Sony Xperia T Review

Daniel Bader

December 2, 2012 9:32 pm


It says a lot about Sony’s marketing power when they can attach the name of one if its seminal movie franchises to one of its phones — James Bond — and have it stick. “The Bond Phone”, as the Xperia T has been called since its announcement, has made its way to Canada, and for the first time in as long as we can remember, a Sony phone is launching on multiple carriers.

Sony’s last two flagship devices, the solidly-built Xperia S and its LTE-capable companion, the Xperia ion, were results of a company in transition. Shedding its “Ericsson” legacy, the company has attempted to rebrand its mobile and entertainment divisions, integrate its popular PlayStation franchise into its smartphones and tablets, and provide a truly universal content platform in Music and Video Unlimited.

Now that the Xperia T is with us, the big question needs to be asked: with specs that finally equal the competition, can Sony’s vertically-integrated magic touch finally help push it into consumers’ hands? Let’s find out.



Specs:

- Android 4.0.4 with custom Sony layer
- 4.55-inch 1280×720 pixel LCD with Mobile Bravia Engine
- 1GB RAM, 16GB internal storage (expandable)
- 13MP back camera w/ Exmor R sensor, 1.3MP front camera
- 1080p video capture @ 30fps
- 1850mAh integrated battery (non-removable)
- WiFi (b/g/n), Bluetooth 3.1, A-GPS, NFC, WiFi Direct, Miracast
- 129.4 x 67.3 x 9.4 mm
- 148g

Design, Build Quality & Display

There is no question that the Xperia T is a well-built phone, but it is robust in a different way than its immediate predecessors. Whereas the Xperia S and, to a lesser extent the Xperia ion, were solid slabs of plastic and metal, the Xperia T harkens back to the svelte curves of the Xperia arc. Despite its 4.55-inch screen it has a relatively small footprint, coming in 4mm shorter and 1mm narrower than the ion, and this compactness can be felt right away.

It’s also quite well made, though we could do without the snap-off cover for the microSIM and microSD cards on the right hand side. In fact, nearly every important feature of the device is on the right hand side, placed somewhat differently to the competition. The power button is small, with good feedback, squarely in the middle of the phone’s length. Under it is a volume rocker, a placement which I grew to appreciate over time. While adjusting volume often required a shift of the phone in the hand, the placement of the rocker allows for zooming while taking photos. The hardware camera shutter, a fixture on Sony devices, is small but responsive.

The Xperia T’s front resembles many modern devices, if only because it is an attractive black slab. But its sloping chin and tasteful ‘Xperia’ logo speak more to its design lineage than anything else. Sony has done away with capacitive buttons in favour of Android’s on-screen variety, the decision is welcome. The phone curves slightly outwards, expanding slightly at each pole, and appears slim as a result. Though, at 9.4mm it won’t win any awards, I had no trouble tricking myself into believing the Xperia T was a thinner phone than it was.

The device’s screen is also quite good — better than the Xperia S and the ion — with only a small gap between the IPS display and the very responsive glass/digitizer combo. Unfortunately, like previous Sony devices, the Xperia T doesn’t have great viewing angles, though again it exhibits significantly better sideways visibility than its predecessors. Though this isn’t the best 720p display on the market, Sony has done an admirable job minimizing the screen’s bezel — and therefore the phone’s footprint — while maintaining excellent usability. Colours are deep and rich, contrast is extremely good, and whites are true. And thankfully, after years of omission, the Xperia T has an ambient light sensor, so no more manually adjusting brightness settings.

Performance & Software

The Xperia T runs the same software as the upgraded version of the Xperia S and ion. If you’ve used a Sony product in the last year, you are already well versed. Where the Xperia T differs is in the experience.

Thanks to the fast dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, the Xperia T is the first Sony device that really stands up well to the competition at the time of its release. Though it runs Android 4.0.4, the handset felt consistently quick and I rarely missed the quad-core experience of the Nexus 4. That being said, though the Sony is indeed using a current-generation chip, that it runs Ice Cream Sandwich is a disappointment. The company is slated to release a Jelly Bean upgrade in Februrary 2013, but by that time Android 4.2 will have become the de facto software on Android and there will likely be another version available to the public. Sony has stayed true to its word to update many of its legacy phones, but the speed at which they are released pales next to Samsung and HTC.

