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Sony Xperia T review: Sony Xperia T

The Xperia T is one of Sony's best Android efforts, but compared to the competition, it's not quite as impressive as it should be.

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Damien McFerran
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Damien McFerran

Damien McFerran has more than a decade of experience in the interactive entertainment and technology sectors. He is also the Editorial Director of Nintendo Life and co-director of Nlife Ltd. Damien is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.

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9 min read

Sony is doing its level best to work through the alphabet with its Xperia range of Android phones, following the recent Xperia S, Xperia J and Xperia U. The Xperia T is the latest addition to this growing stable, with a 4.6-inch HD screen, NFC capability, dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor and a camera with 13 (count 'em) megapixels.

orig-sony-xperia-t-main.jpg
7.5

Sony Xperia T

The Good

Bold and large HD screen; powerful camera; smooth user interface.

The Bad

Not the latest Android Jelly Bean software; Processor could have been faster; lots of bloatware apps.

The Bottom Line

The Xperia T is one of Sony's best Android efforts yet, but when compared to the incredibly high standard of the competition, it's not quite as impressive as it should be.

It's such an alluring box of tricks that even James Bond has signed up. So is the Xperia T about to sneak up on Sony's flagship Xperia S around the back of the casino and neutralise it? That's the kind of top-secret intel I'll divulge in this review.

The Sony Xperia T is available on pay as you go for around £400. Alternatively, you can pick it up from £25 on a monthly contract.

Should I buy the Sony Xperia T?

Those of you who've recently picked up the Xperia S may well be wondering if you've made a grave error. But despite the Xperia T's slight spec bump in areas such as camera megapixel count and overall CPU power, this isn't the massive upgrade Sony would have you believe.

The Xperia T unquestionably makes more sense to newcomers or Sony stalwarts who are looking for a new device to replace their ageing Sony Ericsson Xperia Arcs and Plays.

Sony Xperia T back
The back of the Sony Xperia T bends inwards, just like its stablemate Xperia Arc does.

Having said that, Sony has pushed this phone into a battleground that's becoming increasingly crowded by similarly-priced quad-core monsters like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X, as well as the forthcoming LG Optimus G. While the Xperia T's dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU certainly puts up a solid fight, the Xperia T doesn't look as impressive for the same money as the S3, with its bigger screen and muscular chip. The iPhone 5 is also a more attractive handset, although you'll have to shell out an extra £130 for it.

Design

For a device that's supposedly fit for the world's most famous secret agent, the Xperia T is curiously unimpressive from an aesthetic perspective. The front of the phone is covered by scratch-proof glass, bordered by a bezel of black plastic, which lacks the gravitas of the iPhone 5's lush metal trim.

The back is matte textured plastic and comes in a choice of silver or black. The lack of a glossy finish improves grip during those deadly MI6 missions, and the trademark inverted curve -- previously seen on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc -- makes a return. Whether or not it's a welcome one depends largely on how much you like having a phone shaped like a banana.

The battery is non-removable, so the only access port to the guts of the Xperia T is a plastic flap on the right-hand edge of the device. Once opened, this reveals space for a micro-SIM and microSD card. The flap feels a little flimsy when it's not locked in place, but once secured, it sits perfectly flush with the bodywork and is barely noticeable.

Sony Xperia T flap
This flimsy plastic flap is your sole access to the Xperia T's innards.

Also on the right edge is a trio of buttons for Power, Volume and Camera -- the sole physical inputs on the Xperia T. On the opposite side you'll find the micro-USB charging port, which doubles as the HDMI-out socket, thanks to the savvy inclusion of MHL technology. The final item of note is the 3.5mm headphone socket, which sits on the top edge. This is a curious choice when you consider that many other phones -- including the iPhone 5 -- now have this on the bottom.

Display

Powered by Sony's own Bravia Engine and sporting a near-iPhone pixel density of 323ppi, the Xperia T's 4.6-inch TFT display packs a proper punch. Sony is calling it the HD Reality Display, and it's certainly up to the challenge of showcasing your favourite movies in crystal clarity.

