This topic has been around since before the Xperia Play got release and while Sony Ericsson had the right idea with making an actual gaming focused device for Android gamers, there are some items that could have been improved upon. This isn't a knock at the Xperia Play though which is a fun, solid device.
Perhaps it is the ex-hardcore PC gamer in me talking now but with technology in the mobile field quickly catching up to that of PCs and consoles, it is pretty relevant even from the perspective of a PC gamer. Like we have said many times on this site and it has been quoted by everyone from CNN to MSNBC, Android is the equivalent to PC gaming while iOS is the equivalent to console gaming, in terms of development anyways. This is because, like PC gaming, Android has plenty of options when it comes to hardware and as a gamer you usually go for the best hardware that is available at the time. This means that developers, especially any of those triple AAA studios out there, will eventually need to have minimum requirements for their games. iOS on the other hand has a set structure, set device hardware and all a developer really needs to do is develop for those devices.
Enough about the development end of things though, today is about a true Android gaming device. A lot of this is common sense in a way that if these devices were designed by a gamer of any kind, their hardware specs would be completely different. The Xperia Play was a good start in a lot of way but it could have been better. It is time for a manufacturer to step up and make a real Android gaming device, designed by gamers for gamers. So why talk about this subject? Android gaming has progressed so far that even Sony Ericsson and Samsung both sponsor two of the biggest international gaming leagues running right now, the CVG and the MLG. There are even sponsored teams by Sony Ericsson that play on the Xperia Play. LG is having a gaming tournament for the Thrill 4G launch which will be with N.O.V.A. by Gameloft and is an all day event. Hell we even host our own tournaments.
So lets get down to it shall we? I will be using the Xperia Play throughout this editorial as an example only because it is a true Android gaming device because it comes with controls. This isn't to say other devices, especially tablets, aren't gaming devices because they are.
The Game Pad
The game pad and controls on the Xperia Play are what make it a gaming device. Not the services on the device. Not the fact is can play PSOne games natively. Not the fact that it is Playstation Certified or anything else you can think of. The only reason that the Xperia Play is a gaming device is because of the controls. Take those away and it is just another Android phone. The game pad was done well but it could have been tweaked to be great. If you can fit a d-pad there then you can put in one or two low height analog sticks instead of the touch pads. Alternatively you could have the d-pad taken out and one low height analog stick put there in it's place.
This is more of a console gamer thing but it makes sense. Most console game players use the analog sticks for better control. The touch pads, while nice, do give that similar feeling of control but it is easy to have your finger slide off of them when playing. A low height analog stick would make for much better controlling of your character regardless of the game you are playing. The control pad should also be just slightly thicker than it is but that is more based on personal preference. The one on the Xperia Play seems a bit too thin and a time a bit awkward to handle when you have some intense gaming going on. Something a little more solid feeling where you aren't rubbing your fingers on the back of the screen in order to hit the shoulder buttons would be nice.
This is where the hardcore PC gamer comes in. A single-core chipset in a gaming device seems pretty lackluster when it comes to selecting a chipset to put into a device. A gaming device should have a fairly new chipset, preferably multi-core whether it be dual or quad-core. There is always more benefit to having a multi-core chipset for a gaming device than a single-core. There are some solid single-core chips out there that can do great when it comes to gaming but as a gamer you always are looking for the best hardware to really enjoy your gaming experience. Putting a single-core chip into a gaming device when there are dual-core options out there to use seems almost counter-productive.
If I were to go out right now and buy pieces to build a gaming PC, I wouldn't go out and buy a P4 chip when I can grab a dual or quad-core chip instead. If Android is the equivalent to PC gaming then why would you go for a single-core in a gaming device when you can have a dual-core, and soon quad-core, Android device? Why not put that dual-core chip into the device instead of using a single-core?
Currently the Xperia Play comes with 512MB of RAM, some of which is actually reserved for other functions the phone needs to do so you are not even getting the full 512MB of RAM to use for gaming. When other devices are coming with 1GB or RAM, putting 512MB into a gaming device is really holding back what could be an even great device. There isn't a whole lot more to say about this subject, there should always be plenty of RAM free and available in a gaming device.
A slightly bigger screen is always better for gaming and that holds true to a portal gaming device. You are not buying a portal gaming device because it makes great phone calls or you can check your Gmail on it although that is a nice bonus. You are buying it because you have gaming controls right there that slide out and you can do some serious gaming. So why not make the screen just a little bit bigger to enjoy those games on.
The screen on the Xperia Play is 4" but it could have been bigger like other phones have. It doesn't have to be massive but a little more space is always welcome.
The Glasses-free 3D Fad
Whatever you do, if you are making an Android gaming device, do not throw in that it can do glasses-free 3D gaming as a main feature. If you want to include that in as a feature that is fine. Nothing wrong with choices but don't tout it as the main feature. 3D gaming, with or without glasses, hasn't really taken off, especially with the glasses-free kind. The Nintendo 3DS can definitely be a good example of how it hasn't really caught on.
Support for glasses-free 3D games by developers is slowly coming around but it still has a long way to go and really is more of a gimmick than anything.
If you are a manufacturer and are planning on making another gaming device for Android, some of these point need to be seriously considered. If you do not and go about putting hardware that is typically found in most Android phones and expect it to become the norm for Android gamers to want and use then you will be disappointed. Again, we like the Xperia Play, it is a good start but it could have been even better.
As a gamer, all I want in an Android gaming device are good graphics, excellent performance and great controls. We should be able to go from a platform game to an FPS game where twitch gaming is possible. With what is currently available technology-wise, that shouldn't be much to ask for yet we see very little of that available. While companies like nVidia and Qualcomm are making the chips that can really bring true console/PC gaming to Android, it gets held back by not actually using them and putting in 'standard' hardware instead of the newest and best. Gamers don't mind going out and spending the money on a device if it brings to the table all they need when it comes to gaming. Right now the best gaming to be had on Android is with your dual-core phone or tablet.
So now we ask you, the readers, what you would like to see if another manufacturer tried to bring another gaming device to Android. Let us know in the comments below.
AndrewH - Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of DroidGamers. Having been a hardcore PC and console gamer all his life, this passion is now applied to Android gaming and writing about it. When not playing or writing about Android games, he spends his time with his wife and son.