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Cast your mind back, if you can, to the tender world of gadgets circa 2011. Apple had just launched Siri on the iPhone, Google was making its biggest push into social networking with Google Plus, and Sony had decided it was time to release a true gaming smartphone: the much-anticipated “PlayStation Phone,” officially dubbed the Xperia Play.
It was not, by any means, a great success. A 2011 Engadget review praised the phone’s sliding mechanism and gamepad but bemoaned its dim screen and lack of playable titles. The device had its fans, though, many of whom were excited in 2012 by whispers of an Xperia Play 2. This promised sequel never emerged, but eight years after the PlayStation Phone 2 was first rumored, images purportedly showing the device have appeared online.
Pictures of the phone were shared on the Xperia subreddit by a user who found a listing for the device on Idle Fish, a Chinese secondhand goods store operated by Alibaba. The seller says the phone is only a prototype and there’s no way to verify its authenticity. The seller’s shop, though, suggests they have some sources in the world of obsolete tech, with other listings including a PS3 devkit and classic keyboards like the venerated IBM Model F.
The phone certainly looks the part. It’s got the same slide-out mechanism as the original Xperia Play and the PSP Go, a D-pad, a set of standard PlayStation buttons, left and right shoulder buttons, and Xperia branding on the rear. There’s also a mysterious “3D” button, which was perhaps for features similar to the stereoscopic display on Nintendo’s 3DS.
Notably, the front of the phone has capacitive buttons instead of hardware buttons. That’s consistent with changes to the design of Xperia phones from 2012 onward, and it matches a leaked render of the Xperia Play 2 that did the rounds on gadget blogs back in 2012. In other words: this may well be the real deal, but we have no way of knowing for sure.
It’s certainly interesting to think, though, what might have happened if the Xperia Play had found a market. Would gaming smartphones have become mainstream instead of a niche, if persistent, product category? Despite its limitations, the Xperia Play reportedly handled PlayStation games extremely smoothly (check out this video review of the device from 2019 for an in-depth look) and who wouldn’t want to have the PS1’s back catalog in their pocket?
But Sony apparently thought the hybrid approach just wasn’t worth it. Indeed, in 2011, it also released the PS Vita: the successor to the PSP which handily took care of any Sony fans looking for a reliable and portable gaming experience.
And in 2020, it’s hard to imagine a dedicated gaming phone ever making a comeback. Why bother when you can simply stream most console games to your smartphone of choice? If the Xperia Play 2 has finally surfaced, it’s only as a shipwreck of a long-forgotten age.