With its glass and aluminium design, Sony's flagship Xperia Z2 is among the most visually striking phones around, and it would be very much at home in a first class business lounge or a fancy cocktail bar. It's packed full of the best tech around though so it comes with an unsurprisingly high price. If your budget is more modest, but you don't want to skimp on the good looks or Sony name, turn your attention to the Xperia T3.
This 5.3-inch Android KitKat phone has a sleek black and silver design that looks and feels good, it has an 8-megapixel camera that takes shots more than good enough for social network use and its vast display, while not high resolution does at least provide plenty of room to show off your favourite Netflix shows.
You can pick the Xperia T3 directly from Sony's online store in the UK now for £299. It's not currently available in the US or Australia and Sony is yet to officially say whether it will ever go on sale there, but it converts to about $500/AU$540. I wouldn't get your hopes up however -- Sony has a long history of only releasing some phones in certain markets and the flagship Xperia Z2 is yet to see a US launch.
With its matte black, plastic back panel you won't mistake the Xperia T3 for the flagship, glass-clad Xperia Z2. That's not to say it's bad looking though -- far from it, in fact. It has a stark, minimalist design, with the plain black offset nicely by the silver sony logo, camera lens and the shiny, mirrored edging. The matte finish feels good to hold -- thanks also to the curved back, which fits quite snugly in your palm -- but it's a total fingerprint magnet.
With a 5.3-inch screen shoved inside, it really doesn't qualify as compact. It's wider and longer than phones like the Galaxy S5 , which isn't helped by the fairly fat bezel, because the body is quite a bit larger than it really needs to be. It's not going to suit if you're after a small phone to go unnoticed in your jeans. You may want to look instead towards the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact , which packs the same high-end specs as the Xperia Z1 , but shrinks it into a 4.3-inch form. Still, it's only 7mm thick, so it's not exactly what you'd call large.
The speaker at the top of the front of the phone also houses an LED light that glows when you have notifications, which means you don't need to turn your screen on every minute when you're waiting for an important text to come through. Around the sides you'll find the usual lineup of volume and power buttons, micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack. There's a dedicated camera shutter button too, and a microSD card and SIM card slot are hidden underneath a small flap.
The 5.3-inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution. While that's the same number of pixels you'll find on the superb Xperia Z1 Compact, it's spreading them out over a much larger area -- an entire inch more, to be precise. The T3's pixel density comes in at 277 pixels-per-inch, while the Z1 Compact has a more respectable 342ppi. There's no denying that the T3's display lacks the pin-sharp clarity of higher resolution displays, but it's far from fuzzy.
Icons have well defined edges and even small text on Web pages can be read fairly comfortably without needing to zoom right in. High definition video on Netflix is perfectly watchable and it's only really when you put it side by side against a full HD display that you'd notice that there's a lack of resolution from the T3 -- which I doubt you'll find yourself doing very often.
It's reasonably bright, although not quite enough to counter the worst of the overhead office lights in CNET Towers. It does have decent colours though. They're nice and rich, without looking oversaturated, making my test images look vibrant, and colourful Netflix shows like Adventure Time look great.
Inside, it's running on Android 4.4.2 KitKat, which is almost the most recent version of Android -- the most up-to-date release being version 4.4.4 KitKat. It's been given the same skin you'll find on the other recent Sony Xperia phones. The overall architecture is much the same as it is on other Android devices -- multiple homescreens are available for apps and widgets, four app icons sit on the bottom for quick access and any apps you don't want on the homescreens are stored in an app tray.
Sony has made quite a few tweaks though. To the left of the app tray is a little settings bar that lets you easily reorganise your apps into alphabetical order, by most often used, or to show only apps you've installed. The multitasking carousel lets you switch between open apps and also open mini apps (a Web browser, notes app, calculator) that hover over the top of the interface as you swipe around. Sony has replaced the Android image gallery with its own image and video galleries, which I'm not particularly keen on as they're a little convoluted.
Sony has thrown a few of its own bits of software in too, including its Music and Video Unlimited streaming services and Xperia Lounge, which shows things like upcoming movie and game trailers and artist interviews -- it's not a fascinating selection of content, but it's sensible of Sony to use its wide range of content in film, gaming and music as a sweetener to draw you into its mobiles. Sony hasn't loaded its phone up with nearly as much junk as Samsung likes to do on its handsets, so it's perfectly easy to get to grips with when you first turn it on.
Processor and battery performance
At the heart of the T3 is a 1.4GHz Qualcomm quad-core processor -- again, a big step down from the 2.3GHz beast found purring away inside the Xperia Z2. It's the same chip you'll get inside the Motorola Moto G , which is perfectly adequate for the everyday basics. The Xperia T3 has much the same performance -- navigation is reasonably swift, with little delay when opening menus or swiping down the notifications bar.
Image editing in Snapseed was handled perfectly well, and some light gaming in Asphalt 8 was doable, although in more intense moments, the gameplay did get a little juddery. If you plan on editing a lot of video or playing the most demanding games, it's probably not going to be the phone for you. For tweeting, annoying your mates on Facebook and playing Candy Crush, it's got plenty of power.
Inside is a 2,500mAh battery, which Sony reckons can provide up to 12 hours 46 minutes of talk time on 3G. This should be about doable, so long as you're reasonably careful. In my own testing, I found the battery had dropped from full to only 27 percent after only three hours of video looping, which isn't very impressive. By comparison, Sony's own Xperia M2 had dropped to 71 percent after two hours of the same test.
It's a fairly demanding test, however, that involves the screen being kept at maximum brightness, which is always a sure way to just pour the power down the drain. If you keep the screen brightness down and avoid tough tasks like video streaming or gaming until you're back home, you can squeeze a bit more life from the battery. If you're careful, you should be able to get most of the day from a charge, but I'd recommend giving it a boost in the afternoon if you want power left to call a cab at the end of your night on the town. You'll certainly want to give it a full charge every night.
On the back of the phone is an 8-megapixel camera, which does a decent job of capturing some snaps. On my first shot overlooking St Paul's Cathedral, the phone achieved an even exposure, delivering a menacing, cloudy sky but still with plenty of detail in the shadowy buildings at the river's edge. There's enough clarity in the image to appreciate building details at full screen, although when you start to zoom in, you can see digital artefacts and image noise in the dark water.
Being a warm day, the grass area in front of the Tate gallery was characteristically busy. The intelligent auto mode on the phone has obviously chosen an HDR setting, which has resulted in bright, vivid colours on the clothing of people sitting down, while maintaining control on the bright sky.
With auto mode disabled, this building has been thrown into shadow.
Auto mode has again applied HDR techniques here to counter the bright backlit sky, resulting in a brighter, albeit slightly unnatural image.
Finally, this fruit and veg stall has bright and bold colours, particularly on the red peppers towards the left. At full screen, there's plenty of detail but again, the digital artefacts have reduced the clarity, particularly on the broccoli and the frayed roots of the leeks.
Generally it's a good camera though and is well capable of snagging you some shots to impress your Instagram followers. If photography is a serious priority for you then you may want to splash a bit more cash and go for the flagship Xperia Z2 -- its 20-megapixel camera can grab some amazing shots and it shoots video in 4K resolution.
If you're looking for the best mobile technology around then the Xperia T3 won't be for you. Its screen has an unimpressive resolution and its processor delivers the same power as the Motorola Moto G, which costs a lot less money. If however, you want a stylish phone with a good camera and enough screen real-estate to enjoy Netflix while you're cooking, the Xperia T3 is a solid option to go for.