UBM TechInsights conducted a teardown of the Xperia Play in late May, based on a Canadian-sourced unit and slightly ahead of the gaming phone's U.S. production launch. The companion coverage by UBM sibling publication EE Times goes into more photographic detail than does TechInsight's web page (but then again, TechInsights wants to sell reports, so all is forgiven), and I commend EE Times' writeup to your inspection. In it, you'll garner an exhaustive parts list inside the Xperia Play, of which I want to focus on only a few key components.

First and foremost, consider the applications processor, Qualcomm's MSM8x55 1 GHz 'Snapdragon' SoC, which befitting its 'MSM' prefix contains an integrated cellular modem. In the GSM-tailored variant of the Xperia Play dissected by UBM TechInsights; that SoC was the MSM8255. My Verizon CDMA-targeted Xperia Play instead includes the MSM8655. Qualcomm's website neatly spells out the differences between them, also including the modem-less (and GPS-less) APQ8055, all S2-class SoCs per Qualcomm's recently unveiled rebranding campaign.

Also embedded on the MSM8x55 die is the Adreno 205 graphics core. A notable percentage of the negative feedback I've seen on the Xperia Play concerns the SoC; specifically, cellphone enthusiasts are disappointed in Sony Ericsson's seeming 'trailing-edge' component selection. They expected to see a dual-core processor from Qualcomm, Nvidia or another supplier, and/or a SoC based on Qualcomm's latest Krait microarchitecture (S4 SoC). Sorry, but I don't buy that argument for a second, no matter that the MSM8x55 archaically dates from last fall's HTC Desire HD.

I'm an engineer, by training and by trade. As such, I know that there's no such thing as a black-and-white decision, only shades-of-grey discernment, and that component selection made for a particular project will likely not apply to the next design in the pipeline. Absolute performance is not the sole criteria for picking an IC; cost, power consumption, board space, sourcing options and volume availability, and development tools maturity are often equal in importance...if not greater, as long as performance is 'good enough'. Take a look at the benchmarking section that follows, and I think you'll agree that the MSM8x55 is an adequate candidate partcularly given the system's target screen resolution, form factor (therefore battery size), price tag and other criteria.

I'm less sanguine about the internal memories' capacities. 512 MBytes of RAM seems scant, particularly given the memory-intensive games that the Xperia Play is chartered with tackling. However, RAM deficiences will largely only impact the handset's ability to simultaneously multitask-juggle multiple concurrently running applications. 1 GByte of embedded flash memory, on the other hand, is a far less acceptable allocation, particularly considering that only 400 MBytes' worth of it is user-accessible.

Theoretically, at least, the local nonvolatile storage capacity can be supplemented by a microSD card (up to 32 GBytes in size on the Xperia Play), an ability that came with Android 2.2 'Froyo' and its encrypted external-storage support. To wit, the Xperia Play bundles a 4 GByte microSD card. However, to date I remain unimpressed by both Google's and third party developers' embrace of the potential for installing and moving programs to external storage.

Insufficient local storage capacity is perhaps my biggest beef with my Nexus One (512 MBytes total, 190 MBytes user accessible, in that particular case). Through multiple upgrade iterations of both O/S and Google-branded and -included applications, local storage has been slowly whittled away to the point that I can only install a few third-party programs before available memory dips to 20 MBytes or less, the O/S starts complaining that 'phone storage space is getting low', the phone abruptly stops receiving new emails, etc. Although the Xperia Play has a bit more than twice the user-accessible local storage of the Nexus One, I fear that many Xperia Play owners will sooner-or-later suffer similar frustrations.

Gaming Capabilities Performance Benchmarks
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  • SilthDraeth - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    I wonder why they chose a Dpad for directional control vs a flat analog slider pad reminiscent of the Nintendo 3ds?

    I would have thought the analog slider pad would have better mimicked the capacitive touch circle control. In fact I probably would play some more N.O.V.A 2 if my Samsung epic had a analog slider pad.

    I wonder, if maybe they didn't do it, because at the time the phone was designed and released, the 3DS hadn't came out, and no one had thought of it yet...
    Reply
  • LordOfTheBoired - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    Interesting theory, but there's a problem with it... the PSP had a flat analog slider long before the 3DS did.
    It's also an input that is largely reviled by the fans, and not without justification.

    Though the fans think the problem is that it isn't a "real stick"(actually, two of them) rising high above the face of the device like a home gamepad(specifically, like the DualShock series of gamepads), and to hell with pocketability. See also: the upcoming PS Vita.

    Personally, I think it was just a poorly-considered implementation of a good device.
    The fault as I see it is that it's topped with a convex thumb-piece and the centering springs are fairly high-tension. Though the awkward location doesn't help matters either(I'm pretty sure the slider was shoehorned in late in the system's development and it was intended to be digital-only).

    I'm rather disappointed to know the capacitive disks don't work, as I thought they were a good idea. Especially as it avoided the preference for cardinal directions in dual-spring potentiometer designs(a very strong preference in the case of the PSP's high-tension slider).
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    Good idea, terrible implementation. While I'm not a PSP owner,and have only played with them a bit, my experience was that the problems were:

    1) Horribly positioned. My hand cramped up using the analog nub on the PSP while simultaneously holding the PSP with that hand

    2) Concave form factor made it harder to grip

    3) Rough texture was uncomfortable

    4) Spring put up too much resistance

    5) Too small and not enough range of motion

    The 3DS circle pad attempts to address all of these complaints, and while it isn't quite perfect, it's a good enough implementation that it can compete with "real" analog sticks rather nicely. Of course, by giving it good positioning, it makes the 3DS' d-pad uncomfortable to use, but you can't have it both ways. Anyhow, a circle-pad would certainly fit on something like the xperia play. In fact, I wish that the circle-pad was on more devices, but unfortunately Nintendo's patents will prevent that. Hopefully Sony can come up with their own similar slider pad that, if not identical to the circle pad, at least makes the same corrections.
    Reply
  • MacTheSpoon - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    This first gen phone is underwhelming, but I hope they stick with the concept and iron out the problems. The underlying concept of a smartphone with physical game controls seems spot-on. I'd love to play console-type games on my phone using physical controls instead of multitouch. Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    The first gen phone is underwhelming and ever single phone after that will follow similarly.

    Why? The Vita. I can't understand why Sony thought it was a good idea to split the Vita and Xperia Play. If you want to compete with iOS gaming, you can't do it with two distinct devices. Sony needs a unified gaming device. They are welcome to sell a wifi version (a la iPod Touch), but their flagship needs to be a phone.
    Reply
  • seamonkey79 - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    ^ This Reply
  • Exodite - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    Because Sony isn't the same company as Sony Ericsson?

    It's not even a subsidiary, indeed SE is made up from far more of the old Ericsson phone division than it is Sony.

    This isn't in any way, shape of form a 'Sony' phone - Sony doesn't do phones.
    Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    Then Sony should do phones. Reply
  • Zoomer - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    Not outside Japan, anyway. Reply
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    Sony Ericsson is 50% owned by Sony and 50% owned by Ericsson. They make Walkman-branded phones, Cyber-shot branded phones, BRAVIA-branded phones... Sony and Ericsson could clearly have come to an agreement if Sony had wanted to do this all in one device.

    After all, the XPeria Play and Vita are similar architecturally. They both use ARM SoCs (a departure for Sony in a game console), although the XPeria Play is using a Qualcomm Snapdragon with an Adreno GPU while the Vita is using a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 with a PowerVR SGX534MP4.

    In actual fact, the hardware in the Vita is identical to the iPad 2 except doubled (same CPU/GPU, just double the cores each).
    Reply

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