Sony launching Xperia Play on May 26

by Phil Hornshaw

While a few other countries have been able to enjoy Sony (SNE) Ericsson’s PlayStation Phone, the Xperia Play, for a few weeks now, the U.S. has been left out in the cold with only rumors and speculation as to when the device would hit our shores. Luckily, that speculation has come to an end with a firm date: May 26.

The phone is finding its way to Verizon’s (VZ) network, with preorders beginning tomorrow, May 19. The phone will run at $199 on a new two-year contract from Verizon, and require customers to enroll in a $39.99 monthly Nationwide Talk plan along with a $29.99 smartphone data plan.

We had a chance to mess around with the Xperia Play back at Game Developers Conference 2011 in San Francisco, and players who have been waiting patiently for the Play to make it to the U.S. won’t be disappointed in the device’s gaming capabilities. The phone features a slide-down game pad in place of a keyboard, a Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon II 1Ghz processor and Adreno 205 GPU, and Android 2.3 Gingerbread. It supports Adobe (ADBE) Flash, carries a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera plus a front VGA camera, and mobile hotspot capabilities.

But most notable about what you get with the Xperia Play are the preloaded games. The phone comes with six games out of the box: Madden NFL 11, Tetris and The Sims 3 from Electronic Arts (ERTS), Asphalt 6: Adrenaline and Star Battalion from Gameloft, and Crash Bandicoot from PlayStation. Users will also be able to buy from a back catalog of old PlayStation games to run on the phone, including classics like Resident Evil 2.

Game support for the Xperia Play could end up being pretty tremendous. So far, Sony has admitted that PSOne back-catalog games available on the phone haven’t sold well – the best among them has racked up fewer than 1,000 downloads – but that’s quite likely to change when the Play hits the U.S. market and its huge community of PlayStation fans. The Play also has a lot of support from premium mobile game maker Gameloft, including exclusive games like BackStab, which was released only for the Xperia Play before becoming available for additional Android devices. Electronic Arts, also becoming a serious contender in the mobile gaming space, has thrown its support behind the Play as well.

And that’s to say nothing of the support Sony will put behind the device itself. Sony has been working on a new system called the PlayStation Suite, which will allow players to compete against each other across various platforms like the PlayStation 3, Sony’s newly announced S1 and S2 tablets and its forthcoming NGP handheld.  It’ll also integrate aspects of Sony’s PlayStation Network – including Trophies (Sony’s brand of achievements) and friends’ lists.

All things considered, the Xperia Play comes with a pretty solid price tag (comparable to a new iPhone 4 with a Verizon contract) and a decent crop of games out of the box. With exclusives like those offered from Gameloft and the plans Sony has for the device, gamers shouldn’t be disappointed – but we’ll have to wait another week to see just how big a contender Sony Ericsson’s PlayStation Phone becomes.