What Sony gets right is in content consumption. From the gallery with preloaded James Bond assets to the gorgeous music player, Sony knows how to design superb-looking Android apps. Even the keyboard, which is often a bone of contention in custom OEM skins, is sublime, and includes accurate autocorrect along with a gliding feature for extra fast input.

Sony has preloaded a number of its own apps, including a shortcut to PlayStation Mobile. I have no issue with the idea of PSM but there are games offered by Sony, such as Twist Pilot, that are more than three times the cost of the equivalent title on the Play Store. There is no incentive for users to purchase the game unless they cross-play with a PS Vita.

The Bell version of the device, which we reviewed, comes with Mobile TV included, and continues to improve as it matures. Quality over Bell’s LTE network was stellar, and the on-demand content, such as HBO’s Game of Thrones, is now worth paying for.

The phone’s overall performance, while not at the very top of the charts, was competitive with devices like the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X. But with the Optimus G, Nexus 4 and Galaxy Note II offering quad-core benefits and decent battery life, the Xperia T fails to evoke the sense of awe that should come from a flagship smartphone.

So it’s left up to Sony’s user experience to woo consumers, and thankfully they’ve done a fantastic job with that. Adapted from the company’s Xperia Tablet S, the Xperia T offers “Small Apps”, a series of small utilities that can be launched from the multitasking menu. By default, the phone comes with a calculator, timer, note taker and voice recorder. Sony has released a Small Apps SDK, too, and I downloaded a tiny browser and camera launcher that came in handy more than once. These apps act more like widgets, and can be moved around or overlaid on top of whatever you’re doing. More than convenient, they add to the Android experience, and don’t feel gimmicky.

Lastly, Sony has bundled its Music and Video Unlimited apps with the Xperia T. These are monthly subscription and a la carte services respectively, and while the former is available for all Android devices, their inclusion reinforces for whom the Xperia T is best: someone already entrenched in the Sony ecosystem.

Camera

Though the Xperia T comes with a 13MP camera, the photo quality captured by the tiny sensor is only slightly better than the equivalent 8MP sensor on devices like the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III. Indeed, when compared to the 8.7MP shooter on the Nokia Lumia 920, the Xperia T falls short. Photos contained plenty of detail but emerged noisy, with muted colours.

The other issue with the camera was its shutter speed. Most modern cameras can continue shooting after the first frame, but the Xperia T stumbles slightly when shooting multiple shots quickly. The software tries to reassess the frame and determine the correct focus for the shot, but in doing so it limits the number of consecutive shots one can take. This is a minor quibble since the sleep-t0-shoot feature is alive and well, allowing you to capture photos in under one second when the phone is turned off.

Ultimately, the Xperia T provides one of the best photo-taking experiences on a smartphone today. Like the Lumia 920 and other Windows Phones, Sony has traditionally placed a high priority on responsive dual-step physical shutter buttons, and despite the small size the one on the Xperia T is fantastic to use. By default the app shoots 10MP photos at a 16:9 ratio, filling up the entire wide screen; it also defaults to Auto Scene mode, which attempts to pick the best presets for the situation. This usually worked quite well, but I preferred to take photos in manual mode at a 4:3 ratio.

I didn’t find the photo quality to be tangibly better than that of the 12MP Xperia S, but video quality, likely due to the improved processing capabilities of the SoC, is significantly better. Not only was 1080p video smooth and detailed, but I found it to be better than most phones in the same category.

Battery Life

I expected Sony to ensure that the Xperia T lasted appreciably longer than its predecessors, and while I was happy to see it lasting almost a full day on a single charge, the phone’s longevity was still a point of contention.

For whatever reason, even with the latest-and-greatest in processor efficiency, and all the software improvements in Android 4.0.4, the Xperia T didn’t manage to outlast the Galaxy S III or HTC One X. Where it scored well was in standby mode, lasting three days or so on a single charge. With moderate use I was lucky to get nearly eight hours from the phone.

In our comprehensive battery tests, which involved playing a movie on loop at 50% brightness with the phone connected to the cellular network, the Xperia T managed just over five and a half hours, putting it right in the middle of our list. While Sony does include a number of power-saving features such as Extended Standby Mode, which turns off data traffic when the screen is off, I’d caution anyone in enabling this feature unless you are comfortable missing important notifications.

