Sony Xperia TL Review: Improved, But Still Behind the Times
Want the James Bond phone? Thanks to a tie-in with the latest 007 film, "Skyfall," Sony's Xperia TL gets touted by Daniel Craig throughout the movie. While I'm pretty sure Bond would've been given a super-secret prototype, and not the solid but unspectacular handset, it's an undeniably suave-looking gadget.
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 instance, 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.
Sony's Experia TL is a huge improvement over the Ion. If Sony had released it a year ago, it would have made huge waves, but today, it's a flawed device with some impressive features. For hardware, it's a rock-solid device. The beautiful screen and great camera are fantastic, but the dismal battery life limits the usefulness. On software, the bloatware is annoying at best. With Jelly Bean rolling out, ICS makes it feel outdated. For the price, I suppose it's an okay device -- from afar it 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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