Sony Xperia TL (AT&T) review: Sony's new smartphone hits the mark

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.0
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0

Average User Rating

3 stars 5 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Sony's new $99 Xperia TL has a swift processor, 4G LTE, long battery life, and a powerful camera.

The Bad The Sony Xperia TL is heavy, and its conservative looks don't pack much of a punch.

The Bottom Line The Sony Xperia TL is a fantastic value and Sony's best U.S. smartphone yet.

Editors' Top Picks

The new $99.99 Xperia TL is the phone I’ve been waiting for from Sony for quite a while. Frankly it’s the handset the Xperia Ion should have been. Thanks to a swift 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and a camera that snaps high-quality images, the Xperia TL is both affordable and very capable. It’s right up there with HTC’s similarly priced One X, and a better deal than Samsung’s Galaxy S3. Of course having Daniel Craig whip the handset out in the latest Bond flick "Skyfall" while doing battle with Britain's bad guys doesn’t hurt, either.

Design
At first glance, the Sony Xperia TL doesn’t stand out much from the typical dark, rectangular slabs flooding today’s Android handset market. Clad in a buttoned-down all-black color scheme, though, I do admit the Xperia TL certainly won’t clash with a sharp tuxedo.

Measuring 5.1 inches tall by 2.6 inches long and 0.4 inch thick, the Xperia TL is practically identical physically to its predecessor, too, the Xperia Ion (5.2 x 2.7 x 0.4 inches). Both phones are constructed from darkly hued metal and glass as well, and feature 4.55-inch LCD screens with the same 1,280x720-pixel resolution.

The Xperia TL sports Sony's classic curved back. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Xperia TL and Xperia Ion also tip the scales at roughly 5 ounces. The TL’s 5.1-ounce weight definitely feels more substantial compared with the Ion’s lighter 4.7 ounce heft. Above the screen sits a 1.3-megapixel camera to snap vanity and self-portrait shots, along with a thin earpiece and ambient light sensor. You won’t find any physical controls below the display; instead the Xperia TL relies on three software buttons spelled out in symbols for back, home, and recent applications.

Sony Xperia TL
All the Xperia TL's controls are placed on the phone's right side. Brian Bennett/CNET

The only tangible controls run along the Xperia TL’s right edge in the form of a tiny power key, volume rocker, and camera button. On the phone’s left edge is a Micro-USB port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is placed on top. You’ll see the phone’s main 13-megapixel camera and LED flash on back. Similar to what you'll find on HTC handsets, the lens protrudes from the surface slightly, which may annoy those who prefer it to be flush.

I do like how Sony adds a bit of design flair here with the back surface chiseled from anodized aluminum to resist scratches and dings. The phone’s 1,850mAh battery isn’t removable, however, but you can add additional memory via a microSD card slot, which is hidden under a rubber flap.

The Sony Xperia TL's back is crafted from anodized aluminum, which resists scratches and dings. Sarah Tew/CNET

Display
The Sony Xperia TL uses a large 4.55-inch (1,280x720-pixel) LCD screen, which gets very bright and presents details sharply. Compared with AMOLED screens, such as the ones found on the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Motorola Droid Razr HD , contrast was low and viewing angles narrow. Sony’s Bravia Engine software setting tried to address some of these issues but just made colors look wildly oversaturated.

Software and UI
Thankfully the Xperia TL comes with the modern Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system preloaded. That’s a far cry from the Android 2.3 Gingerbread used by the TL’s predecessor. Of course this isn’t Google’s most recent version of Android, 4.1 Jelly Bean.

The lock screen is very basic, just a long virtual slider you drag from left to right along the bottom edge. A digital clock displays the current time and date in a thin, sophisticated font, but there are no quick launch icons to jump straight to important phone functions here. Swiping right though will push the clock to the side in favor of music playback controls.

Sony Xperia TL
The Xperia TL's lock screen is basic. Brian Bennett/CNET

There are five home screens at your disposal, and you can fill them with widgets, application shortcuts, and wallpapers as you see fit. By default the Xperia uses the "Skyfall" theme that has the iconic James Bond gun-barrel eye view as the main backdrop; 007 sound effects are loaded, too, for e-mail alerts and ringtones.

Sony Xperia TL
Configure the home screen to your tastes. Brian Bennett/CNET

Editors' Top Picks

 

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Where to Buy

Sony Xperia TL (AT&T)

Part Number: 6290299

MSRP: $449.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Service Provider AT&T
  • Weight 5.29 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.6 in
About The Author

Brian Bennett is senior editor for mobile phones at CNET and reviews a wide range of mobile communication products. These include smartphones and their myriad accessories. He has more than 12 years of experience in technology journalism and has put practically anything fun with a micro chip through its paces at some point.