Network Speeds & Connectivity

The Xperia T is launching on a number of carriers, and we tested the Bell version on its LTE network. While speeds were noticeably faster than the carrier’s HSPA+ results, we were slightly disappointed in the results. Perhaps because we’re used to astronomical numbers on other devices, that the Xperia T didn’t broach 20Mbps down and 10Mbps up was a bit of a letdown. We didn’t notice a tangible difference in browsing load times or app downloads, but it was nonetheless below the industry standard.

This could be due to poor reception on the Xperia T’s part, as the phone often dropped down to HSPA+ when other Bell devices such as the HTC 8X maintained a relatively strong LTE signal. Call quality was consistently good, however, and we didn’t experience any issues with drops or poor reception.

The Xperia T also comes with NFC support, and works together with the company’s SmartTags app to create robust actions from a single tap. For example, if you purchase a set of SmartTags, or any NFC-enabled tag for that matter, you can set the device to connect to a specific Bluetooth headset or play a specific song. It’s quite a comprehensive app and allows for multiple actions from different categories.

Then there’s Smart Connect, which attempts to outdo Motorola’s SMARTACTIONS. You can set the app to silence your phone when charging, or to start the music app when headphones are inserted. All the actions follow a When (device/time) / Do This (action) or At the End (action) workflow, so you can get quite imaginative with the whole combo. SmartTags and Smart Connect work independently — one requires NFC and one doesn’t — but can accomplish similar things.

Another app, Xperia Link, allows you to share your phone’s internet connection with your Sony tablet or Vaio PC using Bluetooth. While it’s nothing more than a simplified WiFi hotspot app, it removes the complication of finding a SSID and entering a password. Apps like the ones above are examples of how Sony is trying to make Android friendlier to the average end user, and the plan appears to be working.

Conclusions

The Sony Xperia T is the first truly competitive Android smartphone from the manufacturer. While its performance and battery life cannot compete with many of the more expensive devices on the market, the Xperia T finds a nice compromise between size, speed and price. At $49.95 on Bell and $99.99 on Rogers with a contract, the device costs significantly less than many of its Android competitors.

What you get is a capable, attractive phone with a number of nice software touches, value-add apps that fall short of bloatware, and one of the most usable form factors on a larger device.

While the Bond branding and includes assets may get you in the door, Sony’s done a great job ensuring that, once inside, you want to stay for dinner.

  • Miknitro

    Good review, nice phone.
    May be a little late in yearly cycle for a dual core, not ragging as I use one now, a OneX.
    Similar specs from 6 plus months ago and will last me another year, just saying.

    • Rio

      You would be surprised at how much smarter it is for companies to go dual core rather than quad core at this point. I can guarantee you a lot of smartphones in 2013 are going to be dual core including some of the Samsung flagship devices, who usually like touting higher numbers

  • Nib

    “… is small but responsive, with great responsiveness” … so I gather it’s responsive.

  • Lukeiphone

    Never a Sony again…I would just get an…

    iPhone 5 :D

  • tony

    My first smart phone was the x10 and prior to the smart phone age I’ve owned 6 Sony Ericsson phones as I was a major supporter of the company… But with the way they wanted to market new products decisions etc were just disappointments… I’m pretty sure their latest phones are great but too late Sony I’ve moved on just like most or some of your supporters did… Maybe in the future?..

  • SAM

    OOHHH!!!!!!! OHHHHHHHH SAMMIE!!!!!!!!!!!!
    OHHHHHHHHH THE NOTE!!!!!! FROM SAMMIE!!!!!!!!
    OHHHHH SAMMIE MY SAMMIE!!!!!!!!
    GET THE NOTE!!!!!!! FROM SAMMIE!!!!!!!!
    OOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OOOHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Mark

    Nice review but I don’t see any reasons why someone would get this over a Galaxy S3 or an HTC One X.

    • George K

      I had one for a couple of days. My main reason for getting it over a one x was the SD card, better size and better button layout (as much as some people complain about the side powewr bieng too low, it’s 1000x less annoying than the One X’s button at the top of a massive phone).

      Unfortunately, sony’s arc design takes a phone that should by all accounts be easier to hold and makes it difficult to hold. The phone is smaller than the One X and it has much grippyer materials but the way it arcs out at the bottom make it more difficult to hold.