Although it lacks the vibrancy and deep, bold blacks of a Super AMOLED Plus panel, the Xperia T's screen is blessed with bright, accurate colours and impressive viewing angles. It's also refreshingly exempt from the speckled effect that often afflicts PenTile AMOLED-packing phones, like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

The screen isn't entirely dissimilar to the one seen on the Galaxy Nexus, however. This is one of the first phones to follow Google's blueprint for the perfect Android phone and it does away with capacitive buttons entirely, incorporating them instead into the display.

The Back, Home and Multi-tasking icons aren't actually there at all -- they are part of the display and vanish when the screen powers down. These also reposition in relation to how you're holding the phone. In landscape mode, they switch from side to side, which means they're always on the right of the screen, regardless of whether the phone has been turned clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Sony Xperia T screen
Those three Android buttons at the bottom of the screen are actually part of the display, rather than separate controls.

Processing power, internal storage and NFC

Although it boasts the same clock speed as the Xperia S, the Xperia T's dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU offers visible improvements over the Snapdragon S3 chip seen in its predecessor.

The performance of the Xperia T's processor is comparable to the latest quad-core chipsets seen in rival devices, as the Quadrant Standard benchmark attests. It notched up 4,782, close to the One X's 4,904 total and the Galaxy S3's 5,289 score.

However, the AnTuTu Benchmark tells a different story, with the Xperia T topping out at 7,049, beaten by a might showing of 10,827 from the One X and a whopping 12,112 on the Galaxy S3. This is backed up by occasional moments of slowdown during intense application usage. While the overall experience is a pleasant one, if you're looking for cutting-edge power, you'll want to consider a quad-core device.

Sony Xperia T benchmarks
Quadrant (left) and AnTuTu (right) tests tell two tales -- the Xperia T holds its ground against the S3 and One X in the former and lags in the latter.

It's impossible to ignore the slick nature of the customised Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS, and general navigation is smoother than a chat-up line from Agent 007. This assured sense of power carries across to other elements of the phone, such as web browsing and playing games. The Xperia T carries 1GB of RAM, which is the same as the Xperia S.

Deeper inside the device is 16GB of onboard storage, although annoyingly, only 2GB of that can be used for apps and games. On the Galaxy Nexus -- which has the same amount of space -- you can use the entire 16GB for downloads. To make up for this rather disappointing situation, the Xperia T comes with something that Google's flagship phone does not -- a microSD card slot, which can accept cards of up to 32GB in stature.

In terms of connectivity, the Xperia T has all the usual features, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Sony has leapt on the NFC bandwagon with the Xperia S and the Xperia T comes along for the contactless communication ride. Using Sony's own software, you can set up NFC tags to automate aspects of your phone's functionality.

Sony Xperia T side
Only 2GB of the onboard 16GB storage can be used for apps, but at least there's a microSD slot to expand it.

Interface and applications

Powered by Ice Cream Sandwich straight out of the box (something the Xperia S couldn't manage), the Xperia T comes with all the benefits of Google's popular OS. You can connect to Google services such as Google Mail and YouTube, and there's also Google's Maps and Navigation apps to enjoy.

It's just a shame Sony didn't pick Android 4.1 instead -- also known as Jelly Bean. It's the most up-to-date version of the operating system and offers even smoother performance, as well as Siri-beater Google Now. Sony promises an update to Jelly Bean following launch, but it hasn't specified a date.

Confusingly, Sony has pre-loaded the Xperia T with a large volume of apps which effectively do the same thing as their Google counterparts. For example, Sony's own Select store rubs shoulders with Google's vastly superior Play marketplace, but when you pick an app or game to download, it merely transfers you to Google's portal. The only unique downloads on Sony's store are songs and albums -- a situation that's likely to change when Google finally launches its own music service here in the UK.

Elsewhere, you'll find the Wisepoint for Xperia navigation system offers very much the same functionality as Google's own Navigation software but with poorer OS integration and sloppier performance. And Video Unlimited is in direct competition with Google's Play Movies, effectively forcing you to open up your wallet to two shops. To make matters worse, many superfluous apps cannot be uninstalled, robbing you of valuable app storage space.

