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

Sony makes a big deal of the Xperia TL’s 13 megapixel camera, touting its outstanding image quality and nimble performance. The company made the same claims about the Xperia Ion as well, but that handset failed to live up to the hype.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the images the Xperia captured. Under low light, the phone was quick enough to nab images of tricky subjects such as fast-moving children. Outdoors, colors in my test images were accurate and I observed sharp details.

Sony Xperia TL
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Capture those precious moments, even with tricky subjects. Brian Bennett/CNET

One issue I didn’t appreciate is that while the Xperia TL can fire off images in under a second, often the autofocus took a few moments to lock on properly. The phone’s camera app does boast many shooting modes and settings. You can even drag function icons, say the ISO, for example, and place them on the main camera screen for easy access.

Sony Xperia TL
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On a cloudy fall day, details were sharp and color accurate. Brian Bennett/CNET

Sony Xperia TL
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Use the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera to snap self portraits. Brian Bennett/CNET

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Still life shots were a little dark but clear. Brian Bennett/CNET

Equipped with a powerful 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM, the Sony Xperia TL pushed its Android 4.0 software along with speed and responsiveness. That’s a big improvement compared with Sony’s older Xperia handsets, which were powered by weaker S3 chips, the Xperia Ion included. Menus and applications opened and closed quickly with no noticeable lag.

Synthetic benchmark tests confirmed the Xperia TL’s agility, with the handset notching a high Linpack score of 166 MFLOPs (multithread). By contrast, the Xperia Ion managed only 88.6 MFLOPs on the same test. That said, the HTC One X earned a higher 205.7 MFLOPs.

Call quality on AT&T’s CDME network in New York was rock solid, with callers sounding loud and clear through the earpiece. People on the other end, however, could easily tell I was calling from a mobile phone and heard a slight hiss in the background.

Data speeds over AT&T’s 4G LTE network in New York were very swift, though, and I measured average download speeds at a blazing 18.9Mbps. Download throughput was high, too, coming in at a consistent 6Mbps.

Sony Xperia TL
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AT&T's LTE data speeds were very fast. Brian Bennett/CNET

Even though the Xperia TL packs impressive processing muscle, the phone's 1,850mAh battery managed to last a long 7 hours and 30 minutes in the CNET Labs video battery drain test. It involves playing a looped HD video continuously. The HTC One X lasted for 6 hours and 35 minutes on the same benchmark, and Samsung’s Galaxy S III persevered for a long 9 and 24 minutes before throwing in the towel.

Performance: Sony Xperia TL
Average LTE download speed 18.9 Mbps
Average LTE download upload speed 6 Mbps
App download 646KB in 3.17 seconds
CNET Mobile site load 3.96 seconds
CNET Desktop site load 5.47 seconds
Boot time 30 seconds
Camera boot time 1.6 seconds

Early this year when AT&T and Sony announced plans to sell the Xperia Ion, I had high expectations. Sadly that phone’s camera, outdated software, and sluggish processor kept it from achieving high marks, despite a low price. Now Sony has come roaring back with the sequel, the Xperia TL. At just $99.99, the device offers the modern Android 4.0 OS, Snapdragon S4 CPU, and a camera capable of snapping quality images. You also get swift 4G LTE access and long battery life as part of the deal. Still, the Xperia TL’s sober design doesn’t exactly have looks to thrill. If you’re not a Bond fan or dedicated to the Sony brand, I suggest getting the $99.99 HTC One X, which offers the same level of performance and more style, though less battery life and slightly better camera. Otherwise, the Sony Xperia TL is a very technologically shrewd purchase that even Q would agree to.

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