A Guide to Reviving a #deadhandheld: Sony’s Xperia Play

A Guide to Reviving a #deadhandheld: Sony’s Xperia Play

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Own an Xperia Play? Our condolences. After a strong marketing push two years ago, it looks like Sony Ericsson (or is it just Sony these days?) all but abandoned the cellphone/handheld gaming combo device. It’s a shame, too—despite some glaring flaws (the “imaginary” analog sticks being the crux of most peoples’ problems), I found it to be a really well-built Android device, one that can be found for way below the MSRP at this point, thanks to the ever-evolving Android mobile market. It’s a far cry from Nokia’s much-maligned N-Gage (which, coincidentally I also owned and loved) as the underlying OS is much more flexible and the hardware is several orders of magnitude more capable than that experiment.

Just for fun, I bought a half-functioning (“software-bricked,” as the technical term dictates) Xperia Play off eBay for mere pennies and decided to “revive” it and use it as an Android gaming/emulation device (after months of hemming and hawing on the JXD S7300). It also happens to work as a phone, so I am currently utilizing it as a backup handset. I decided to jot down my experiences with the device to help current owners unlock the device’s true potential.

So after dousing the thing in Lysol (seriously, hygiene: if you’re going to buy second-hand electronics make sure you sanitize first), I went ahead and skimmed Lord Google to see what my options were. A full firmware wipe was in order, and luckily for Xperia phones there’s this tool called Flashtool that lets you wipe and re-flash any factory firmware that’s out there. After going through the necessary steps, the phone was fully functional and ready to be tinkered with.

xperia-play-2
One handheld cannot live on so many bad EA mobile ports alone.

As an aside, I was really impressed with the amount of hardware you get for your money. Ignoring the obvious gaming aspect and convenience of having real controls slide out from underneath your phone, without doing any real research beforehand, I was kind of taken aback at how relevant the phone’s hardware still is, two years after its launch. The phone is equipped with two cameras, a Wireless-N chip, a fairly decent dual-core processor, and a fairly decent screen packing an 480 x 854 pixel resolution. On paper, the Xperia Play runs neck-and-neck with current mid-range Android handsets.

I’m going to say this once, and say this slowly: Android—especially the earlier, 2.3.x version the Xperia Play comes pre-installed with—is a bad operating system. It is a bloated mess of an OS with an inexplicably awful thread scheduler model (which only got fixed on the Jellybean release, if I’m not mistaken). However, this is where its awesome homebrew community always comes in and saves the day. I’ve never had a good out of the box experience with any Android device I’ve ever owned; so flashing a custom ROM (and potentially invalidating my warranty, oops) has always been an inconvenience I’ve come to expect with purchasing an Android gadget.

What I’m trying to get at is, you must root your Xperia Play for it to even run at an acceptable clip. I’ve never understood peoples’ hesitations to root their Android devices (mostly stemming from ignorance), but it seriously takes thirty seconds to root the damn thing. Once you’re rooted, the first thing you need to do is some cleanup: install Link2SD and uninstall system apps that you don’t need. Once you’re on “rooted stock,” you should be okay, but being experimental with this device pays out in dividends.

Installing Custom ROMs

ClockworkMod should be your first destination before installing custom “ROMs,” or user-created modifications to the phone’s stock firmware. Xparts and RecoverX are the two apps I’ve seen to install CWM on the device (I personally went with RecoverX), but the steps should be the same for both apps; there’s literally a big red button that says “Install ClockworkMod” that installs the CWM software to your phone’s recovery partition, allowing you to access the CWM Recovery menu by hitting a key combination when the phone boots. You’re on your own at this point—there are so many guides and threads out there, so I’m not going to waste my time with my pithy explanations on how to flash custom ROMs on the Play. As a personal recommendation, I flashed the Gin2JellyBean ROM on my handset, but other options do exist.

The Games!
Even though the Google Market descriptions don’t explicitly say it, a lot of games out there actually support the Xperia Play’s native hardware controls out of the box. Thanks to the way Sony mapped the buttons, pretty much any game that supports on-screen controls will work; and for the select few that won’t (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City being a stellar example), you can always install GameKeyBoard, which allows you to map on-screen controls to hardware presses.

And if you’re tired of Android games altogether and have a fairly speedy broadband connection and a Wireless-N network, OnLive is another option. The app is admittedly a little laggy, but I played through an hour of Deus Ex: Human Revolution without much difficulty.

ppssppEmulation
I’ve always sworn by the .EMU emulators across the different platforms I’ve used (iOS, Android, heck even on WebOS!), but from what I’ve been hearing, the *oid emulators from Yongz seem to be better-optimized for the platform, despite not being actively updated anymore. That should cover the basics (NES, Genesis, SNES, Game Gear/Master System, GBA, GBC, Atari 2600 and Nintendo 64), but there are a few alternative options for the more adventurous out there. There’s SCUMMVM and Dosbox Turbo for older PC classics, an alpha version of nullDC floating around for the Dreamcast crowd, and even a PSP (!) HLE emulator, PPSSPP. And don’t forget—this thing can also run PSone games out of the box!

In Closing
Welp, that should cover this makeshift guide. It’s in no way complete or comprehensive, but that’s the beauty of doing research on your own! I’ll be spinning this off into an Android emulation series if I can drum up enough interest and share my experiences with emulating retro games on Android handhelds, as well as consoles like the OUYA.

  • StriderVM

    Oh man, I still love my N-Gage. Sadly I lent to my wife’s little brother two months ago and he lost it. Now I wonder if it can be bought for like 5K or lower? If it is, I’ll try to get a bricked one or something and try to revive it as well. =D

    • 30lives

      Wasn’t it an awesome handheld though? Can’t believe the damn thing’s almost ten years old at this point, that was my phone all throughout college. Played NES and GBC games like a champ.

      • StriderVM

        I have the same sentiments as you. Finished a whole lot of RPGs using Genesis, NES and GB emulators. My main argument for buying it is “It’s a phone with decent gaming, with comfortable buttons!” I wonder why Sega isn’t reviving Pocket Kingdom (0wn the World) in any form? =/

        • 30lives

          Yeah, the Xperia Play is totally 2011’s NGage minus the quirky tites. So much nostalgia.

          Pocket Kingdom was way ahead of its time too. I remember that and Pathway to Glory being the system’s standouts. I really gotta check if I still have that old thing lying around somewhere…

  • Cals

    How about the S4? im planning to emulate the pokemon black/white 2? is it feasible?

    • 30lives

      nds4droid doesn’t seem very optimized — it runs like a turd on my Nexus 7 and Ouya, that’s for sure. I think that’s the only option out there… It’s free though, so you’re welcome to try it out yourself. Let me know as I’m pretty curious myself.

      Probably less of a hassle to get a cheap, used DS Lite, to be honest.

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