Because it's running Ice Cream Sandwich, the Xperia T has Google's superb Chrome browser installed by default, but again, the standard Android browser is also present. That's likely to confuse newcomers, as the OS will automatically prompt you to pick which browser you'd like to use when you click a web link from anywhere else in the user interface.

Assuming you can survive the confusing mish-mash of pre-installed applications, you'll discover that, for once, there's actually a lot to like about Sony's proprietary UI. The usual glut of Timescape social media widgets are present, but these can thankfully be removed and replaced with more useful examples from Google Play.

Sony Xperia T Timescape
Sony's Timescape widget is as redundant as it ever was, but it can thankfully be suppressed.

Other touches -- such as the unique Small Apps system, which allows you to float interactive elements on top of the phone's multi-tasking menu -- are definitely welcome. Post-it notes and a calculator are just two of the examples currently available, while more are expected to be deployed via Google Play in the near future.

Sony Xperia T Small Apps
Small Apps is accessible from the multi-tasking menu and includes Post-it-style notes, a stopwatch and a calculator.

Camera and video recording

Although there's been a slight upward bump of megapixels over the Xperia S (from 12 to 13), the overall performance and image quality remains largely unchanged with the Xperia T.

Sony Xperia T camera test 1
Shooting indoors with the LED flash is mercifully a glare-free affair (click image to enlarge).

Sony's Exmor R Sensor continues to do the business, offering excellent shots in both high and low-light conditions -- although photos taken in the latter do suffer from slight fuzziness.

Sony Xperia T camera test 2
The Xperia T uses Sony's Exmor R technology to produce respectable photographic results, even on a dull day (click image to enlarge).

I love the fact that you can swiftly launch the camera application using the physical camera button, and also use the very same key to focus (soft press) and snap (hard press), rather than having to rely solely on the touchscreen.

Sony Xperia T camera test 3
Close-up shots come out well, although in low-light there's sometimes a lack of definition (click image to enlarge).

The front-facing camera has a resolution of 1.3 megapixels and is -- as you'd expect -- intended mainly for video calls. It can also record video at 720p resoution. If you're interested in capturing motion then you'll almost certainly want to use the rear camera, which is capable of 1080p video. Auto-focus is generally decent and the camera software does a commendable job of dealing with rapid movements and shakiness, although it goes without saying that you won't get results that rival dedicated HD handheld recorders.

Battery life

The Xperia T's large 4.6-inch screen and hungry processor are fed by a 1,850mAh power cell, which generates a lifespan that's fairly typical of top-tier Android blowers right now.

Heavy use -- including HD video playback and 3D gaming -- will drain the battery in around 5 hours. If you make a conscious effort to restrict your usage then you can just about coax a day out of the phone -- although this was something I struggled to do.

Sony Xperia T in landscape
That ravenous screen and chip will burn through your fuel in under a day.

Like so many Android devices, you'll need to charge the Xperia T at least once every 24 hours. The lack of a removable battery means you can't rely on having a spare in your pocket, so if you're planning any extended stays away from MI6 HQ, you'll want to pack your standard-issue wall charger.

Conclusion

Is the Sony Xperia T fit for Britain's most famous spy? Just about, but I can't help but feel it's slightly lacking in key areas. Yes, the processor is a step up from the one seen in the Xperia S, but rival devices like the Samsung Galaxy S3 give you more for the money, not to mention a larger screen. It's also a shame that Android's latest Jelly Bean operating system didn't make the cut, although there's ample time for Sony to issue an over-the-air update to rectify this.

If you own the Xperia S, there's little reason to view this as a potential upgrade, as enhancements over Sony's precious flagship phone are minor. However, if you're moving on from an older device, it's certainly worth considering -- although I would highly recommend that you consider some of the more capable mobile challengers currently available, such as the HTC One X and even the more expensive iPhone 5.

Apple's world-beating handset is probably the one that Bond himself would want if he happened to be a real person and not a fictional character contractually bound to walk around with a Sony device in his pocket.

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