Sony Xperia Play due March, will cost £520

The first hints as to when the UK gaming public will be able to get their sweaty hands on the Sony-Ericsson Xperia Play, also known as the long-rumoured PlayStation Phone, have appeared courtesy of entertainment retailer Play.com.

According to the site's pre-order page, the Xperia Play will be hitting the streets on the 28th of March - and will fetch a significant premium over similar handsets.

The device, the world's first PlayStation-certified phone, uses Google's Android 2.3 'Gingerbread' operating system on a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor - putting it at the top end of the smartphone market in terms of features and specification.

It attempts to carve its own niche, however, thanks to a clever slide-out game control system which allows users to duplicate the company's familiar 'DualShock' control system of a pair of analogue sticks using touch-sensitive control surfaces.

The pre-order page suggests that the SIM-free, unlocked edition of the handset - which can be used on any UK network with an existing SIM, and requires no contract - will fetch a massive £519.99 at launch.

While it's difficult to compare a standard Android handset with the long-awaited PlayStation Phone, the pricing still looks a little high. In comparison, the LG Star Optimus 2X 'superphone' - which packs a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 system-on-chip design from Nvidia - is available for pre-order at £469.99.

Despite its high price, the PlayStation branding alone should be enough to guarantee that the Xperia Play sells well when it launches later next month - providing, that is, Sony hasn't scared all its customers away with its ongoing legal actions by that point.