  • Walter

    Can’t say much about the HTC, but I would choose this because the S3 looks and feels a bit cheap. So, on top of matching features, this phone just looks smarter and more stylish.

  • Hammer

    I’ve been using a Sony Xperia Arc since the release. It’s been excellent. In my opinion Sony produces the most polished, professional looking product in the wireless market today. I largely use my phone for business, and for pictures/video of family (kids) when our regular camera is not at arms length. The Sony has performed without a hitch. I’ve had a look at the Xperia T, and it’s my next phone. Good job Sony.

    • Hammer

      This phone easily is 9/10 or higher. This revue is skewed just because of the lack of Jelly Bean. WHO CARES. The update will come and it’s clear that Sony wanted the product release to coincide with James Bond, and to be out before Christmas, for sales reasons. I’ve used the phone, it’s sick, rules all, buy it, smile.

  • SonyReview

    Sony is an evil company. I would stay away from all of their products if I were you. remember how they sued those people that were hacking their own Sony Aibo robot dogs or were altering their PS3s… Take it from me and stay away from this evil company and their Experia T phones which is not good to begin with.

  • SonyReview

    and for those who were young enough to not remember the Aibo stories, google them and you will see what I am talking about that Sony is an EVIL company that could care less about the consumer. This Experia phone is not goood

  • SonyReview

    and for sure you know how every one uses SD cards, except them, they want to use their own memory stick flash memory, or how they have UMD discs in PSPs.

    And how they intentionally put rootkit viruses in their Sony Music DVDs this way they can track who is using them.

    and many more.

    just google this

    sonys-war-on-makers-hackers-and-innovators

  • Daniel Wader

    It’s no Samsung Ativ S, that’s for sure. I’m in love with Windows Phone 8 by Microsoft.

  • alex

    OOHHH!!!!!!! OHHHHHHHH SAMMIE!!!!!!!!!!!!
    OHHHHHHHHH THE NOTE!!!!!! FROM SAMMIE!!!!!!!!
    OHHHHH SAMMIE MY SAMMIE!!!!!!!!
    GET THE NOTE!!!!!!! FROM SAMMIE!!!!!!!!
    OOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OOOHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Andrw

    I played with this phone. Apparently, for a lefty like me, it will take time to adjust to how I hold the phone or I’ll accidentally be hitting the camera button or the volume rocker.

  • dboy

    Definitely one of today’s top designed phones. Even with a dual core processor its the latest 28nm architecture (faster than most quad-core’s 40nm). As most apps nowadays don’t utilize all four cores, this will prove much faster more often than not. To top it off, this processor is way more efficient and doesn’t requires the likes of a 2100mAh battery. Battery life will also only improve with Jelly Bean.

  • Kamil

    What I don’t understand is why did Sony go for the 8960 not the 8960T. The 8960T has the new gpu(Adreno 320) same gpu as in the Optimus G/Nexus 4. Although Sony’s build quality is top notch most Sony phones have a lot of transition effects which use up GPU. The Adreno 320 is much more efficient and its quite a bit more powerful. It is also a shame that this is launching with ICS. Considering Sony is one of the top contributors to android source code, I expected more from Sony. Especially since their direct competitor Samsung which always feel like they were built by Fisher Price are already getting updated with JB.

  • monsterduc1000

    Do you mean the extremely buggy 4.2 that is having huge problems with apps, bluetooth, no month of December and high battery drain? I would rather wait a bit until the bugs are ironed out with more 4.2 releases (4.2.1 is out and has got December back at least) so a future 4.1 update would probably be the best bet for this phone as it is a good stable release. Or they might just go straight to the latest version of 4.2 by February. You never know.

  • Yannick Wolfe

    I’d like to add something to the intro of this review. The author says: ” It says a lot about Sony’s marketing power when they can attach the name of one if its seminal movie franchises to one of its phones — James Bond — and have it stick. “The Bond Phone”, as the Xperia T has been called since its announcement… ”

    unfortunately, that’s not really how it went.

    When the final design stages were completed for the Sony Xperia T, Sony marketing department knew very well that the phone was ” doomed ” from the start as it would be released by the end of 2012 with high specs from early 2012.

    They decided to tag it as the ” Bond Phone ” in order to hope to sell a few more units then it would have been if it was tagged only Xperia T.

