Xperia Play vs Pandora


SNESFAN

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So I just got my Xperia Play aka PSP Phone in the mail recently, it's been a long time coming. As I've been waiting on the fabled PSPhone about as long as I've been waiting on the Pandora. Funny thing is I just received both within a couple weeks of each other amazingly. While the PSPhone didn't have specs you could actually put your finger on until recently, the concept of a phone you can play games decently on has been a long time dream of mine. I've thought long and hard about what I want to say, and how I want to say it, and I believe I have. Feel free to make comments after my review about how you might feel differently but please keep the flames to a minimum, and reserve all derailment and try to stay on topic.


Anyway, shall we begin?


Hardware;


-Case: Build quality is excellent on the Play. The slider is a solid construction and smooth finish, the sides of the device has a metal finish with the back in a hard plastic. The Pandora has an elegant black matte finish throughout the device. Style is too subjective to compare. The play fits well in the hands in portrait and fairly ergonomic when in landscape. Coming in at bout half the physical size of Pandora, the play is much more pocket able and more comfortable to hold for extended gaming sessions. The bottom portion of the slider could use a little more thickness and with an extended battery I believe this to be possible, I have the same complaint about the Pandora. Both are fairly sturdy but I feel the play creeps ahead in it's ability to take a few bounces, I dropped my Pandora the other day and it landed on the left trigger, after I unwedge it from the inside of the case, it now is ever so canted and there's a slight creek when squeezing the upper left of the device near the hinge. But still functions as if it were new.


Pandora:7


Play:8


-Processor: The play comes equipped with a 1Ghz Snapdragon processor, when it came to general responsiveness, applications loaded faster and ran smoother than on the Pandora. Emulators did not have the same slowdowns or skips in audio. Note this is right out of the box with no overclocking of either device and running at stock/recommended clock speed. Both devices are overclockable, the Pandora safely clocks to around 850-1000mhz, the same chipset in the play overclocks to about 1200-1400mhz safely and stably. Both are not the most powerful ARM processors available with dual core processors being purchasable consumer electronics.


Pandora:6


Play:7


-Ram/Storage: The play comes equipped with 512mb dual channel ram. While not the highest I've seen in even last gen mobiles, it's an adequate amount for basically everything you will be doing. I do believe however that the dual channel RAM gives the device some of the fastest response times eliminates bottlenecks I've seen on comparable devices with almost identical chipsets, when crunching on rather large tasks. Loading up and scrolling through massive menus of files (thousands) and it doesn't even flinch. Pair this with a class 10 MicroSD and read/write times are extremely fast. The Pandora comes with 256 and as I've mentioned previously while adequate for present software loads, fears for future proofing. The Play comes with a MicroSD slot and supports up to MicroSDXC but none are currently consumer purchasable, the maximum you can currently support is 32GB. The Pandora as 2 full SD card slots that supports currently 64GB SDXC, giving you a current maximum storage size of 128GB. And in general full SD cards are cheaper than MicroSD but due to increased supply and demand for MicroSD, the gap is getting more narrow.


Pandora:8


Play:8


-Display: The Play has a 4" capacitive multi-touch display with a mineral glass screen with a included "shatter resistant" screen protector as so I've heard it called. The Pandora includes a 4.3" resistive uni-touch screen. There's a huge rift in the tech industry on what people's preference is. I personally prefer capacitive touch. I can't fault the pandora for having the alternative technology, each are decent but neither are SMOLED either which this reviewer believes is a superior technology for brighter and more vibrant colors.


Pandora:8


Play:8


-Communications: The Play comes with a plethora of communications options, wifi 802.11n, bluetooth 2.1, multi-band GSM 3g and HSPA, and GPS. The play has basically all lanes covered besides some American cell technologies like CDMA, WiMax or LTE, and IR while not often used would have been cool to have, especially for communication with PSP or GBA also some smartphones have NFE for card readers etc. The Pandora has wifi 802.11g and bluetooth 2.1. Everything I personally tested on both devices work just fine.


