Sony’s latest Bond phone is sleek, svelte, and packs a ton of multimedia features.
Picking up the sleek, black Xperia T, the first thing you’ll notice is that despite the rectangular shape that’s standard to all candy bar, full-touchscreen phones, it immediately feels different. This is due to the ever-so-slight, subtle curve along the back of the device as well as the tapered sides. It’s a design cue first introduced by the Xperia arc back when Sony was partnered with Ericsson. Since rebranding as Sony Mobile (after buying out Ericsson last year), Sony’s released a few devices (the S, Ion, Go, etc.) but this is the first that looks and feels like a completely “Sony” product (without any remnants of Ericsson). As an avid Sony fan, I hope this signals a return to Sony’s roots as a technology leader and their subsequent re-emergence as a mainstream manufacturer in the smartphone space.
Competition is fierce in the Android arena and last year’s titans (e.g. HTC) can quickly become this year’s sideliners. With Google using LG to manufacture their latest Nexus (pure Android) smartphone and LG’s release of the Optimus G (the first quad-core smartphone in Canada), manufacturers everywhere are stepping up their game and bringing it all to the table — the Xperia T is no exception. Its release also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, which is owned by Sony. As such, the Xperia T is marketed as the “Bond” phone and comes preloaded with exclusive video clips, photos, wallpapers, ringtones, and other Bond-related multimedia content. (Its appearance in Skyfall was alas, very brief.)
To start, this Bond phone utilizes the latest generation Snapdragon S4 processor (1.5 Ghz dual-core, Adreno 225 graphics), coupled to 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (microSD expandable), Bluetooth v3.1, dual-band WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n), and LTE connectivity (75 Mbps), all wrapped in a 148g package that’s very solid and premium feeling and finished off with a nice matte back. The power, volume rocker, and camera button are all on the lower right side; the 3.5mm jack stays at the top; and the multi-function micro-USB port (data, charging, MHL-based HDMI out) is on the upper left. (Sony has dropped the dedicated micro-HDMI port and implemented HDMI output via MHL.) All this is powered by an 1,850 mAh non-user removable battery rated for up to 7 hours of talk and up to 450 hours of standby.
Multimedia-wise is where previous Xperia devices have shone and the T is no exception, boasting a 13 MP Exmor R sensor (utilizing the same technologies inside their Cybershot cameras) and a beautiful 4.55” LCD with BRAVIA Engine (326 ppi), a software tweak (from their HDTVs) that boosts colours, sharpness, and other details. There’s also a 1.3 MP front-facing camera for things like Google Talk with Video or Skype. The camera comes with all the usual options from exposure control to filters. As well, QuickLaunch allows you to hold the dedicated physical camera button to wake the phone up from sleep directly into the camera app, and instantly take a photo. It’s a convenient feature that I constantly use. Shutter lag, however, is still slight and not totally instantaneous as on faster processor-equipped devices. Images from the camera have excellent contrast and detail but the extra megapixels are hard to distinguish given such a small sensor size (an issue with any phone). Low-light performance doesn’t quite match Sony’s point-and-shoots but again, you can’t beat physics. A small sensor and lens simply can’t let in enough light.
The T’s music app has been rebranded as WALKMAN (remember those?) and has a clean interface with a myriad of options (equalizer, Clear Bass, xLOUD, virtual surround, etc.) along with social and connectivity features. Music can be “thrown” via the open-source, manufacturer-agnostic DLNA protocol (over WiFi) and everything from music videos to lyrics are only 2 taps away. It is also equipped with an FM radio (with RDS support).
Onto the phone’s software itself: the phone ships with Android v4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with an update to the latest v4.1 (Jelly Bean) promised in Q1. Opening up the home screen, you’ll see the typical 4-button layout and app drawer access. There are options to rearrange as well as sort all your apps and 3 virtual buttons sit at the bottom: back, home, and app switcher. The virtual buttons disappear if you’re using a full-screen app such as video playback. The Xperia T comes pre-loaded with Sony’s Video and Music Unlimited (subscription based online streaming services), Backup & Restore, and specific carrier apps such as Bell Mobile TV. Sony also includes the “Xperia Link” app that allows you to connect its devices to the phone’s WiFi hotspot by scanning QR codes on the client devices. As well, the “Smart Connect” app automates settings depending on time, connected accessories, and other parameters. For example, the sample “Night” profile turns off sound and turns on the alarm if a charger is plugged in after 10pm. An “Extended Standby” mode also conserves battery life by disabling data (email, Twitter, etc.) whenever the screen is off (calls and texts are still received).
The newest addition to Sony’s Android modifications is the inclusion of “Small Apps”, which are accessed through the app switcher (rightmost virtual button). These miniature apps take up only a portion of the screen and are visible above any other app that you’re using. The T comes preloaded with a calculator, timer, notepad, and voice memo. Other Small Apps are available on the Google Play market as well. The app switcher functionality itself allows you to switch to other open apps or to quit them by swiping them off the screen. Pulling down the notification drawer (from the top) also reveals quick access to toggles for sound mode (silent, vibrate, etc.), WiFi/Bluetooth (on/off), (3G/LTE) Data and Settings.
Performance wise, the dual-core processor readily handles everyday usage, with multiple browser tabs, instant messengers, and other apps running. The lack of quad-core means hardcore mobile gamers should likely look elsewhere, but for the vast majority of users, performance won’t be an issue. The newer generation chipsets also ensure decent, but not stellar battery life. I could get through a day with moderate usage but needed to find a plug after 8 hours of heavy, constant usage. The pending update to Jelly Bean will bring with it performance and battery improvements. Another area where Sony’s tweaks and attention to detail show themselves is in text input. Like other manufacturers, the keyboard has different styles of input and options, but Sony’s goes a step further with its better text prediction and suggestions. Moving the cursor back to previous words will bring up corrections and suggestions whereas some keyboards only offer suggestions for the current word and no back tracking.
Plugging the Xperia T in with an inexpensive MHL adapter, the phone loads up a TV-optimized dock mode where users can use their TV remote to control the phone (on any recent TV with CEC-HDMI capability such as Samsung’s AnyNet+, Sharp’s Aquos Link, Sony’s BRAVIA Link, LG’s SimpLink, etc.). Content is then mirrored at 720p. Miracast WiFi streaming is also available for wireless screen mirroring. As well, the phone can broadcast its internally captured/stored media content over DLNA for other devices to wirelessly access.
Speaking of wireless, inside the Xperia T’s wireless connectivity options, users can enable location-specific WiFi activation to conserve battery life (e.g. only turn on WiFi when at home or the office). As well, underneath the now-standard NFC capabilities, there is an unused option for “Wallet” which hopefully means tap-and-go style secure NFC wallets are coming to Canada soon!
Call-wise, the phone supports HD Voice for clearer calls and has above-average speaker and speakerphone volume, along with all the usual smart dialer functions. One thing that was also noticeable was that haptic feedback (vibration), which due to the internal placement of the vibration mechanism at the top left of the phone, is more distinct. The vibrations aren’t as “fuzzy” and are more staccato, making them easier to feel and respond to. (It’s a difficult thing to describe, but not a negative.)
Overall, the Xperia T, aka the Bond phone, is a well-performing mid-to-high-tier device that can hold its own against the competition in most aspects – though unfortunately, not in battery life. However, many of its multimedia and software tweaks place it a step ahead and the camera is one of the best currently available.
The Xperia T is available for $49 on a new 3-year activation with Bell.
Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Media, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bell Canada.