Rich soft-touch plastic, a 4.6-inch 720p display and 13-megapixel camera. Dashingly, these elements unite in the the Sony Xperia T, Sony’s latest flagship and the successor to the Sony Xperia S released last year. It’s also the first phone to feature Sony’s new 13-megapixel mobile camera sensor technology and push Sony’s screen size above the 4.3-inch mark. The T is therefore more than just a re-release, an affixed letter at the end of a tried and tested handset, this is an entirely new phone from Sony, a modern day contender. But with the HTC One X, iPhone 5, LG Optimus 4X HD and Samsung Galaxy S3 all battling it out, is there room for another fighter in the mobile ring?
Sony Xperia T Review: Design
The answer to that question is a whole hearted yes when it comes to design. The Sony Xperia T proves once again that Sony’s design guys know how to play polarities off against each other. Curves and angles, matte and gloss, a balance is achieved and it looks handsome.
Looks aren’t everything though, the phone doubles up its rich aesthetic with a great in-hand sensation. When we first saw it we were disappointed that Sony decided against building upon the bold design of their NXT range championed by the striking Xperia S, however we can see why Sony took the curvaceous, soft-touch route.
The Xperia T’s subtleties feel more gender neutral than the masculine angled shapes the Sony Xperia S pulled. It also resonates more closely with the rest of the Sony line such as the Sony Xperia T, Go, Miro and Tipo. This broader appeal and tighter design language across devices is only a good thing.
In its curvaceous back, the Xperia T builds upon the femininity of the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc, only this time ditching the glossy plastic back and lithe form for something altogether more androgynous and current.
With on-screen buttons, the front of the Xperia T is nothing but fascia. On the top-side is a 3.5mm headphone jack while to the left is a micro USB port. The right hand side sees a lot more of the action with a power button, volume rocker and camera button. These are grouped, which looks tidy, but makes pressing a button by touch confusing. Above these on the right is a flap housing a microSD card and microSIM card slot. Flipping it over and nuzzled within moulded soft touch splendour is the 13-megapixel camera and LED flash.
Sony Xperia T Review: Screen
Measuring in at 4.6-inches, the screen on the Sony Xperia T is one of the smaller super-sized phones out there. Being one of the few phones this size with on-screen buttons, the screen feels smaller than it is, though that shouldn’t put you off and on-screen buttons are arguably preferable from a design standpoint. Smaller screen however does mean a sharper display, especially when compared to pentile AMOLEDs such as that found on the Samsung Galaxy S3.
The screen experience is probably the best LCD we’ve used for reading to date, using what feels like a more eye-friendly backlight than other phones like the LG Optimus 4X HD and HTC One X. Serifed text retains its integrity and the additional size really shows off the 720p resolution over that of the Sony Xperia S’s 4.3-inch screen. Its responsiveness and superficiality makes the experience considerably more immersive than Sony phones of old.
Viewing angles on the Sony Xperia T are considerably better than the Sony Xperia S though not up to the level of HTC, LG or Samsung’s flagships. How much this matters will come down to the individual - for us it was perfectly comfortable. To give you an example of its limitations, with the phone rested flat on a table and Netflix streaming away, the picture was still visible indoors, though not out.
Sony Xperia T Review: User Interface
Google’s Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich sits inside the Sony Xperia T with a Jelly Bean update en route. Lovingly layered on top of ICS is Sony’s custom UI and it offers some some nifty functionality over that found on older Xperia handsets. For starters, it looks better thanks to the screen resolution, quality and size. It also packs a much improved widgets menu and floating widgets, which Sony dubs ‘Small Apps’.
At its base level Sony doesn’t mess with its core interface. This means five homescreens, silky themes, and a widget overview activated by pinching a home screen. The notifications bar is more fully featured with volume, bluetooth, Wi-Fi and mobile data toggles at the top in addition to the standard settings shortcut.
A simple tap of the background pulls up an unimposing 'add widget' and 'change theme' shortcut. This is much more intuitive than a long press and looks cleaner. Sony load up the Xperia T with an array of themes and wallpapers, most of which hinge around their silky horizontal pattern in a range of colours. Sony’s custom widgets are also present, highlights being the weather widget and the power manager. These expand taking over the screen elegantly and minimize when their purpose is served.
The keyboard on the Sony Xperia T is our new favourite OEM Android keyboard. We always liked how Sony integrated Swype and a degree of customisability into its QWERTYs, however with the Xperia T Sony takes it to the next level with a walkthrough. This walkthrough helps you set up your keyboard so that the way it looks and functions is tailored to your preferences - so anyone can follow the simple steps and end up with a great typing experience, helped along by the additional screen space.
