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Hands on Review: Sony Xperia T

Published by on Feb 28th, 2013, 7 Comments

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While Sony was in a long term relationship with Ericsson in the mobile market, things didn’t seem to go their way. Especially after the smartphone revolution started, they were never able to deliver a well-made, good performing high-end smartphone that really captured the public’s imagination. Now that Sony is on their own, they are ready to show their hand. Even though the Xperia T doesn’t have a quad-core processor, it is ready to take on the competition.

Here are some of the key features:

  • 3G with 42.2 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • 4.55″ 16M-colour capacitive LED-backlit LCD touchscreen of 720p resolution with Sony Mobile BRAVIA engine; scratch-resistant glass
  • Android OS v4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Dual-core 1.5 GHz Krait CPU, 1 GB RAM, Adreno 225 GPU
  • 13 MP autofocus camera with LED flash
  • 1080p video recording at 30fps with continuous autofocus and stereo sound
  • 1.3 MP front-facing camera, 720p video recording
  • 16GB of built-in storage, microSD card slot
  • microUSB port with MHL and USB-host support
  • PlayStation Certified, access to the PS Store
  • NFC connectivity

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It might seem like the Xperia T doesn’t have the internals to truly compete with flagship competition, but as we’ve seem time and again, the overall experience is not just dependent on the hardware. Let’s see if this offering from Sony is truly as good as they claim it to be.

Design and Build

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The first thing you do notice of the Xperia T is that it has a very distinctive design. You can draw many similarities with that of the Xperia Arc, but it has been updated and revamped.

The space on the front panel has been utilized very well, with little space being left for the bezel. The screen covers almost the entire panel, with enough space at the top for only the earpiece and front facing camera. We would have liked to see the same design below the screen with the XPERIA logo. You will notice, though, that there are no hardware buttons on the front. Sony have gone with on screen software buttons this time around, which lends a stock Android feel to it (more on this later).

The materials used to construct the device are of top quality. Although the back is rubberized, it has a premium feel to it; it feels nice to touch and is extremely durable. The sides of the Xperia T are sculpted so that it is easy to hold in one hand, and the curved back accentuates this quality.

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At the top of the Xperia T you will find the 3.5mm audio jack and a secondary microphone. On the left hand side is only the microUSB port. The opposite side is a bit more crowded, where you will find the power, volume rocker and camera buttons. Above them is also a tray that houses the microSD and SIM cards.

At the bottom we only find the main microphone.

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Finally, the back of the device is where you find the 13MP primary camera and your speaker. We would have preferred that the speaker be on the bottom of the phone, but luckily the quality of the sound is good enough not to be bothersome.

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Overall, we have to admit this smartphone is thoroughly put together and an ease to hold and use. We think this is one of the best built and best looking Android devices on the market today. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s definitely to ours.

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Something to note is that the back panel is non-removable. This means that you are unable to get to the battery housed underneath, of course.

Battery

The 1850 mAh battery does sound pretty modest, so the fact that the back panel can’t be removed might be a turnoff to some. You wouldn’t want to spoil the lovely aesthetic of the device with an external battery pack.

Even though it doesn’t have a huge battery, the performance thereof wasn’t something to be scoffed at as you might have thought. On standby, the battery will last about a week and a half, if not more. Talk time and video playback time is pretty good as well. With regular use, you can expect a bit more than a day from a full charge, which is more than we expected given the battery’s size. Good on you, Sony.

Screen

The Sony Xperia T has a 4.55-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 1280×720 pixels, which means it has a pixel density of 323ppi. The figures point to an impressive screen, and real-life performance of the screen does not disappoint. Even from up close, you won’t see individual pixels. The Bravia-powered screen is as sharp as you’ll find on a 720p display.

The contrast ratios are good, not only for a LCD. The colours are vibrant and truly beautiful to look at. In terms of viewing angles, the Xperia T performs well, but we still feel there is room for improvement. The scratch resistant glass on top of the screen might be the culprit here. Legibility in sunlight also came through strong. We believe this to be one of the best 720p displays you will find today.

