Imagine if someone crossed a smartphone with a game console. It'd have a multitouch screen that'd be great for browsing the web, plus thousands of apps and a huge library of games -- some of them exclusive. Throw in a hardware controller and you're all set.
Well, the iPhone 4 doesn't have a game controller (although some people are trying to fix that). But it might make a better gaming device than the Xperia Play, because the iPhone has more games than Android does, including exclusives from major game companies. Both cost $199, but when the "PlayStation Phone" comes to Verizon on Thursday, will it be a better game console -- or phone -- than the Verizon iPhone 4?
They're the most important thing when comparing game consoles, right? Well, the App Store has more games and apps than the Android Market does, plus more exclusive games.
As a point of reference, Korean publisher Gamevil has about a half-dozen games on the Android Market, including best-selling RPGs Zenonia and Zenonia 2. But it's got more than twice as many games on the App Store, including Zenonia 3. Meanwhile, Japanese publisher Square-Enix finally ported its Chaos Rings.
What does the Xperia Play have going for it in the games department? Well, it does come with seven pre-installed games, including The Sims 3 and Madden NFL 11. And it has its own separate store where you can buy original PSOne games, plus an app for accessing the PlayStation Network. Apple's got a head start with its Game Center, though -- and unlike the PSN, it didn't get hacked and go offline for over a month.
As a smartphone, the Xperia Play is inferior to the iPhone 4, hardware-wise. It's got competitive under-the-hood specs, plus the requisite expandable memory and front-facing camera for video chat. But it also has a glossy, plastic-y shell, and a screen that Engadget reports is "so lacking in brightness that it's borderline dysfunctional." Meanwhile, the iPhone 4 is a spectacular piece of smartphone engineering, and is even available in white.
What does the Xperia Play have going for it? A slide-out gamepad, complete with shoulder buttons and analog touch pads. Which aren't quite the same thing as analog sticks, or even the slider nub used by the PlayStation Portable, but which do let you control games without obscuring the screen with your thumbs. Not all games work with them yet, but the Play has built-in stores (yes, stores) that let you buy games designed for them, including some PSOne classics.
As it stands, there are no "killer games" for the Xperia Play yet. The controller may be a killer feature, but few games work with it right now. Sony seems to be banking on "PlayStation Certified" phones, though, so its library has nowhere to go but up -- and we may well see more of these "PlayStation Phones" in the future.
If you can't decide, both Sony and Apple have given you options that don't need a data plan: If you buy the Xperia Play, you could pick up an iPod Touch for $229 and play any iPhone game on the App Store. And if you go with the iPhone 4, you could buy a PlayStation Portable and get the same PSOne classics from the PSN, plus exclusives like Little Big Planet that the Xperia Play doesn't have.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.