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Sony Xperia TL - Much Improved But Still Imperfect (Part 1)

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As the second phone of Sony in the US mobile market, the Xperia TL comes with an effort to coordinate with a critical business: 007 movie franchise. But an important distinction as Bond’s official phone and a smattering of pre-loaded “Skyfall’ multimedia content won’t drive customer adoption; specs and pricing will. Following the footsteps of the company’s first flagship, the Ion, this AT&T 4G LTE exclusive is priced at $99 as the two-year contract, packing a 4.6 inch HD Reality display (1,289x720) powered by Mobile BRAVIA Engine, a dual-core Snapdragon S4 clocked at 1.5GHz, 16GB of storage (expandable up to 32GB via macros), 1GB RAM, NFC, dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, as well as a built-in 1,850m battery.

Sony Xperia TL

Sony Xperia TL

Hardware

Despite the similar design with arc S, actually, the Xperia TL is an Ion’s revolution; a second chance to be the high-end phones in US. Fans of Sony Ericsson’s arc S will find this device is a spiritual successor rather than a cognate, as TL still carries on that curved body legacy, but with the dimensions of 129.4x67.3x9.35 mm (5.1x2.6x0.4 inches), it is 0.5mm thicker. Compare those dimensions with Ion and you have two phones, separated by a generational leap, have dimensions and weight nearly the same – although the TL is slighter at 139g (4.8 ounces). If we put them together, at first, it doesn’t appear like that, thus it is probably made by the TL’s scooped back.

Xperia TL’s back side

Xperia TL’s back side

While we are talking about the back side, it merits mentioning that this particular facet lays claim to the entirety of Sony’s industrial design finesse. Generally, it as an appealing quality, with a matte finish that’s divided by seams for the two non-removable caps, a covered port for micro-SIM and micro-USB ports on the upper left, and an additional cutout for NFC contact just beneath the 13.1 megapixel camera. Referring to the camera, it has the same Exmor R sensor Sony put in Ion (though there was a slight increase in module resolution) and is housed within a gently protruding bump. And in a genius move of the company’s designers, it is also slightly indented so you won’ have to worry about smudging the lens with greasy hands. And lastly, the remarkable Xperia logo is placed on the bottom of the device’s speaker.

We have a small complaint at the way Sony chose to arrange the hardware keys and ports here. It can only be a problem for the right-handers, but the buttons for power, volume and camera all lie on a lower half of the phone’s right edge and are buried in the palm. Again, it’s just a small problem that’s mostly fixed by switching to the other hand – dear left-handers, you are at an advantage.

Buttons of camera, volume and power are all lie on a lower haft of the right edge

Buttons of camera, volume and power are all lie on a lower haft of the right edge

Head-on, the Xperia TL is rather simple; its edges are only interrupted by a 3.5mm headphone jack sticking out at the top and a chin down below. Otherwise, the only visual standouts are the company’s logos flanking the scratch-resistant 4.6 inch screen, including the AT&T globe at the bottom and Sony’s own branding, which sits beneath the earpiece ant to the side of a 720p camera.

Sony Xperia TL and AT&T globe logo

Sony Xperia TL and AT&T globe logo

Despite its $99 on contract pricing, the TL provides a higher-resolution screen than similarly priced competitors. After all, this is the latest blockbuster of Sony, and like Ion, it has a 1,280x720 HD Reality TFT LCD display. In fact, we’ve found the display produces bright colors, but is lacking in contrast. Next to the 720p screen used on the Droid RAZR HD, the difference is obvious. The TL’s screen looks pale, a fact not helped by the poor viewing angles and tremendous washout, evident from a slight 15-degree angle. We tested the handset outdoors and even in overcast conditions, you will still have to increase brightness to near-maximum levels for clear visibility. Moreover, after a few days of testing, we decided to disable the setting for environmental dimming, as that just left the screen too dim for most situations.

The TL’s screen looks pale

The TL’s screen looks pale

Sony has moved on from the “HD Everywhere” mantra of Xperia Ion, and is now emphasizing sharing via NFC – even going so far as to include a SmartTag in the box. For further explanation, the phone hasn’t shed its predecessor’s built-in media connectivity, given that an MHL connection with any compatible TV will trigger the same app carousel and ability to mirror content. There is no option to wirelessly stream your library of movies, TV shows or music, so you will need to have the appropriate cable handy.

SmartTags

Placed in Xperia TL’s box is a very beautiful SmartTag. If you still remember, Sony announced these NFC accessories back in January at CES and now, nearly one year later, they are ready for mass consumption. Since Hurricane Sandy hinder our access to the tag bundled with our review unit, we went ahead and ordered a pack of the company’s online store. For $20, you have 4 cards with attractive colors, which are compatible with any kind of NFC-equipped smartphone. Use in with this official Bond phone and we’re sure you where this is headed. Hover the TL just above any SmartTag and the phone’s Smart Connect apps springs to attention instantly loading the James Bond theme via Walkman or Google Play Music, in addition to directing the browser to the 007 website. Of course, you can set handset-specific actions so multiple users can enjoy the use of these tags and delete events as necessary.

The Smart Connect interface

The Smart Connect interface

The Smart Connect interface is quite straightforward and even the least tech savvy of users would have no problem configuring events. Just launch the app and you will be prompted to create a new event, associate it with a special device (e.g. SmartTag of headphones), and set an (optional) trigger time and any initial or closing actions like placing a call, opening an app or sending a text. There are also other presets for various profiles, for example Home which enables Wi-Fi, Car for active Bluetooth and Navigation, as well as an Office setting that launches your Calendar – all of which can be reconfigured to your liking.

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