Pandora:7


Play:9


-Controls: This is the bread and butter of this review. In a review for comparing mobile gaming handhelds, this is what some would believe the most important part. The play comes with 4 separate psp style d-pad directional buttons, 4 action buttons, start, select, menu, and L&R buttons and two optical analog controls. I gave it a thorough testing spent a good portion of the last day or so going over and loading emulators, running through game after game and giving it it a extremely decent once over. The final verdict, it's good. Not amazing, well except for the shoulder buttons, those are amazing, everything else works alright. I don't care for the optical analog sticks. They work well, and you can feel by the indentation where your thumbs are at without looking down, but it just doesn't "feel right". They also don't work in the N64 emulator as of the time of this posting, but I believe the developer is working on fixing this. The Pandora has one of the best controller setups this reviewer has ever gotten the joy to use, except for the shoulder buttons, they feel too stiff and not enough travel. This might come down to personal preference, but my personal preference is they could have done better.


Pandora:9


Play:7


-Keyboard: The software keyboard for the Play is adequate enough to input short words phrases, but it is by no means a replacement for a physical keyboard. If you find your needs include a lot of typing you may want to think about a replacement onscreen keyboard like swype that allows for gesture based touchscreen text input. The Pandora has a remarkable physical keyboard, satisfying travel, elegant design, perfect spacing. The arrangement of buttons might have been better, but I have no suggestions as how it could have actually been done better.


Pandora:9


Play:5


-Audio/Video Out: Internal speakers on the Play are amazing quality, loud, crisp, clear, fill the room with beautiful sound. Comes with a standard headphone jack and quality is great there as well. The hardware control for the audio is a digital to digital input control but scales fairly well with the loudness/softness of the audio, better than most I've used in the past. The play does not offer a video out option. The Pandora has the best audio hardware I've personally ever heard, also it offers video out, but the A/V cables were not available for me to test currently.


Pandora:9


Play:7


-Additional Features: The play offers an accelerometer and haptic feedback for rumble support. These features are too gimmicky to even be a category but it's worth noting as they add extra elements to game play. The Pandora also offers USB-OTG or usb host functionality to allow for usb storeage devices or additional attachments. For these, 2 bonus points are awarded for each device.


-Battery: The play comes with a stock 1500mah battery. The quoted claim for the play is 5.5 hours gaming of pure gaming. This is best case scenario with wifi/cell/gps off, screen brightness on auto etc etc. Initial testing proved approximately 5 hours of emulation and other games proved to be what I got out of it. This is subjective to how well the battery is broken in, the load on the processor, etc. In standby/instant on, battery drain was ~4% after 8 hours of standby. There is a 3rd party battery being worked on supposedly by mugen-power it has 3600mah, that's over double the capacity, the battery already exists as it's the same compatible model that works on the Xperia X10, it just needs a fitted back plate. I am not considering this in the review, it's just worth noting. The pandora comes with a 4000mah battery the quoted claim of play is 10+ hours of game time with wifi/bluetooth off and full brightness on the screen. I found this to be pretty accurate claim and even more in some cases. The power management on the Pandora is poor however as I can consistently see ~30% loss in standby/instant on overnight. This might be, and probably is a software related issue, but it's worth noting that it is better to power off/shutdown the device overnight than let it sit in sleep mode.


