Sony is making a PlayStation Phone: an Xperia brand Android handset that will feature a carefully curated store for Sony’s own selection of games.

Well, Sony still hasn’t held the press conference, cut the ribbon, and run the press release to formally announce the device, we admit. But there have been enough rumours, coy hints, sneaky photos, video show-offs, and foreign language previews to confirm that this thing’s far from the realm of fiction.

But Sony’s is not in a good way when it comes to handhelds. The PSP was definitely a valiant effort, but thanks to a trickle of good game releases, mammoth piracy rates, and the abysmal PSPgo, the company is splashing around in mediocrity like a rubbish beached whale, taking a right hammering from Nintendo and Apple.

So in a heated market, brimming with competition, will the PlayStation Phone be enough to stem Sony’s portable woes, or will it be another flop for the company?

We’ve weighed up the potential problems, and the possible pluses of a Mobile-PlayStation hybrid, to give an early look at the outcome of Sony’s next portable gamble.

HIT

Control yourself

Going by the number of comments, tweets, and pithy forum comments we see, people are crying out for a phone with proper gaming controls. They’re uncomfortable with the slippy, slidey, non-tactile touchscreen of the iPhone, or the impractical keyboards of many Android handsets.

But the PlayStation Phone offers a glimmer of hope on the horizon: a phone that mimics the early PlayStation pad with a joystick, buttons, shoulder bumpers, and a touchpad to boot. For every whine and moan we have to read about being unable to enjoy N.O.V.A. or Shadow Guardian without a proper pad: here’s the answer.

An Android with good games?

Android isn’t the best games platform in the world. Compared with the iPhone and Windows Phone 7, the Android suffers from a shoddy marketplace, booming piracy rates, and lacklustre optimisation for specific handsets thanks to obscene hardware fragmentation.

When we think of Android we think of customisation, open source, the little green robot guy, and then, finally, gaming.

But Sony Computer Entertainment knows games better than most, with a good 16 years in the business, more than 350 million consoles sold, and some of the most enduring, well known franchises in the biz. If anyone could save Android gaming, it’s Sony.

FLOP

Lacklustre specs

Right now, the specs plant the PlayStation Phone as a rather high-end device, hanging out with the top-of-the-line Samsung Galaxy S thanks to a beefy Snapdragon processor, a high resolution 854x480 display and 512MB of RAM.

But it’s not out yet, and by the time it finally launches it could be going up against dual-core Android devices, and whatever juicy specs Apple has in surprise for us with the next iPhone.

If the leaked specs really are correct, Sony needs to get this device out now before it starts to feel like a bog standard mobile, and definitely before it becomes a crusty, last generation ‘droid.

Although, that is entirely dependant on the sort of games Sony is envisioning on this console. For fully 3D romps like shooters, adventures, and racers, Sony will need to up its game. Those specs pale in comparison to the original PSP, let alone the earth shattering power we’re promised for the PSP 2. But for PlayStation 1 emulation and more causal fare it will certainly suffice.

Go to gaming device?

Specifically trying to court gamers with a phone seems like a dangerous game. It didn’t work for the Nokia N-Gage, that’s for sure.

Much in the same way that a professional photographer isn’t looking to make a camera phone his go-to snapper, and an audiophile won’t be swapping his iPod for the iPod app, any gamer worth his salt will be looking for a handheld games console and see mobile gaming as a way of wasting time between bus stops.

And with the impending announcement of the PSP 2, that it makes it doubly difficult for Sony. Why go for the low-powered Android phone, when you could have the ultra high-spec, gaming-centric PSP 2 for your gaming, and then choose whichever handset you fancy for everything else?

Stiff competition

The PlayStation Phone will be going up against some extremely tough opponents. If it really does position itself as a games console first and foremost it not only has to tackle the PSP 2, but Nintendo's mammoth new gizmo: the 3DS.

And in the mobile space there’s the iPhone: the ultra-heavy-weight champion of handset gaming with a gigantic and well-organised store, a dedicated community of developers, a few zillion owners, and a contract-free, cheapy iPod touch option to boot.

Not to mention the Windows Phone 7 branch. It might not be lighting up the sales charts, but it’s a brilliant option for someone who wants a mobile with an emphasis on thumb-twiddling microgames. Its tied to Xbox Live, a similarly huge community of makers both professional and indie, and some very impressive handsets makes it a force to be reckoned with.

CONCLUSION

Specifically courting gamers didn’t work for the N-Gage, but Sony’s track record is a lot more impressive than Nokia’s. There’s a mammoth cachet behind the PlayStation brand that might just get gamers to pick up this mobile. And the gaming controls are going to be very tempting for those sick of touchscreens and keypads.

But with humongous competition from Nintendo, Apple, Microsoft, and even Sony’s own PSP, could a middle-of-the-road Android really be enough to get people to ditch their Desire or forget their iPhone? Sony had better have something really enticing in that PlayStation store if it wants to move some units.

But that’s just us. Is the PlayStation Phone up your street, or will you be holding on to your Optimus? Let us know in the comments.