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Sony Xperia T review - 'Skyfall' phone lacks licence to thrill

By and Amie Parker-Williams

New Android smartphone the Xperia T joins the already available Xperia S, Xperia J and Xperia U in Sony's growing alphabet-based mobile device range, which was launched after it bought out Ericsson in the Sony Ericsson joint venture last year.

The Xperia T has a 4.6-inch high-definition screen, supports NFC, packs a whopping 13-megapixel camera and is Sony's first smartphone built on Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 processor.

British super-spy James Bond is to put the handset through its paces in Skyfall, the 23rd film in the series, released this week. But unfortunately, the Xperia T lacks a licence to thrill.

Sony Xperia T smartphone

© Sony



Design

The Xperia T is a big phone. In James Bond terms, it is more of a Beretta pistol than a small and stylish Walther PPK. This huge, black slab lacks the curves of the Samsung Galaxy S3 or the finessed style of the iPhone 5.

The glass screen is scratch-resistant but more easily exhibits smudges, making the phone just look a bit grubby at times. The black plastic bezel does not have the finish of the iPhone 5's metal trimmings, and the phone is also heavier than Apple's handset, at 139g compared to the iPhone 5's 112g.

However, the black matte cover on the rear means the Xperia T is easy to grip, a key factor when holding the smartphone under fire while on a mission (possibly).

The Xperia T's 1850mAh battery is non-removable, but there is an access flap on the top left for micro-SIM and micro-SD cards. The flap is barely visible when closed, but a little flimsy when open, raising fears that it could quite easily be ripped off.

Other physical buttons on the phone include power, volume and camera on the right-hand side. There is a micro-USB port for charging and HDMI-out, and a 3.5mm headphone slot on the top.

Sony Xperia T smartphone

© Sony



Display

The Xperia T's 4.6-inch high definition screen sports a pixel density of 323ppi, boosted by Sony's Bravia Engine. This delivers an impressive performance on a range of tasks, such as video playback and gaming, but the display does not eclipse those of other phones on the market.

Dubbed the "HD Reality Display", the Xperia T's screen drops capacitive buttons and instead incorporates the Back, Home and Multi-tasking icons actually on the screen, meaning they disappear when the phone is on sleep mode.

The screen has bright and accurate colours, good contrasts and decent viewing angles, but lacks the vibrancy of rival Super AMOLED Plus panels. It also comes up short against the iPhone 5's Retina display.

We further noticed a strange issue involving the grid layout on the screen being viewable at times when in use, particularly in video playback. This is not a major issue, but certainly something we spotted on more than one occasion in our playtest.

Sony Xperia T smartphone

© Sony



Processor/storage

The Xperia T's dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU offers significant improvements in performance on the S3 chip seen in the Xperia S. Web browsing is fast; games run fluidly; and apps are downloaded in a flash.

However, performance does slow down when using multple apps, and the phone overall lacks the punch of quad-core handsets such as the Galaxy S3 or the HTC One X.

It is irritating that only 2GB of the 16GB of onboard storage in the Xperia T can actually be used for apps, games and other user content. However, this can be expanded up to 32GB via the microSD slot.

Sony Xperia T smartphone

© Sony



Operating system and user interface

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is running on the Xperia T, rather than the latest Jelly Bean. This is a bit disappointing, and it is rumoured that Sony's Xperia phones will not get Jelly Bean until 2013.

But until we see a totally new generation of the mobile OS, Ice Cream Sandwich is still very serviceable, and comes with all the usual bits and bobs from Google, including Google Maps, Google Play and YouTube.

Sony has skinned the software with its own platform-specific services, including the Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited apps, along with links to PlayStation Mobile.

However, Sony has also for some reason loaded the phone with lots of other services that seem more out of place than James Bond mixing his Martini with Irn-Bru.

So many of the apps, such as Wisepoint navigation or Sony's Select Store, just replicate services that are available in even better versions on Android. It is important for manufacturers to try and create exclusive content, but not if it is worse than already available services.

On a brighter note, Sony has fitted the Xperia T with NFC technology, enabling users to access a range of contactless technology.

Sony Xperia T smartphone

© Sony



Camera

The Xperia T's camera increases the megapixels from 12 to 13 on the Xperia S, and the snapper continues to perform well on other models in this price bracket.

It is launched by a hard press of the physical camera button on the side. This also handles focus with a soft press and snap with another hard press.

Sony's Exmor R Sensor captures really vivid and detailed images in high light conditions, although there is a bit of fuzziness in low light conditions.

The camera can also record 1080p video, and the system handles rapid movement and shakiness well. It is not quite comparable to a dedicated HD handheld recorder, but performs admirably considering it is also a phone.

The front-facing camera has a 1.3-megapixel resolution for video calls and taking vanity shots.

Image taken using the Sony Xperia T phone


Battery

The Xperia T is certainly a thirsty beast on its battery. Having the HD screen at around half-brightness and playing games or videos for an extended period will drain a full charge in around five hours. Even relatively light use of the phone will drain around 30% in three hours.

Such battery performance is comparable to many top-end Android smartphones, but is sorely lacking when compared with the latest Motorola Razr i.

It is highly likely that you will need to charge the Xperia T at least once a day, and the lack of a spare battery will not please the average secret agent in the field.

The Verdict

Sony's latest Android phone is not a big move forward compared with the Xperia S, meaning it is difficult to truly justify the upgrade for those customers.

Unfortunately, the phone is also a tad lacking when compared with other high-end Android handsets, such as the Galaxy S3, HTC One X or the Razr i.

Apple's iPhone 5 is probably still the phone to beat at this end of the market, although it costs around £130 more than the Xperia T for the base model.

James Bond will probably not be left shaken or stirred when the superspy gets his Xperia T, but rather just a bit disappointed.

The Sony Xperia T is available now on pay-as-you-go for around £400, or for free on contracts of £25 a month or higher.

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