Pandora:8


Play:7


Just to recap to this point,


Pandora:73


Play:68


Software;


-Operating System: The play operates on a skinned and custom build of android gingerbread 2.3 Which is the latest and greatest version of android barring tablet only versions of the OS. The main drive to the OS for me is the standardization and polish of the OS, but is customizable down to it's open source Linux kernel. If you can imagine it, you can do it. Those that say Android isn't for them aren't giving it enough of a chance. General look and feel of the os and snappiness I wasn't able to find any bugs in my testing and everything just seems to work from media players to the Google market, the Sony's custom interface while adding a thick layer of fat, is very easy on the eyes I do have to say, and overall fluid and snappy interface. Android was designed with mobile devices and touch screen centric interfaces in mind. The Pandora runs a custom version of linux angstrom. I do not know enough about angstrom to know the full potential of the OS, but it is open source linux as well so the same freedoms apply there as well. I found plenty of bugs in the Angstrom OS from randomly disabled lcd backlight, to controllers and touchscreen working even though the device is asleep. Mini-menu appears to be a work in progress in itself, X-Desktop popping it's ugly head in the middle of touch based or minimalist environments. No standard control set within apps and the mouse to nub was an interesting idea, is fairly hard to use for mouse clicking, mouse navigation wasn't too horrible. I wish they would have went with AOSP, android open source project.... this applies for both devices.


Pandora:6


Play:9


-Adding Software: The play comes with 2 forms of software download avenues pre-installed. 1 The android market with access to over 100,000 applications, I think they are up to 200,000 now? I don't have a source for this. But the official android market is easily searchable by app title, developer name, keywords, or related titles based off user downloads. You can purchase or donate to developers, they advertise any points of contact for the developer of the app, be it website, email address, telephone or just leave comments for other people to view. All within the market app, very slick. The pocket station shows "Xperia Play compatible software titles" games that are known to work with the play, it seems to tie into the android market somehow but I haven't quite figured that out yet. You can also install applications via email, sd card, websites and serial connection if you feel like. The Pandora uses a website app store/repository for storing it's apps. At the time of this post there is another more updated means of downloading software and tracking updates. I hope it is a major improvement as the current solution is less than ideal. Once you put your apps in the correct folder on the SD card you will see them propagated throughout the desktop and menus. The OS run standard binary files compiled for the platform or prepackaged single file packs with the .pnd extension, these include the binary and all dependencies all in one file. All modifications and configurations to that application are stored in an auto generated application data folder on the SD.


Pandora:7


Play:10


-Updating: When you plug the play into your windows based computer it asks if you want to install the desktop companion software, it includes an optional media manager similar to itunes, drivers for the usb->serial connection, recovery boot loader and mass store drivers, and it also installs a recovery and software update software GUI software. If you allow it to install it goes out and finds the newest version of the OS or updates and asks you if you want to install and will do the whole process tethered to the PC. You can also check for available updates within the GUI menu option on the device it's self while untethered. You can delete all user data and put the device to an OOBE or out of box experience if you feel like getting back that fresh install feeling back. Anyone that uses windows can appreciate how a nice and fresh install of an OS on a new box feels as opposed to several years worth of installed software and settings and registry bloat. Similar can be done for android if you so choose. The boot loader of the play comes user unlockable so you can put different OS's and custom recoveries with additional tools built in, this comes stock from the factory. It doesn't come unlocked by default for security reasons, so every random end user isn't running his user land with unrestricted root access or software exploitable root access, you have to actually send a one time command via command line to unlock it permanently and void the warranty. The Pandora comes with a unbrickable boot loader that allows you to boot from SD or from nand. The "hotfixes" come in either diff updates or full flashable images. The process for full NAND flash is pretty straight forward but you have to download the zip file from a forum link and unpack it onto the root of SD for it to flash correctly. While it works, it is by no means a streamlined process. I also want to note alternative OS's are much easier on the Pandora than the play as you can boot any OS you want from SD while still maintaining the original OS unaffected and accessible on the NAND.


