Sony Xperia T Lightning Review: Much Bigger and a Bit Better

By Gary Cutlack on at

Announced a few weeks back at this year's IFA tech event, the Xperia T is the newest, biggest Android-powered smartphone from Sony. There's another new physical design to explore with your longing fingers, plus this one arrives with Android 4.0 from launch. It really ought to be Sony's big breakthrough.

 

What Is It?

A smartphone with a large 4.6" display, powered by Qualcomm's fast and powerful dual-core S4 processor and with Google's Ice Cream Sandwich onboard -- alongside a stack of bespoke Sony software customisations.

 

Who's It For?

Whoever's looking for a new, very posh Android phone with a huge screen and top-end power levels. And Google Maps.

 

Design

The Xperia T ditches the black plastic look favoured by this year's earlier Xperia S, favouring a textured, silvery, matte plastic back, plus sightly curved, moulded edges, a little reminiscent of HTC's One X. The bizarre illuminated strip we saw in the Xperia S has also been binned, in favour of a rather generic, simple front design for the front of phone this time around.

The large 4.6" display means this is an even bigger phone than the Xperia S, and it feels pretty wide in the hand and significantly bigger than it looks, although the curved back helps it sit in your palm well enough. The chassis is sealed, so there's no access to the battery, although Sony will be pleasing quite a few Android fans by including an SD card slot beside the MicroSIM.

Sony's opted for on-screen software buttons here, which use the modern Android 4.0 standard layout of Back, Home and the multi-tasking button for access to recent apps and menu pages, whatever Google calls that one. There's also a physical camera button that has a very nice two-stage press and is sensitive enough that you don't ruin photos by having to press it too hard.

 

Using It

Android 4.0 is the core of the experience, so you get a very slick and feature-packed mobile OS, now including Google's enhanced pull-down notifications panel with its individually removable events, the updated web browser complete with full-screen mode and optional slide-in options menu, the recent apps list and more.

Sony's take on Google's Android OS is excellent. The Android recent apps menu, for example, now comes with shortcuts to Sony's own floating selection of additional "small apps" as well as your phone's recent history, with a little notepad, calculator, timer, voice recorder and more available.

It's very smooth in action. Qualcomm's processor chucks Android around like you wouldn't believe, easily handling web pages and apps, with the camera app opening up in about a second, shooting and compiling great images and panoramic composites. It's blisteringly fast everywhere.

 

The Best Part

Sony's been sticking superb displays in its Android phones for years, and this one's another blinder. The 4.6" 1280x720 panel is very bright, text is sharp, icons incredibly clean and tidy. Videos look great too, and so do photos you've taken. It really is a screen you'll want to whack up to full brightness and show people.

 

Tragic Flaw

The phone's performance itself is so solid the only holes we can pick are to do the with its physical design. It looks a bit bland compared with some of Sony's more exotic phones of recent years, plus the MicroSIM/SD card slot is covered by a very flimsy bendy plastic stopper, which we can foresee absent-mindedly fiddling with and ripping off when it's in a pocket.

 

This Is Weird...

We thought the camera was a bit rubbish, as our first few batches of shots turned out rather poor. But it was a fluff issue. The recessed lens is an incredible fluff-sucking vortex that'll soon assimilate entire pairs of your trousers, and is rather difficult to get in to clean out. So you might want to start packing a few cotton buds in your wallet to wipe it out before snapping anything important.

 

Test Notes

The 13-Megapixel camera produces great results, just like all of Sony's recent Android powered smartphones. It's fast to launch, can be opened up by a long-press on the physical shutter button or via a swipe of the lock screen, plus the Xperia T's 1080p footage looks amazing on the phone -- and very decent off it.

Sony's floating small apps are interesting. It's like using Windows, where you can drag around your voice recorder or note app window above the main screen. A bit of an unnecessary luxury, but you might find a use for them if you're a hardcore multi-tasker.

The speed and smoothness of Qualcomm's S4 processor is constantly impressive. The Home screens whizz about beautifully, with apps installing quickly and everything running very quickly indeed. Once you're used to this level of speed and polish, going back to anything else will be a huge comedown.

The power button takes some getting used to. Sony's ditched years of smartphone convention and stuck it on the side of the phone right in the middle, so there's a bit of brain rewiring to be done before you can find it first time.

 

Should You Buy It?

It's a very nice phone. So yes. Android 4.0 is a superb mobile OS to begin with, and Sony's added in absolutely loads of new stuff and customisations that keep the best of Google's updated OS (the new browser and notifications pane) intact while enhancing the experience no end (a sweet Sony gallery app and clever Facebook integration).

The larger display means the Xperia T is bigger and a little wider than Sony's previous flagship models, though, so it's not one for those who find the race for ever larger phones a bit unnecessary. Battery life's also a bit mixed -- the big screen means this will struggle to get through a full day of constant fiddling.

For everyone else, though, it's one of the best Android phones around. The Xperia T is fast, packed with clever software and an excellent camera, so picking faults here mainly comes down to your personal preference for size and design. If you like its looks, it's right up there alongside the Android stars.

Sony Xperia T

- Screen: 4.6" 720×1280 Reality Display
- Processor: 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm
- Storage: 16GB, SD card support
- Camera: 13-MP rear camera with LED flash, 1.3MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: HSPA+/3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DLNA, A-GPS, NFC, HDMI over MHL
- Ports: microUSB, 3.5mm headphones
- Price: £440 off network