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User Interface

The Sony Xperia T comes with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. After launch, Sony promised a Jelly Bean update sometime in February. It hasn’t come yet, and has apparently been pushed to March. This is, unfortunately, the reality when it comes to Sony software updates, but more on this later.

If you are used to Sony’s interface, you will feel right at home. Even though Sony has stuck to their roots, they have added little changes and updates here and there to make your experience more true to Sony and to Android. This software package is well thought out and executed. It looks and feels mostly like the traditional Android UI we have come to love on Nexus devices, which we think is a brilliant move. But they have also added a couple of features that might interest even the strictest Android purist.

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From the homescreen you can tap to bring up a small menu on the top. From here you can change the colour and theme of the launcher with the left button like I have done above. From this menu, you also add widgets by pressing the right button, which is quite different from other Android devices. We have to add that the animation is very understated, so you could miss it at first if you don’t know what to look for.

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With other Android devices you usually have an Applications and Widgets tab within the app drawer. With Sony’s interface, the app drawer only houses your apps, from where you can sort them in different ways.

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As I’ve stated, adding widgets is different from most Android phones. Features like this and the unlock mechanism, where you swipe from the far left over to the right to unlock (which is standard), but also swipe from the far right over to the left to open the camera app, makes the device feel distinct from other Android smartphones.

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The Xperia T has the usual five pane configuration for the homescreens with no option to add or remove them. You have five docked shortcuts at the bottom, visible through all homescreens with the app drawer shortcut remaining in the middle, much like we have seen before.

The homescreen does have something else up its sleeve. Pinch to zoom on any of the five homescreen panes and a new screen pops up which shows all of your active widgets across all your panes for easy viewing and selection. It also has a nice visual where the different widgets slowly drift around the screen and each other. So, if you don’t want to swipe through all your panes it is a nifty way to jump there directly, as I have done to go to the social integration widgets, which I will come to shortly.

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The notification tray is pleasant and has the connectivity toggles you would need. A touch we really liked was that a notification appears when you unplug your phone from charging. The notification reminds you to unplug the charger from the socket as well to save electricity.

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The Xperia T has full Facebook and Twitter integration. In the past, we have found that devices that have the social network integration didn’t always do a proper job, especially on Android. This time around, though, it is a big success.

The Friends widget allows you to add friends from Facebook and/or people you follow on Twitter, up to eight in total. The Feed is used to stream everything from both your Twitter and Facebook accounts. You connect through the widget to these accounts, and then simply set the widget to update in the Update Status menu. So, you scroll through the feed to follow everything on both accounts, or you can click on a specific person/page on the Friends widget and it brings up only their updates, tweets etc. as seen below.

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The task manager is very standard in terms of opening apps you were running previously, or closing them with a side swipe. But, it also introduces something we haven’t seen on a Sony device before, and that is ‘small apps’. It’s much like Samsung’s Mini Apps, where a smaller widget-like window that can be moved around pops up on your homescreen. You can use this atop another app that is already open. There are the standard ones, like Calculator, Timer and Notes, but others are also available from the Play Store.

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These are all very nice ICS features. There is a problem, though. Sony are not renowned for their software updates (again we see that with the Xperia T’s Jelly Bean delay), and they probably never will be in the near future. It’s 2013, and a flagship device without Jelly Bean is a bit laughable. That being said, it is a pleasant ICS experience.

Sony has made strides in leaps and bounds when it comes to their UI. It is crisp, fluid and lovely to work with. It feels much like stock Android, which in our eyes, is a huge positive. Add to that the couple of interesting additional features, and you have one of the most enjoyable experiences around.

Performance

The Sony Xperia T is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, packing two 1.5GHz Krait cores and 1GB of RAM. It has proven itself to be a good configuration in other devices and in this one it is no different.