Pandora:8


Play:9


-Gaming: The play comes with a standard sdk for applications so software can be standard control set across the board, all applications behave similarly and predictably. There are currently like 4-5 options for each console emulator each with their own different flavor from their respective developers. Every emulator I tried worked at 60+ fps, shown more than acceptable compatibility. For example the emulators by yongzh in the android market all have the same interface and menu options are very similar, you can map and configure hardware controls, turbo buttons, video scaling, auto skip frame rate, built in cheat code engine, fast forward and standard menu for save states and auto load save state on rom loading. The psx emulator FPSE is the best option currently for PSX emulation, PSX droid has been removed from the market, but if you maintain an offline copy or ask the developer to supply you with the install package you can have an option. FPSE runs full speed 40-60fps in most games and shows excellent compatibility. The N64 emulator plays Zelda OOT 30-60 FPS constantly, Starfox64 and other demanding games are smooth as silk. The one complaint was the optical analog controls have to be specifically programmed in by the application developer and trying to request the support might go unanswered. I have heard yongzh is working on support for the analog controls for his emulators. All in all, everything "just worked" worked extremely well, and just feels great. I cannot say this about the Pandora. While gaming is of high quality when you actually get everything up and running, there are minor slowdowns depending on the emulator, no consistency between emulators and apps for button mappings or menu options. It just feels like things are just too random. Some best option emulators are ran through a compatibility layer to run on the device. While open to any developer to support, there just isn't enough good developers to go around and all the games and emulators I've tried just feel too thrown together for prime time. I respect the developers contributing their time and energy for free, but if I was to be given the option to pay money for a more focused and supported version of an application I would. All in all, everything about the Pandora software just feels like it's in a pre-alpha state. And this is after 2 years of development. Mind you android has came about the same distance in approximately the same amount of time.


Pandora:7


Play:10


So, for software, that's Pandora:21 Play:38


Add that to the previous numbers and we have a grand total of... *drum roll please*


Pandora:94


Play:106


Final Thoughts: While the play is a phone it doesn't HAVE to be used as a phone, pop in a data only card and you will have mobile 3g with built in texting via Google voice or any number of free texting applications. Turn on airplane mode and use this as a wifi only gaming MID. The play is a great peice of kit, the software is mature, the hardware is solid. This feels like as much of a Pandora 2 as one can possibly get currently. When OpenPandora decides to ever make the Pandora 2 this is what they will need to surpass both hardware and software wise. Up until now the Pandora had no actual competition. Now there is one here, they will need to step up their game, or lose customers. As you can tell the Pandora is in the lead hardware wise, and mind you I didn't balance any categories to make either side ahead of the other, those were my honest to goodness ratings for each category. I am willing to donate to the android cause on the Pandora, I have $200 for a starting pool for anyone that wants to do a solid port of gingerbread to the Pandora. After seeing how well android would run on a decent gaming handheld it makes me want it on the Pandora even more. There is a LOT and I mean A LOTTTT of work that needs done to angstrom just to make it stable, android has worked most of the problems I see repaired in the incremental hotfixes long ago. I just see the developers beating their heads against the wall over and over and the final product doesn't even feel half good in my opinion. But agian that's just my personal preference and if I'm being biased at all in this comparison, hopefully it's only right here. Regardless, thank you OP ltd for an amazingly fun ride for the past couple years, and the fact you are able to manufacturer something that stands up to a multi-billion dollar corp and in some cases surpasses is just mind blowing task if you ask me. Hopefully some of the stuff I said will be put to good use and not just seen as "just another guy's opinion"


cheers


-Grant


Pictures

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Nintendo

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Sh*tty battery life if you're out & about, whilst playing games and then you suddenly get a phone call that goes for 1 hour, which in turn depletes battery.
 
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second exodous

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It looks cool but I don't think I'll every support Sony again in light of what they have been doing recently.
 

DaMummy

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thats a really nice looking pandora you have there...and thats all.
 

SNESFAN

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What is the battery life like?
still working on my review, it's massive and i'm removing unbiasedness and excessive rambling.


to answer your question real quick


with a stock 1500mah battery in airplane mode it is quoted at 5.5 hours (that's how I'm useing it as a wifi only gaming MID)


I'm getting ~5 hours on my emulators and stuff going. Haven't checked standby but overnight I lost ~4% battery in sleep mode as opposed to pandora's 30% in sleep mode. let me break in the battery fully before I give you an accurate quote on the total life.
 

