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Sony Xperia TL - Much Improved But Still Imperfect (Part 3)

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Network speed

As we emphasized in previous reviews, AT&T’s 4G LTE network is no longer the spring chicken it once was. That is, the incredible speed of 20Mbps to 30Mbps range is becoming the exception, though they still occur from time to time. However, we did record the maximum of 31Mbps in the test route. Overall, we recorded download speeds from 12Mbps to 16Mbps, while upload speeds from 5Mbps to 10Mbps. Clearly, LTE adoption amongst AT&T’s subscriber bases us becoming more and more predominant.

Camera

Sony’s Xperia TL camera

Sony’s Xperia TL camera

If once used Ion’s camera, you will know what to expect from TL. Many things are the same: the same fast capture functionality, accessible via the dedicated dual detent hardware key, along with the company’s Exmor R sensor. In practice, such small increase in specs doesn’t affect to image quality. Unless you have sharp eyes and deep understanding of optics, it’s unlikely to make much difference to the average customer.

The interface is similar in this second time, with the option to customize the UI by using a mixed menu icon. By default, the camera is set to Auto mode, but by switching it into Normal mode, you can choose from among the usual array of scene modes. The same goes for the standard resolution setting, as the TL will capture images in a 4:3 aspect ratio at 13 megapixels. For 16:9 widescreen shots, you will have to step down to 10 megapixels. There are also options to configure capture method (on-screen button, dedicated key or touch), quick launch, retagging, focus (touch face detection, multi auto and single auto), exposure, ISO, white balance and image stabilization.

We’d like to check TL’s camera in several of settings, but our phone arrived just before Hurricane Sandy did and, as the article’s author lives in New York, that translated into less-than-ideal weather conditions (to put it mildly). Without abundant sunlight, we were left to conduct our photo tour under mostly grey, overcast skies. And, as our corresponding gallery will attest, this Xperia handles that particular environment admirably.

Picture taken by Sony Speria TL

Picture taken by Sony Speria TL

We’re not saying that we didn’t encounter certain circumstances where the overall shot was just too dark and lacking clarity – we did - but in general, the TL sensor (set to auto) can be able to adjust for various scenes, culminating in crisp shots with a great depth of field and natural color reproduction. However, the same cannot be said for images taken in patchy sunlight. In this particular environment, we found a conspicuous oversaturation that was especially evident in the bumped-up hues of the blue sky and surrounding buildings. Moreover, the TL seems to handle white balance inconsistently, as multiple captures of the same scene lead to wildly different color temperatures. Note that this is without Sony’s Mobile BRAVIA Engine turned on. Enable that feature from within settings and the color enhancement only increases. Low-light shots, on the other hand, were a mixed bag. The TL seems to handle the dim light around best when it is set to auto, in contrast with the available night scene modes. Left in that latter mode, our resulting images seemed both oversaturated and softly focused.

Those shots taken at full zoom were incredibly grainy, but we found that pulling back 50% yielded acceptable images with a tolerable level of noise. Of particular note is the panorama setting, which delivered seamlessly stitched shots that were a breeze to take.

On the other hand, 1080p videos are not as good as photos. The recorded audio comes across clear and distinct, especially given that we were in the midst of an NYPD chopper, but playback is marred by the constantly shifting focus and shaky image stabilization. It’s not entirely terrible, but it’s also not ideal.

Wrap-up

Sony’s Xperia TL and accessories

Sony’s Xperia TL and accessories

It took Sony half a year to get the Xperia Ion from CES launch to retail shelves. At the time it appeared, it was outdated, not least because it came with Android Gingerbread. Does the TL suffer the same fate? Not really, considering this Xperia made its public debut just two months ago, and was announced with ICS. So, we have to commend Sony for at least getting it out to market in a timely fashion despite the lack of Jelly Bean.

When you read its specs notification – 720p screen, 1.5GHz dual-core S4, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage and 13.1 megapixel rear camera – the TL seemed to be a high-end phone,  a suitable handset to compete with Galaxy S III and One X on AT&T’s lineup. But when Samsung’s phone is crammed with several of sharing functions, HTC’s phone has a magnificent screen and innovative unibody design, the Xperia TL falls a bit short. With a display prone to washout, a boring chassis and respectable battery life, the TL fails to meet the expectations we’d have for phones in this class.

Surely that’s why Sony aims for budget-minded consumers with $99 on contract pricing, putting it in the same segment with the One X, Ion and Atrix HD. That way, Xperia TL proves to be less competitive than its S4 cousin, the One X. We’re not saying that it’s not a good choice for subscribers shopping on a shoestring – it is. Yet, for all its pluses, the TL just can’t hold a candle to the superior battery and gorgeous Super LCD display on HTC’s equally priced device. Finally, the choice is yours: shell out a $100 premium for the bragging rights of a luxury Android experience (e.g., Optimus GS or Optimus G) or think wisely with your wallet when choosing between this economy-plus Xperia and the less fresh One X.

 Sony Xperia TL’s technical specs and price

General

·         Type: Smartphone

·         Operating system: Android (Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0)

·         Style: Bar

·         Antenna: Internal

 

Carriers

·         Regions offered: North America (US)

·         Carriers (US): AT&T

 

Size and Weight

·         Weight: 4.9 ounces

·         Dimensions: 5.09x2.65x0.37 inches

 

Power

·         Talk time: 2G, 3G

·         Standby time: 450 hours

·         Battery type: Li-ion (1850 mAh capacity)

 

Camera

·         Camera: 13 megapixels

·         Camera features: Record video, Auto focus, Optical zoom, Flash, Contact pictures

 

Storage

·         Internal memory: 16GB

·         Memory card: micro SD

 

Display

·         Screen size: 4.6 inches

·         Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080

·         Pixel density: 319 PPI

 

Hardware

·         CPU: 1.5 GHz

·         CPU cores: Dual-core

·         RAM: 1GB

 

Price: $99

 

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