    If Sony had planned from the start to make it the bond phone, they would have named it Xperia B ou Xperia Q and would have put a little more efforts into the branding of the phone then load it up with a few wallpapers and ring tones.

    There is a small difference between Good marketing and desperation, but there still is one.

  • seroevo

    Picked up this phone last week. Very satisfied with it. It’s my first Android phone (had an iPhone 4 before), but I prefer the Sony aesthetic tweaks over other versions I’ve seen. I’m also a fan of the on-screen buttons for home, back, apps.

    Love the feel of it, and it can generally still be used with one hand when you need to (held in right using thumb). Like another commenter pointed out though, it seems designed to be held in the left and used with the right in terms of the physical side button layout.

    I have a Sony blu ray player so the phone was able to pick up everything on my LAN that I’d already set up to stream, without needing to download any app. I can also “throw” video, photos and music to the player to watch on the TV (again, no app required). Not sure if that’s common with Android or not, but it’s a great feature.

    The Bond “assets” though are just a ringtone, notification sound, some short behind the scenes interviews, Skyfall trailer, and some images. Nothing that was really exclusive.

  • Dan

    Sony is slowly but surely turning back into a company that matters in this space. Moving on from Ericsson was a good move and once the “One Sony” philosophy that their CEO is championing is fully in effect, I suspect we will see the true force of the brand be revitalized. Unlike Samsung, HTC, and even Apple, Sony is vertically integrated (Sony Music, Columbia Pictures, etc.) and positioned to offer content in a way that is not readily available to other players.
    I really enjoy Sony’s designs and, as a key driver of AOSP, I believe they are one iteration away from true relevance in the mobile space. If Sony is awarded the next Nexus phone, they, like LG this year, will be poised for growth, respectability, and mind-share. Personally, I really hope that a Sony Nexus happens; right now all I see are Samsung and Apple commercials and that isn’t ideal for competition or consumers.

  • EvanKr

    Just for the reference, a shutter speed is the amount of time that a camera’s shutter is open, and its sensor is exposed to light. For example, a camera’s shutter speed could be 1/500th of a second when taking a shot in a relatively well lit room or outdoors, and 1/30th of a second in a dimmer room or when the sun’s not out. The amount of time that it takes to take multiple shots is called the burst rate. For example, a camera may be able to take 5 frames per second, meaning 5 pictures in a second, and the amount of time that the camera takes the photo in after you press the shutter is called the shutter lag.

  • phreezerburn

    It’s a Sony distributed film geniuses.

  • andy c

    I find Sony’s external hardware and sofware skins better then HTC and samsung. there downfall is usally software and modern CPU’s.

    as cpu speeds/inovation in smartphone’s slow down similar to desktop cpu’s Sony stands to benefit greatly.

    no JB = no google now.

    no google now = non starter for me

  • simon t

    Personally I think this is the phone of the year. Sony are kings of Facebook integration, and I do not mean by a bit. I mean by a mile.
    I am so glad they avoided the AMOLED screen like the s3 with its vivid and unnatural colours which suffered from huge screen burn problems.
    In my local store its £150 cheaper than its rivals too. It givesyou the freedom to splash out on a nice memory card too.
    Btw. Its s4 processor has been out performing quad-core phones, why? Android and 99% of apps are years off being optimized for quad-core.

  • Julie Smith

    Hi,

    Does this phone have any kind of an LED notification flashing light when the phone is on silent, as the Experia J does?

    • seroevo

      @Julie Smith

      It does, but it’s not blatent. It’s located in the top left of the front, Between the Sony logo and the left edge (closed to edge of phone than to the Sony logo).

  • Wes

    I still don’t get the whole reason for quadcore>dualcore especially considering you don’t need it at this moment. What Sony should have done was brought a larger battery WITH the dualcore, perhaps allowing for the phone to last more than a day. Then people might be much more tempted knowing their phone will last well above 24 hours.

  • ed

    decent phone in the city. no service in fringe rural areas. mine goes back to bell

  • Christopher Spook Mullett

    Grab a baseball bat, This phone is a joke! The 4.3 update that recently came out for this is garbage, it eats up a lot of RAM, it’s not fit for media playback, music and videos are so choppy it’s not fit to use this as multimedia device, and it will suffer the same fate as the 3G galaxy S3, which means no KitKat for this POS, so when I get my Xperia Z1 I am smashing this device.