SNESFAN

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Boooooooooooo


@johnsongrantr


You do realize that next year another Xperia Play smart phone will probably be released. Apply does this with their iFail products.

Source?


And so what if they do? I hope it has even better specs than this one, and physical analog sticks


And what are you booooo'ing?
 
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Batou456

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Nitpicking.

-Ram/Memory:
FLASH storage is storage. Storage is for archived information, memory is for stuff you're keeping on tap via RAM. Unless you're setting up a /swap folder on the SD card it is not serving any sort of memory function.

If 256MB of RAM on the Pandora are to obsolete it what do you see it doing that demands more RAM?

-Communications: The Play comes with a plethora of communications options, wifi a/b/g/n, bluetooth 2.1, multi-band GSM 3g and HSPA, and GPS.
IEEE 802.11 is intentionally designed to be backwards compatible, so the only relevant letter is the last one. In this case that means 802.11g grants a max theoretical capacity of 54Mb/s (6.75MB/s) capacity and a practical higher then the device can really appreciate. The reason the newest standard aka IEEE 802.11n is not in the Pandora is as much the fact it came out after the project was finalized and supposed to have started shipping. Realistically I can't see anyone with a 802.11n hotspot allowing you pull enough bandwidth to see the difference in terms other then connection range with a 802.11n receiver instead of a 802.11g.

Do you really want to make a issue out of aGPS, which in turn requires 3G or a similar wireless radio modem to really operate? It's not like it's a GPS in the normal terms, hence there is a market for Bluetooth GPS receivers to fix the problem of aGPS just not performing verse real GPS+WAAS.
 

SNESFAN

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Nitpicking.

-Ram/Memory:
FLASH storage is storage. Storage is for archived information, memory is for stuff you're keeping on tap via RAM. Unless you're setting up a /swap folder on the SD card it is not serving any sort of memory function.

If 256MB of RAM on the Pandora are to obsolete it what do you see it doing that demands more RAM?

-Communications: The Play comes with a plethora of communications options, wifi a/b/g/n, bluetooth 2.1, multi-band GSM 3g and HSPA, and GPS.
IEEE 802.11 is intentionally designed to be backwards compatible, so the only relevant letter is the last one. In this case that means 802.11g grants a max theoretical capacity of 54Mb/s (6.75MB/s) capacity and a practical higher then the device can really appreciate. The reason the newest standard aka IEEE 802.11n is not in the Pandora is as much the fact it came out after the project was finalized and supposed to have started shipping. Realistically I can't see anyone with a 802.11n hotspot allowing you pull enough bandwidth to see the difference in terms other then connection range with a 802.11n receiver instead of a 802.11g.

Do you really want to make a issue out of aGPS, which in turn requires 3G or a similar wireless radio modem to really operate? It's not like it's a GPS in the normal terms, hence there is a market for Bluetooth GPS receivers to fix the problem of aGPS just not performing verse real GPS+WAAS.
thanks, fixed the storeage thing, and I'll be randomly updating the OP for typos and spelling errors and stuff like this, the meat and potatoes are to remain the same though.


will fix the wifi-g/n thing, but even if it came before the specs were released, it's still noteable it's not capable of doing it. Why compare processors if that was the case? I don't know if the gps in the device is a true gps or not, I will look into it, but I'm sure you are right. But whatever the case, you open google maps and it shows your exact location regardless of location within 10 meters in some cases. It found my location quickly and extremely accurately. It worked as well as a real gps, so much so as I can't tell the difference. You can't do that on the pandora without a attachment or external device.
 

EvilDragon

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Hmm, there are a few things one can nitpick about in this review...


For example, the Play gets more points in Communication, as it features some things that were never planned in the Pandora, like 3G.


On the same time, software features the Pandora has but are missing completely on the Android Play are not in the review.


