Tonight Sony Ericsson announced an impressive four new Xperia handsets based on the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system and the Bravia graphics engine more commonly found in TVs. Three of these handsets launch globally in March, with Verizon as at least one launch US carrier.
The Play sports a unique slide-out PlayStation controller replicating a game console’s controller. Importantly analogue input is supported via touch pads and works surprisingly well. I’m no gamer but I was able to walk around Dungeon Defender without difficulty. According to Agapitus Benjamin Lye, CEO of Trendy Entertainment, Dungeon Defender took 2 months to port to the platform from PS One. The speed of porting has to be in part due to Sony Ericsson’s decision to retain all the input methods of a games console ensuring original games do not need to be redesigned to support touch screen input.
Games can be purchased via a new tab added to the Android market place. Pricing is still to be confirmed but the developers I spoke hinted at single dollar digits. With over 50 games available for launch in March including the first Fifa title for mobile, and a back catalogue as long as the Play Station consoles, plus leading Smart Phone features, the Xperia Play will be the must-have mobile for gamers.
Xperia Pro & Neo
The Pro and Neo appeared narrower than the Play and the Arc. The Pro provides a slide-out Qwerty keyboard which seemed to allow enough space between the keys to be usable. As soon as the keyboard is opened typing can begin, selecting an application to use the text with becomes a secondary choice. Enterprise management features will also be included. Physically this phone seems very similar to the hugely popular HTC TyTN series.
Half the Pro handsets on display at the launch event had broken by the time I got to have a play, which is I guess why it won’t be available until Q2.
The Neo supports an 8 megapixel Exmor R rear camera for HD video, and high quality stills. It misses the Qwerty keyboard of the Pro but appears identical in most other regards.
Finally the Arc is aimed at media consumption with its larger screen. I've probably missed the point of the Arc, but depending on pricing I can't see this being a strong seller. Distributors should order this one cautiously.
Disappointingly the fact sheets still use talk time and standby time as battery metrics. Very noughties. Despite chatting to over 10 different people from Sony Ericsson I couldn’t get any real comment about battery life when gaming or video watching. However if I was a betting man I’d say 3 hours is going to be the upper limit between charges. Expect a thriving market for Xperia Play battery packs.
Sony Ericsson are the second largest contributor to Android after Google and this deep commitment and understanding of the platform comes through in the user interface enhancements made to Gingerbread. Enhanced camera software, navigation user interface, deep integration with social networks (if a friend changes their mobile number in Facebook it’ll update automatically in your contact list) and cover flow for videos. Not all Androids will be the same from now on despite what Google might want us to believe. Handset manufacturers and network operators will differentiate through enhanced user interfaces and features. The quality of these differences will be what separates handset manufacturers and allows their products to be sold at a premium.
Sony Ericsson appears to be a lot more about Sony than Ericsson heading into 2011. It promises to be a great year for them both. Watch out Nokia and Microsoft.