Sony Xperia T Review: Camera and Multimedia
Quite a bit of fuss has been made about the 13-megapixel sensor on the Sony Xperia T, not because of the specs but because this is a new standard of sensor that will likely roll out onto other hardware in the near future. With its f/2.4 lens and physical camera button, it’s certainly competitively specced but how are the pictures?
Good. Noisy, but good. What do we mean? See for yourself. All the thumbnails can be clicked through for full-sized versions. These were captured at 10-megapixels wide so at 100% will be representative of what you would see in a 4:3 13-megapixel shot.
The Xperia S was noisy but good and the T builds on this. Detail is strong and capture is quick, as is focus. On top of being speedy, focus accuracy is pretty strong and the range of focus modes make for a very comprehensive shooting experience.
Pictures are perfect for printing off 6x4 or 7x5, but as soon as you zoom into or crop them you can expect to see a fair amount of noise. Dynamic range is very respectable, though there’s no HDR mode or bracketing option which we hope Sony includes in future iterations. The on board flash is decent and thankfully seems stronger than that of the Sony Xperia S though we would need to test them side by side to confirm this.
Sony’s UI is second to none when it comes to delivering compact camera style usability on your mobile and the inclusion of the physical camera button only adds to this. The two stage camera button is small, but easy to press preventing it being fiddly like that of the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc.
Full HD video captured on the Sony Xperia T looks great on the phone and also exports well to larger screens. A smooth frame rate coupled with good image stabilisation and detail levels come together very pleasingly.
Enjoying content on the Sony Xperia T is an absolute pleasure. On top of a stunning screen, the on board speaker is loud and clear and audio from the 3.5mm headphone jack is on-point. Sony’s on board playback software looks slick and is very cohesive with the UI, but also delivers some more advanced functionality in areas like the Album with a world map of your photos and movie gallery with downloadable information about your videos.
Sony Xperia T Review: Connectivity and Storage
Loaded up with all the good stuff, Sony’s Xperia T packs Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS, MHL and naturally, 3G. What’s great to see is that it’s HSPA+ compatible, so while you won’t have LTE, anyone on Three or Vodafone will be able to get some very speedy downloads in the near future.
Web browsing on the Xperia T is also a pleasure thanks to the incredible screen. With text looking crisp and the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor being a pro in terms of web crawling, you won’t be wincing at crispy text, left hanging on sites or stuttering as you scroll. The screen size is also well suited to even fat finger scrolling. Running Ice Cream Sandwich, you can easily download Google’s Chrome browser and synchronise across desktop, tablet and mobile with your Google account.
With 16GB of internal memory and microSD card expandability, the Xperia T gives you plenty of storage options to load up movies and enjoy the stunning screen.
Sony Xperia T Review: Performance and Battery
We’ve seen a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor clocked at 1.5GHz powering an HD display before and it’s done a sterling job - AT&T HTC One X case and point. On the Sony Xperia T, it does much the same for the most part, however little things give us cause for concern such as a stuttery widget overview. This could come down to a lack of optimisation but we’re starting to wonder whether high resolution displays would benefit from more cores on Android phones, especially with all the custom skinning and bloatware the OS attracts.
So while day-t- day tasks will be handled with ease and you can expect a predominantly silky smooth experience throughout the UI, hardcore gamers may want to wait for the Snapdragon S4 Pro to land or opt for a quad-core alternative. Call quality on the Xperia T is good with audible volume levels and decent clarity.
Now onto the pain-point - battery life on the Sony Xperia T just isn’t good enough. A victim of its own strengths as with the HTC One X, this phone makes you want to use it. The stunning, easy on the eyes screen makes you want to Pocket articles, you’re inclined to read them on the go and surf the web and the great multimedia capabilities just long to play back HD video content and music. If you do all this though, don’t expect your phone to make it to the evening - and by evening, we’re talking late afternoon. For the best hope of making the 1800 mAh last, dim your brightness, activate power saver mode and if you’re thinking about going on a long trip, you’ll want to take a portable power supply. Sadly, that’s the reality of life with some modern mobiles.
Sony Xperia T Review: Conclusion
It was so close to being an across the board contender, but short of the final round the Sony Xperia T ran out of juice. Nothing can take away from the fact that the T is a beautifully designed amalgam of the Xperia S and Xperia arc with some soft touch thrown in for good measure. It also offers a great screen, charming user interface and a very good camera as well as a class leading multimedia experience. Available on pre-order for just over £400, it’s one of the cheaper flagships as well, so competes aggressively with the likes of the HTC One X, LG Optimus 4X HD and Samsung Galaxy S3. In saying all that though, it can only be recommended with the disclaimer that it may well die before the day’s out.