While the Pandora started as a gaming device, it's so much more...


For example, stuff like AbiWord, Gnumeric, etc. isn't even there on Android.


One feature I ESPECIALLY love is that you can simply transfer configuration files from your desktop to the Pandora.


I'm using ClawsMail on my desktop for years, and I've got 8 eMail accounts setup with over 20 filters to automatically sort them into over 30 IMAP folders.


What I did was just copy the config onto my Pandora (and on my N900 as well) and use ClawsMail there. No need to setup anything anymore, all filters, accounts, etc. were working out of the box.


Setting that up Android would take hours.


Also, I'm not sure how easy it is to boot into different operating systems on the Play.


We already have Debian and ArchLinux running on the Pandora. Android wouldn't be a too hard issue if devs would be interested in it as well ;)


These are just examples of features that I can't find on the XPeria Play... or most other devices.


Features I and probably a lot of other Pandora users like. I love experimenting, trying different OSes or do low-level stuff, and I'm happy to have the same apps on-the-go that I have on my desktop PC.


So whether the Play is a competition to the Pandora or not is pretty much subjective... for me, it's not.


I use my phone not to play but to communicate, so the eMail stuff was especially important for me. Which is why I got an N900, as there's ClawsMail for it :) )


The Play is a phone with gaming options, whereas the Pandora is more a mini-Netbook with gaming options... so they're still different devices.


If you want to compare them, the only thing you can use to compare them is the gaming part.
 

Exophase

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One other nitpick: FPSE is in no way related to PCSX-reARMed. Its the descendant of an emulator that was originally on PC and was first released a really long time ago.

The Play is a phone with gaming options, whereas the Pandora is more a mini-Netbook with gaming options... so they're still different devices.

If you want to compare them, the only thing you can use to compare them is the gaming part.

How one decides to categorize a device is entirely subjective. Many people, maybe even a majority, will view both the Play and the Pandora as gaming devices first and foremost with all other functionality being second. Calling a smart phone a "phone first" and "gaming device" second is quite loaded as well, when you consider that smart phone marketing places the voice phone functionality as not just secondary but nearly an afterthought. Pandora has an additional interface in its keyboard, but on the flip side Play has motion controls which have been a popular interface option both in and out of gaming. Pandora has some software features Play lacks, but on the flip side with Play has access to a ton of apps that Pandora doesn't, many which facilitate neither gaming nor phone capabilities.


So I'm not really seeing why it's not good to compare the two beyond their gaming capabilities. Yeah maybe johnsongrantr is biased, but he owns both and is clearly trying to do both justice. I'd like to see you write a comparison where you don't show the slightest bit of bias towards Pandora.. Seems to me for many people they overlap in far more than gaming and this comparison is useful. Those who see Pandora's obvious physical differences as pluses probably don't need to be told that.
 

second exodous

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Wow, you guys are being harsh, I don't like Sony and I'm on the boarder with Android and I still think you guys are being harsh. Just take the review for what it is, don't turn this thread into a Sony bashing thread.
 

BaDToaD

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TBH the Sony just doesn't do it for me but I'm not a phone fan.


I find it difficult to compare the two devices. The Sony is a phone with gaming controls. Tha Pandora is a pocket PC with gaming controls. The Pandora is the best netbook I've ever used as well as being the best pocket emulation platform. The play is never going to tick either of these two boxes for me.


To me a phone is a phone. I haven't bought one for years and just use whatever my girlfriend passes to me when she upgrades (currently a Samsung Tocco lite) The Pandora is so much more to me than any phone could ever be. I find myself using it more than my laptop.


Also your keyboard score is wrong. It should be 9 and 0 the Sony doesn't have a physical keyboard ;)


Thanks for the excellent review though and I can see the Play would be a nice bit of kit for someone that wants a decent phone with passable gaming controls.


PS Please come back in a couple of months and tell us which device you're using for your gaming :)
 
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