PlayStation Phone analyzed on U.S. soil

by Phil Hornshaw

Image from EngadgetThere’s so much information available about the Xperia Play, Sony Ericcson’s (SNE) forever-rumored PlayStation Phone, that one would almost expect to find one in the U.S. Oh wait -- tech blog Engadget did, and they’ve pretty much dissected the phone for our benefit.

A big rundown is available on Engadget’s website, but much of what was gleaned from breaking the phone down confirms the information we’ve been hearing as rumor for some time now. The phone will run Android 2.3 Gingerbread, includes a 4-inch multitouch LCD that measures 854x480, seems to have a single-core processor and sports 512MB of RAM. The writers couldn’t get a look at the phone’s chipset (it’s rumored to be the Qualcomm (QCOM) MSM 8655), but clocked the processor at between 122.88MHz and 1GHz. It also contains an Adreno 205 GPU.

If that all reads a bit over-technical, it seems the phone moves pretty well, with a lot of processing power. It’s fairly comparable to the Xperia X10, as well, but Sony Ericcson has tweaked the phone substantially to eliminate a lot of the problems with that model.

The Play contains four face buttons for Android on its outer casing, which function as the “Home,” “Back,” “Menu” and “Search” keys, and its slide-down gamepad works natively with Android, so the directional pad will allow control of apps on the touchscreen. The gamepad also includes a pair of touch-sensitive trackpads meant to emulate the PlayStation console’s analog control sticks.

Download our new Android app!

Those sticks couldn’t really be tested, because the big glaring hole in Engadget’s rundown is the fact that they have no games to play on the phone yet. They downloaded some emulator programs that run old PlayStation and Gameboy Advance games, which seemed to work well -- but the games that will be designed and built for Xperia Play and utilize its gaming functions just aren’t available yet.

In fact, we still know very little about the Play as a gaming machine. As a phone, the Play seems pretty stable -- Engadget had it making calls, playing videos and doing a lot of the other things we’ve come to expect from smartphones, and it seemed to do them quite well. But the device is marketed as a gaming machine -- it’s built to be one -- and on that front, information remains sketchy. We’ve seen video of the phone playing old PlayStation games like Resident Evil 2 using its dedicated PlayStation Pocket app, but those are ports of old games, not new games specifically designed to work with the phone.

We also don’t know how they’ll be distributed or what those games will cost, or if specific games for the phone outside of ports of existing Sony properties will even happen. My money’s on “yes,” but it’ll come down to how much Sony itself supports making games that only appear on one phone, and what kind of third-party support the company can scare up.

A rumor from Bloomberg puts the Xperia Play’s official announcement at the Mobile World Congress next month.

Rumor: HTC prepping a Facebook-branded smartphone

It seems Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t being entirely truthful when he said in November that Facebook wasn’t working on a smartphone of its own.

According to a report picked up by Mashable, HTC (2498.TW) has two Facebook phones in the works, both of which will be geared for Android. they’re expected to appear at MWC next month in Barcelona (just like the Xperia Play). Both the phones will include prominent Facebook colors and branding.

Apparently, the phones will also include Facebook features on their home screen. The report specifically mentions users’ Facebook news feed appearing on the home screen when you unlock the phone; Mashable expects dedicated apps, widgets or tabs that will handle things like Facebook Chat, photos, messages and events.

Since we were talking about gaming earlier, it’ll be interesting to see if HTC and Facebook had the forethought to create some kind of Facebook games compatibility with the phone. Apps exist that let users play super-popular games like FarmVille, Mafia Wars and CityVille (all from Zynga) on their smartphones, but these don’t allow users to expand on the games linked to their Facebook accounts.

Cross-compatibility would mean the work you do on FarmVille on your phone gets transferred to your PC, which could potentially be a huge drive for millions of users. FarmVille and CityVille each have upwards of 80 million players in their Facebook communities -- if HTC and Facebook can tap that community with a phone, the two companies could be serious contenders in the battle for smartphone dominance going forward.