One thing to note is that it was only tested against devices available when the Xperia T launched in Q4 2012. Benchmark tests showed that it held its own in the Quadrant test, only losing out to some quad-core chips. The GPU test show that it performs well here too.

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While these tests will always show some interesting numbers, we know at the end of the day it won’t translate completely into real life use. Even though the Xperia T didn’t score at the top of any tests that were run, you would never think the device looks or feels slow. It truly runs like a well-oiled machine, and we had nothing to complain about. The only area it will struggle to keep up with quad-core chipsets is 3D mobile gaming performance. We were worried that using a dual-core chipset in a flagship Xperia device would spell trouble for Sony when the performance is compared to its main rivals, but the Qualcomm Krait delivers.

Camera

We like what Sony has done with the camera unit within the back casing, keeping it below the silver metal edge. This means that you won’t get any unwanted scratches or finger smudges on it. On the predecessor, the Xperia S, there was a 12.1MP primary camera, and this has been bumped up to 13MP for the Xperia T. The UI is pretty much the same, and you won’t really see a difference in picture quality from the previous version.

The shots are mostly sharp and in focus. You can adjust exposure, ISO, metering and white balance. You can even adjust how the settings are displayed in the camera UI. When using the camera button to open the camera app we did find a bit of delay, but once open, usage of the camera button is satisfying and quick. You also have the option to focus or capture from the touchscreen instead of the physical button.

The video camera is also good, with the auto focus working quickly and effectively. The image stabilization does a good job at mitigating any shakiness of one’s hand.

Conclusion

You can pick it up for around R5500, which isn’t a bad price when compared to other flagships. There are only a couple of problems with it. As mentioned before, there is no Jelly Bean in sight. For software UI that looks and feels so much like stock Android that is unforgivable in our view. The fact that there was a delay to get the device to SA brings us to the next problem.

Sony’s newest flagship, the Xperia Z, has just been launched. According to Sony SA, it will reach our shores in April. The Xperia Z does have Jelly Bean pre-installed. It will also have better performance and a better screen.

To anyone looking for a Sony flagship, we advise to choose between the following two options. You can wait until the launch of the Xperia Z and pick that one up, or wait until the launch of the Xperia Z and buy an Xperia T then, as its price will drop considerably.

That being said, if you can’t wait and have to get this phone right now, we won’t blame you. The Xperia T is a very interesting phone, to say the least. It is by all means impressive. The dual-core chipset does a great job at competing with most other flagships, even in the quad-core arena. Add to that a stunning display and a beautifully streamlined Android ICS experience, you have a very capable and well put together package. This standout smartphone from Sony makes us even more excited to get our hands on its successor.

Comments

  • johan

    Awesome phone (and camera)!

    Some specific comments:

    - use the supplied screen cover to prevent scratching of the display
    - an upgrade to Android 4.1.2 is now available (via the Sony Bridge PC/Mac application)
    - I’ve added an Incipio cover for the back, it feels more solid now

  • http://www.facebook.com/kingasm Andrew Stephen Morton

    I have has this phone for 3 months now and can’t find the screen cover anywhere..where did you find it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/angelique.carson Angelique Carson

    I have this Sony Xperia T device and it sucks. In the first 2 days of having the device (brand new) it just died. Sent it to MTN repair center, was told “manufacturer defect and HW part defect”. At least it is working now…

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    Maybe first one was just faulty one..

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.meneses.108 Jeffrey Meneses

    Hey Andrew, I have this phone and I shopped around for a cover which was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Eventually I did find a cover which I also really like, it is an Incipio cover which I bought from Cellucity and it comes in black, blue and pink. Good luck!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.meneses.108 Jeffrey Meneses

    Stunning phone! Very happy with it. Just need to update it to Jellybean though which is proving difficult as I do not have an internet connection.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kingasm Andrew Stephen Morton

    Had the phone 4 months, found the proper cover last month. Phone rox.

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