Sony has had an impressive run of late, releasing a stream of high-quality phones at all price points. It’s now aiming for its biggest launch yet with the Xperia T – a feature-packed Android device billed as its new flagship smartphone. Even James Bond has been spotted using one in the movie, Skyfall.
When we reviewed the Xperia S earlier in the year, it impressed us with its style, power, camera quality and gorgeous screen. The Sony Xperia T now aims to improve on its stunning predecessor, by tweaking a few key areas to make this Sony’s best media phone yet. But does it succeed, or is it just more of the same?
Right out of the box the Xperia T will divide opinion, as the new design is one you’ll either love or hate. Moving away from the unique flourishes of previous Xperia handsets, it features a somewhat stark look that gives it a high-end appearance, but lacks the colour or flair of previous handsets in Sony’s range.
We loved it, though, and its mix of a high-gloss, shatter-proof, scratch-resistant screen and soft matt-plastic rear make it a great-looking and resilient device. The slightly textured finish and curved edges also provide a comfortable grip in the hand, ensuring the phone is kept firmly in your palm as you use it.
As well as the Xperia T’s updated design, Sony has increased its screen size from the 4.3-inch display of the Xperia S to a slightly larger 4.55-inch display. And it has managed this while also making the device thinner than before, shaving 5g from its predecessors weight to make the chassis a suitably lightweight 139g.
The screen is by far the most striking feature of this new handset. Powered by Sony’s Mobile Bravia Engine it delivers stunning brightness, colour and contrast, while the 720 x 1280 pixel resolution renders images with impressive detail. The result is one of the most striking smartphone screens we’ve seen recently.
Image quality is breathtaking, whether you’re viewing photos, videos, apps or games. And with the screen offering full support for high-definition 720p video, you can enjoy basic HD content in all its glory. The only slight flaw is that the screen has quite a narrow viewing angle, so it isn’t ideal for viewing with friends.
The capacitive screen is responsive, however, and a joy to use. Taps and swipes are smoothly detected and you can navigate the interface with ease. The only thing we didn’t like was the haptic feedback, which vibrates the phone as you tap the screen, but this can be deactivated with a trip to the settings menu.
We were slightly disappointed to find that Sony has equipped the Xperia T with Android 4.0, rather than the latest 4.1 version of the OS, but Sony has confirmed that an update is on the way. Android 4.0 functions well, nevertheless, and provides an intuitive and feature-packed interface through which to control the phone.
The Android OS has been skinned with Sony’s proprietary UI and it helps rather than hinders the user experience. Sony has also packed the device with a range of apps that you’ll either use all the time, or not at all, such as its Timescape social networking client and, of course, easy links to Sony’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited online media services.
Adding to the multimedia package, the Xperia T’s camera sees a boost from the 12-Megapixel camera of the Xperia S to a 13-Megapixel sensor, which delivers superb photos and good high-definition video. And with its handy features, you can easily tweak its settings to enjoy great results that more than match up to the current competition.
The most obvious of these features is the hardware shutter button. Located on the right-hand side of the chassis, it lets you hold the phone like a dedicated camera for a more stable grip when snapping photos. The button can also be configured to instantly launch the camera app and then snap a photo right from the lock screen when the button is held down.
While this makes it quick and easy to snap a photo in seconds without having to unlock the phone and launch the camera manually, it also means the phone can accidentally snap photos in your pocket. The feature can be easily disabled, though, if you’d prefer to avoid photos of your legs, keys and coins.
Once the camera app is launched, more extra features become available to help you get optimum results from your images. These include a smile detection mode, which even goes as far as letting you choose the size of smile you want the camera to recognise, as well as a powerful panorama mode for snapping easy wraparound photos. These all add to the device’s great functionality, helping you to capture high-quality images at all times.
The panorama mode works in the same way as on rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy Note II and Apple’s new iPhone 5. All you have to do is snap the first photo, then pan the phone slowly to the left or right, and it automatically captures all the subsequent photos and stitches them together to form a single panoramic widescreen image.
The results are good but can’t match the iPhone’s near-flawless photos. We noticed less evidence of where the images are stitched together than we did on the Galaxy Note II, however, and it’s a fantastic feature for capturing beautiful landscapes and even some unique and interesting indoor photos.
With a quick flick of an onscreen switch you can then activate the camera’s video recording mode and its results are equally impressive. You can record video at up to 1080p Full HD quality at 30 frames per second, so video is not only sharp but also silky smooth. And you can easily drop video quality with a quick trip to the camera’s video settings, if you want to create smaller and easier to send video files.
To keep all of these features running smoothly, the Xperia T is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. While performance can’t quite match high-end rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy S III or iPhone 5, it still provides more than enough power to keep the device moving with plenty of speed.
Storage is less capable, with just 16GB on board for holding your multimedia files. This seems quite stingy, particularly considering the Xperia S offered 32GB of storage. But while the Xperia S offered no support for MicroSD cards, the Xperia T has a card slot fitted beneath a drop-down flap on the phone’s right-hand side for expanding the device’s storage capacity.
This lets you easily add as much as 32GB of extra storage to the phone. And thanks to its external placement, you can add and remove cards on the fly without having to first switch the phone off. The SIM card slot sits directly alongside the MicroSD card, making it just as easy to switch between SIM cards if necessary, should you want to change your network.
You also get NFC compatibility thrown in, bringing the Xperia T in line with other flagship handsets from Samsung and HTC, among others. While NFC is still a relatively new and untapped technology, it enables easy wireless connections, for synchronising devices, sharing files, pairing with compatible phone and peripherals and more. And while you may not use it much at first, you’ll be glad you’ve got it when NFC use finally takes off.
Although the Sony Xperia T is ultimately a minor upgrade from the fantastic Xperia S, it still packs more than enough power and features to push it high up the list of top-end smartphones you can choose from at the moment. But with such incredibly strong competition in the market right now from Samsung, HTC and others, it needed to be an exceptional handset to be able to compete.
With its excellent build quality, gorgeous screen, great camera and capable performance, there’s no denying that this is a fantastic smartphone and Sony’s best yet. But at this price Sony has placed it almost head-to-head with the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X, and ultimately it can’t quite measure up to these two market-leading Android handsets.
If you’re looking for one of the very best multimedia phones you can buy and you’re not tempted by Samsung or HTC’s flagship phones, then the Sony Xperia T is certainly well worth a look, as its only glaring flaw is that it’s not quite as good as the competition. And when you’re up against the best in the business, that’s high praise indeed.