Sony Xperia T3: Decent smartphone with a few issues [Review]

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The Sony Xperia T3 updates the Xperia T2 which, er, was an update to the Xperia T. Except that's not quite how it is. When the T came out early last year it was the flagship phone for Sony. It even had a much talked about spot in a James Bond movie. The flagship handset line from the Sony range is now the Z series, and the Z3 is due very soon. The T series is now the mid-range in Sony's stable, and the Xperia T3 is priced at £299 online at Sony's website.

Sony has worked hard to consolidate design across its handset range, and that's evident with the Xperia T3. The monolith appearance with squared-off corners and distinctive button design and placement is carried through from the Z range, though the price differential has had a clear effect on materials. Where the Xperia Z2 has a glass back that I found rather too reflective and slippy, the T3 has a more usual rubbery finish on the back that's easier on the hands and doesn't act like a mirror for the narcissists among us.

Good grip is important in this phone, because it takes another characteristic from the Xperia range in having an overly large screen bezel. A 5.3in screen will always make for a sizable phone, but here the top and bottom screen bezels seem massive. That'll appeal to anyone who wants to use this phone for widescreen gaming, as there's plenty of thumb space that means you won't find yourself accidentally prodding the screen. But of course, this is a big phone for the pocket. Its saving grace in respect of size is that it is slim-line. At just 7mm thick it has a very low profile on the desk, and that is emphasized because the edges all taper in to even shallower sides.

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The sides are bounded by silver strips which are a direct rip-off of the Xperia Z2 design. Within them are embedded the buttons and connectors -- the microUSB slot sits on the left long edge, headset slot on the top. Both of these bleed outside the narrow silver strips. Everything else is on the right edge. That includes a long covered slot for your microSIM and microSD cards -- the back of this handset is not removable. The round on/off button is a shade off-center, with the volume rocker below it and a dedicated camera button further down.

All this is good stuff, but this handset isn't without niggles.

The large screen benefits from two Sony technologies: Triluminos enhances colors and the Mobile Bravia Engine 2 increases image sharpness. It has to be said that video and photos look good, as does web content.

But the resolution is disappointing -- at least on paper. The 277 ppi rating is the key to this, and it comes from spreading 1,280 x 720 pixels across the widescreen expanse.

Now, in real life, text looked fine to me. I had no trouble reading eBooks, emails and web pages, but spec junkies might be a little disappointed, and if this matters to you then one option is to mooch along to the Motorola Moto G or Moto G 4G, which put the same number of pixels into a smaller screen, giving a higher pixel density for a lot less cash.

There's an 8 megapixel main camera that does a pretty nice job. I rather like the Superior Auto mode Sony provides with its cameras which makes automatic settings, and you can select from a number of other modes very easily -- as well as fiddling with settings manually.

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This is a 4G handset with NFC, running Android 4.4. Sony has popped its own skin on top, and that means there's quite a different look and feel to things. So, for example, you've got a range of Sony-branded apps. They can confuse somewhat, offering features for music, movies, and your own photos and videos which sit alongside native Android apps. They can also add unique features -- Smart Connect is the app you'll use if you have a Sony SmartBand for example. The app icons are not designed with any sense of connectedness.

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Then there are Sony's mini apps -- effectively applets you can open on top of whatever else you are doing. You get to them from the multitasking button. They include a calendar, timer, calculator, Gmail, and mini web browser. So you can do some tasks without leaving the app you are in. It is a shame you can't get to these from the notifications area, but that's not possible.

And finally there are the third-party apps. There's a fair bit here, for example Pixlr Express, MobiSystems Office Suite document viewer (you have to upgrade to be able to edit documents), Sketch for drawing, File Commander for file management. It is quite messy, though it is easy enough to bundle the apps you don't care about in a folder just by dragging one on top of the other in the app drawer.

Sony has a little play at gesture controls with Smart Call, a range of settings you can make to handle calls such as answering by lifting the phone to your ear, and rejecting with a shake of the handset. It's nowhere near as expansive as Samsung gets with its gesture and motion controls, though.

All these apps, plus more stuff including Sony widgets and a large tiled simple home screen, take their toll on the built-in memory. 8GB of storage is down to 4.9GB for your own use.

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The 1.4GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor does its work well, and I had no trouble nipping around the phone to do the usual array of everyday tasks. My main problem on the technical side was with battery life. Performance is below average, and there's a fair amount of drain even when the handset is completely idle. I'd hope a software update might help, but meantime expect to administer mid-day power boosts.

Verdict

Sony's handsets always seem to be a bit chalk and cheese. If you are a fan of the whole Sony ecosystem then the range of apps dedicated to the company's wares will have clear appeal. For those not so loyal, there are still goodies to be had, but the array of apps seems to lack cohesion. Elsewhere, Sony might do well to see if it can stretch battery life. And this is a big phone -- still, it hums along nicely, and has a solid yet thin design which should have wide appeal.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model Sony Xperia T3
Network 4G
Processor 1.4GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
Ram 1GB
Memory 8GB (4.9GB accessible)
Memory expansion microSD
Display 5.3in, 1,280 x 720 pixels, 277ppi
Main camera 8 megapixel
Front camera 1.1 megapixel
NFC Yes
Wi-Fi Yes
GPS Yes
FM radio Yes
Battery 2,500 mAh
Size 77 x 7 x 150.7mm (WxDxH)
Weight 148g
OS Android 4.4

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