Sony's PlayStation Portable and Nintendo's DS have both been challenged in the handheld gaming market by the increasing popularity of smartphones, particularly the iPhone (as well as the other iOS devices: the iPad and the iPod Touch).
Nintendo has an ace up its sleave in the form of the forthcoming Nintendo 3DS, which, when it's released, will be the only handheld 3D console on the market. Sony's most recent handheld device, the Sony PSPGo, was widely panned for its high price and lack of support for UMD.
However, a credible gaming-focussed challenger to the iPhone may be on the horizon in the form of Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play. Rumours of a "PlayStation Phone" first circulated last year, after a Wall Street Journal interview with Sony Ericsson's CEO. The phone would not have PlayStation branding, but Sony Ericsson would work with Sony on the device.
Now, US blog Engadget has its hands on an early version of the "Sony Ericsson Xperia Play".
According to Engadget, the phone has a 4in, 854x480-resolution touchscreen and slideout gamepad controls. It is an HSPDA phone with a "single-core processor inside that clocks from 122.88MHz to 1GHz", an Adreno 205 graphics processing unit, 512MB of RAM and a microSD card slot. The phone runs "Gingerbread" — version 3.0 of Google's Android mobile platform.
Engadget reports that the phone is quite snappy to use, and emulators for the PlayStation and GameBoy Advance both ran games smoothly.
The big unanswered questions are how many titles will be available for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play at launch, and whether their pricing will reflect the higher prices of PSP games or the more casual-gamer-friendly prices of many iPhone titles.