Sony's latest flagship, the Xperia TL, is a nice step up from its latest adventure in mediocrity, the Xperia Ion. But just because it's 007's phone in Skyfall, that doesn't mean it should be yours. I mean, that guy is kind of a loose canon.
What Is It?
A 4.6-inch smartphone that runs Android 4.0 with a healthy dollop of Sony skin on top.
Who's It For?
People who value style over function, shutterbugs.
It's incredibly sleek. The phone feels narrow when held text to similarly sized phones. The metal back has a pronounced, concave curve to it, which makes it feel unique and quasi-futuristic. It has a physical camera button like all phones should, NFC, and it can push video to your TV via an HDMI adaptor.
Sony's UI looks dated and clunky next to stock Android, HTC Sense, and Samsung's TouchWiz. Performance is sporadic; it'll zip one minute and lag the next with no clear cause. The screen pumps out a lot of lumens and is visible even in bright sunlight. The hardware camera button opens the camera app directly, even when the screen is off.
The Best Part
The look. There are no right angles on this phone; there are cascades of sci-fi angles. It's what ET would phone home with in 2012. It helps that the build quality feels solid, too.
Once again, Sony has managed to muck-up a great piece of hardware with bunk software. Not only does the TL's skin look and feel cheap, but it also causes all kinds of performance problems. There's jutter and lag throughout, and a noticeable choppiness in animations. There are strange bugs and crashes. You'll be typing speedily one minute, then hit unresponsive keys the next, all within the same text. It's a fiasco.
This Is Weird…
The one design flaw is that the physical buttons for power, volume, and camera are all clumped too tightly on the lower right side of the phone. I probably hit the wrong button 40 percent of the time.
The camera is excellent. It's performs well in low light and is generally very sharp. It does have a tendency to wash out, but overall the 13MP shooter is one of the best you can get on a phone. [Check out some samples.]
The screen is terrific, too. It's very bright and very sharp; it can almost keep up with the HTC One X, reigning screen king.
Because it's James Bond's phone it comes pre-installed with some Bond ringtones and wallpapers. I pretend not to care, but I am lying to myself.
Expandable storage via micro SD card. Very nice, although increasingly standard on high-end Android handsets.
Sometimes hitting the physical camera button works perfectly. Sometimes it doesn't do anything. Those latter times get frustrating.
The best piece of software that Sony added is the Album app, which is a substitute for Android's Gallery app. Its interface is slick, and its photo editing capabilities are advanced. Why couldn't they have made all the software this good?
For example: As good as the TL's camera is, its camera software isn't. It's bare-bones and unintuitive, eons behind what the competition offers.
Similarly, things like adding widgets are a pain. The phone and calendar apps would be right at home on a Palm Treo. Ugh.
I got solid data speeds, averaging 12Mbps down and 8Mbps up. Not the fastest we've seen, but more than fast enough for anything you need to do. Call quality isn't excellent, but it's certainly usable.
Battery life is average. Most days I made it through to the evening with moderate use.
The phone struggled to get GPS lock every now and then, which made for some occasionally screwy directions.
Should You Buy It?
No. Not unless Sony fixes its software (or you can). We've seen phones with the exact same processor, RAM, and resolution perform extremely well, so there's nowhere to look for the gaps in performance but that Sony skin. If there were just stock Jelly Bean here with a few augmentations (like Album and Music Unlimited), you'd stand in line for the TL. As is, it's a great piece of hardware that will probably be largely forgotten.
That said, this is a phone that is just begging to be rooted and have some clean software put on it. For the DIY geek-types, this sweet hardware for $100 is a great deal if you can get it running the modded software you want (like stock Android 4.2, or CyanogenMod). I have few doubts that such a thing would have make the phone a great device, but we review phones as they come out of the box, so the rating stands.
Sony Xperia TL Specs
• Network: AT&T
• OS: Android 4.0
• CPU: 1.5-GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor
• Screen: 4.6-inch 720x1280 HD Bravia display (323 ppi)
• RAM: 1GB
• Storage: 16GB + up to 64GB microSD
• Camera: 13MP rear / 1.3MP front
• Battery: 1850 mAh Li-Ion
• Price: $100
• Giz Rank: 2.5 stars