Sony Ericsson (s sne) (s eric) is launching a new Android 2.3 smartphone next month that doubles as portable gaming device. Instead of a hardware keyboard, the long-rumored Xperia Play handset has slide-out gaming controls similar to Sony’s PlayStation Portable device: a digital D pad, two analog touch pads, two shoulder buttons and the circle, cross, square and triangle buttons. Games will complement web surfing, email and other typical smartphone features on the 4-inch touchscreen display, which offers a 480×854 resolution.
With the Xperia Play, Sony Ericsson is leveraging the success of the PSP to address the relative lack of hot games on Android. When compared to games for Apple’s (s aapl) iPod touch, iPhone and iPad, it’s clear Android is behind, and Sony Ericsson is best positioned to use that as an advantage. Indeed, the Xperia Play is the first Sony PlayStation Certified smartphone poised to challenge Apple on the mobile gaming front. The certification brings popular franchise games to the device, such as Need For Speed, Sims 3, a multiplayer version of FIFA 10, Guitar Hero, Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell games, just to name a few. Sony Ericsson tapped Qualcomm’s (s qcom) 1 GHz Snapdragon chip with Scorpion processor and Adreno graphics to power the Xperia Play for 3-D gaming at up to 60 frames per second.
Of course, the new Xperia isn’t all about play: It looks to be a capable Android smartphone too with a 5.1 megapixel auto-focus camera, support for 32 GB memory cards (an 8 GB card is included), Wi-Fi with hotspot functionality, Bluetooth, a GPS and more. The internal memory capacity of 400 MB may be a concern to some, but now that Android supports application installs to SD memory cards, that’s less of an issue. The handset will be available in both GSM and CDMA models, reportedly giving Verizon Wireless (s vz) the first crack at selling the Xperia Play in the U.S. when it arrives next month.
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