BRAVIA Engine, and makes for an unbelievably crisp display. You really will have a hard time believing that you’re actually seeing this kind of picture quality on a mobile device.

The Pro, on the other hand, is all about business. The specs are much the same as the other two, but with a focus on office efficiency. Unique to the Pro is a slide-out full QWERTY keyboard, including smart functions that allow for quicker communication and messaging. There’s a full suite of office apps here, for everything from syncing email to editing office documents. Communication is further enhanced by a new type and send widget, as well. This one should be a giant leap forward for business phones; it looks like Ericsson’s specialization strategy might pay off big dividends here.

Finally, let’s get down to business…err…gaming. The long-awaited PlayStation Phone is here at last, and so far, it promises to be everything gamers had hoped it would be, and more. The Xperia Play is PlayStation Certified, making it the first of its kind. Full and high quality 3-D gaming is enabled by the 1 GHz Snapdragon processor inside, providing smooth, 60 fps gameplay. Reportedly, the hardware used to make this gaming possible is designed to be easier on the battery, but it remains to be seen what exactly this means. This is a powerful machine, and it’s hard to imagine this device not eating up battery life in a hurry. Hopefully it doesn’t, though, because the gaming possibilities for the Play are enticing, to say the least.

The slide-out gaming pad resembles the layout of any PSP or PlayStation controller, with the exception of the shoulder buttons (one set, as opposed to two). The analog joysticks, of course, are not present, replaced by dual touchpads that will likely take some getting used to from seasoned gamers.

The games coming to this device are the big selling point, though. Twenty developers are said to be working with Sony right now on development for the device, from small companies like Gameloft and Glu Mobile to heavy hitters like EA and Namco Bandai. There will be 50 titles available at launch, with Dead Space, FIFA, Battlefield and Assassin’s Creed all confirmed as in development for the Xperia Play (it is unclear how many of these games, if any, are launch titles). PS One classics will also be heading to this phone at some point in the near future, so you can start rolling out the nostalgia now while you prepare to get in on some Crash Bandicoot or Final Fantasy VII on your mobile phone while you’re stuck on a bus or waiting at the airport.

It doesn’t end there, though. Sony has announced that later this year, the PlayStation Suite will become available, which is basically going to be a PlayStation App store made for Android devices, with the purpose of distributing games, including the aforementioned PS One titles. It will also act as developer platform for games created specifically for the Xperia Play, from both Sony and third parties.

Finally, the PlayStation Phone is here! Get ready for Sony’s crack at Apple’s share of mobile phone gaming. The Xperia Play is coming to the U.S. In March of this year, initially only to Verizon, though Sony has said they are working with other carriers, as well. The Xperia Neo and Xperia Pro will be coming Spring 2011 and Summer 2011, repsectively. Pricing for all of this is, as of yet, unknown.

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