Mobile World Congress 2011

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Sony Unveils PlayStation-Friendly 'Xperia Play' at Mobile World Congress

Sony popped the lid on the industry's worst kept secret this afternoon, trotting out its Xperia Play Android phone at Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. You probably know all there is to say about the device at this point, except for one little thing.

It's not a PlayStation Phone. No, really. In fact you won't find the PlayStation logo anywhere on the thing. It's rather an Android "Gingerbread" slide-bottom phone (with PSP-style controls, admittedly a first) that can play PlayStation games.

Well, "PlayStation Certified" games, which means stuff developed using Sony's recently announced PlayStation Suite, a library of game development tools intended to bring PlayStation software to a much broader array of mobile devices. In other words, Xperia Play is just the beginning.

As anticipated, Xperia Play features a 4-inch multitouch 854 by 480 pixel LCD screen with the standard four Android buttons, a Qualcomm MSM8655 chipset with a single core processor capable of clocking from 123MHz up to 1GHz, an Adreno 205 GPU, 512MB of RAM, a 5.1 megapixel camera, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a micro-USB port, a 3.5mm headset jack, 400MB internal flash memory, PSP-style shoulder-buttons, and a slide-bottom gamepad with PSP-style controls to either side of an oblong touchpad accessed with your thumbs (think thumb-nubs without the nubs).

Games designed for the phone should look pretty sharp on this sort of hardware, though nothing like what's coming with Sony's NGP, which sports processing architecture several orders of magnitude more powerful. You'll be able to purchase new games by accessing an online Sony Ericsson store.

In a move sure to induce yawns from serious gamers, Sony's Kazuo Hirai said the phone would come preloaded with "legendary" PS One games. For those who don't know what a PS One is, remember the original 1994 PlayStation? That.

And expect "legendary" to be a matter of taste. Final Fantasy VII was the second-bestselling game on the original PlayStation, but it's a mess to play on the PSP or PSPgo: Already-pygmy characters dwindle to pinpricks as you attempt to maneuver them through confusingly complex pre-rendered backdrops. That, and PS One games were designed for old-school TVs, meaning you'll have to grapple with ugly pixel interpolation and formatting (non-anamorphic) limitations.

Sony says they'll launch with 20 publishing partners and offer 50 games at launch, though based on what Sony showed today--stuff like Guitar Hero, Dead Space, and Assassin's Creed--expect mostly ports out the door, not Xperia Play exclusives.

Sony said the Xperia Play should ship globally in March, and that they'll launch in the U.S. on Verizon.

The takeaway: Sony wants PlayStation games pretty much anywhere publishers care to sign up for their new PlayStation Certified program. For the moment, that means Android, and for now, Xperia Play. Expect other Android mobiles (and who knows, perhaps other platforms) to follow.

The company also wants to define itself as superior to Apple's iPhone, which Xperia Play is from a gamer's perspective. Assuming a similar games library and similar application pricing, what would you rather have? A 3.5-inch touchscreen? Or a 4-inch touchscreen with an alternative slide-out gamepad that employs familiar d-pad and button controls?

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