In the James Bond film, Skyfall, Daniel Craig and his partner chase a man through the streets of Istanbul. She goes ahead to setup for the killshot, while Bond follows him atop a train and into a giant Caterpillar. The risks are high. "Take the shot," M instructs her. And she does, but the wrong man. Bond seems to die -- until moments later, he reemerges a bit beaten, but still alive.
Renewed, he returns home, only to find headquarters blown to smithereens. With coworkers dead and M kidnapped, he once again, goes after the villain, touting a slew of gadgets from the newer, younger Q. Gone are the exploding pens -- Bond has new toys for the new mission: Sony's Xperia TL. As he runs through more explosions, shoots more henchmen and seduces more women, though, I have a hard time believing the TL is the best super-secret prototype in England's arsenal.
Yes, it's undeniably suave-looking, but it's also an unspectacular, marred by outdated software and poor battery life. And while Bond wouldn't be caught dead without the best gadgets, in this case, he just may have to.
The TL inherits much of its design from the Ion. Standing a sturdy 5.1-by-2.6 inches and about half an inch thick, it's built from metal and glass, so there's a bit of heft, but it feels well-built. The all-black coloring, matte finish and rectangular design look dignified, but overall, I thought the look was rather forgettable. Don't get me wrong, it looks nice, but it does so in that generic way. Still, the curved back -- made of anodized aluminum to prevent scratches -- makes it look especially thin, for an elegant, yet hardy, feel.
I found the 4.6-inch screen really impressive, especially for a mid-level phone. It packs a high-resolution 1,280-by-720 pixels, so images look crisp and detailed. Sony calls it a "reality" display, and the 323-ppi density means reading e-books and watching movies will be easy on the eyes. In short, the screen is large and beautiful, but if it's not big enough, you can hook it to a television using a HDMI connector.
Meanwhile, the 13-megapixel camera just spectacular -- the fast shutter takes well-lit, focused photos. The delay between shots is about a half second. Quick note: Sony recessed the lens ever so slightly, so you won't smudge it. The Exmor R sensor is great too. It's sensitive and picks up vibrant colors, but not as saturated as on the iPhone, yet minimizes on grain and noise. Plainly put: if you're looking for a camera phone, and you don't want to spend top-dollar, it's one of the best lenses on the market.
One small gripe: the hardware button is inconveniently located next to the power and volume key, so one slip and you'll turn it off rather than take a photo. You can record 1080p video, and it looks just as sharp and fluid at 30 frames per second. For video chat, you can switch to the secondary 1.3-megapixel lens on the front. Standard stuff.
The TL runs on Android ICS, but it's bogged down by bloatware, some from Sony, but mostly from AT&T -- altogether, there are 26, none of which are completely removable. On the plus side, Sony's Timescape interface is fairly unobtrusive, so you don't have to deal with an obnoxious skin. Mainly, it keeps the ICS elements intact and subtle changes are nothing to complain about. For instance, Sony added a drop down menu to turn on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi more easily. And you can customize five home screens with James Bond-themed wallpaper and sounds, of course.
It comes with NFC so you can wirelessly transfer files, but Sony took it one step further and added "smart" tags so you can trigger tasks by location. After you silence your phone, for example, just touch the phone to a small tag to "record" that setting. Then, place the tag next to your bed. When you're within proximity of the tag, the phone will automatically switch to silent.
You can touch a tag in your car to start GPS and boot up Google Maps, or switch off the Skyfall ringtone and turn on Wi-Fi at work. I found it very useful. It's kind of like Motorola's Smart Actions, but it doesn't use GPS. You get one free tag, but you can buy a set of four for a reasonable price. If you're always changing your settings in the car or at the office, I'd recommend you buy a set. Sony includes a simple "Smart Connect" interface that helps you setup the tags, so even if you're not a techie, you it can make your life easier.
Thanks to a formidable 1.5-gigahertz dual-core chip -- in the same class as the higher-end One X and Galaxy S3 -- the software runs exceptionally smooth. It comes with 16-gigabytes of storage -- that's enough for plenty of photo albums and a slew of apps. But if you want to download movies and songs, I'd suggest you buy an extra microSD card to beef up the memory.
I was disappointed by the 1,850 mAh battery, though. I lasted around seven hours, which is below average, so you'll want to buy an extra charger for the car or office. That's definitely the biggest downside. You can turn off 4G LTE to save some juice, but frankly, it won't prolong it much.
The screen is stunning and the camera is exceptional. For hardware, the TL is a rock-solid device and a huge improvement over the Ion. If Sony had released it a year ago, it would have made huge waves, but today, the dismal battery life limits the usefulness, the bloatware is annoying at best and with Jelly Bean rolling out, ICS feels outdated.
Take a look at the S3 or the X -- both are all-around devices with comparable hardware and better software. Of course, the iPhone is an option, too. For the price, the TL looks great with a martini shaken, not stirred, but I doubt James Bond would use it when better models are available. ♦
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