Review: Sony Xperia TL for AT&T
The Xperia TL is the latest LTE 4G smartphone from Sony for AT&T. The TL's defining features are its 13-megapixel camera and association with the James Bond movie "Skyfall." Those two features barely scratch the surface, however. There's plenty more to the TL.
Is It Your Type?
Sony's Xperia TL is perhaps the company's best effort for long-time partner AT&T. It goes toe-to-toe with other leading Android smartphones in terms of specs and features, and looks to win over users with its exclusive content. Is the TL the first Sony phone to get all the parts in the right order?
Sony hardware is typically over-designed and a bit fussy. These are both apt descriptors for the TL, an interesting slab that falls short of even my low expectations.
The overall shape and appearance of the device are fine. Sony returned to the idea of employing an arc in the design, and I find it is a welcome attribute and makes for some unique lines and curves shaping the TL. The entire back panel of the TL is arced gently, creating a concave shape. In other words, it is somewhat thicker at the ends and thinner in the middle. There's no real practical benefit to the design, perhaps other than to prevent spilled liquids from drenching the entire back surface (the TL is not waterproof.)
The front of the TL is glass and the back surface is a mix of metals and plastics. The glass is nice and smooth. The plastic surfaces - which are concentrated at the top and bottom portions of the TL's back cover - are rubbery and have some grip to them. The metallic material makes up the bulk of the TL's back surface and portions of the sides. It has a matte texture that’s unique from the rest of the phone. With three different textures, the TL feels a bit chaotic against the skin, but I can live with that.
Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.
The problem with the TL's hardware is all in the button placement. It’s beyond terrible. The nice arcs that Sony designed into the TL's side edges and back are interrupted by irksome and annoying buttons that jut out from the side and stab you in the palm. The screen lock button is placed smack in the middle of the right edge of the TL. I prefer to hold phones in my right hand. When I gripped the TL tightly, what do you think happened? Yep, I turned the screen on. This happened 100 times a day. Honestly, I was surprised how often I accidentally turned the screen on given how small the screen lock button is. Alternately, I often turned the screen OFF when I was in the middle of using it. The only upside of this button is that it has excellent travel and feedback.
I can't say the same for the volume toggle. The volume toggle is below the screen lock button, close to the bottom of the right edge. This is very odd placement for a volume toggle. It also has terrible travel and feedback.
Sony was thoughtful enough to include a physical camera button, but it's placed so close to the volume toggle and screen lock button that I found myself accidentally pressing those buttons instead of the camera button. At least its two-stage action feels good.
Maybe you hold cell phones in your left hand. If you do, the microUSB port will catch and irritate the skin between your thumb and pointer finger thanks to its awkward placement and the way it protrudes from the side of the phone.
Moving past the buttons, the fit and finish simply isn't up to par. Some of the seams are uneven or don't join the way they should. There are so many lines, surfaces, materials, and finishes that the TL feels like it was designed by a committee of people who've never used a smartphone before. The concave shape, while interesting, makes the TL uncomfortable to put in your pocket.
The battery is not removable. In fact, the phone is buttoned up tight. If you need or want to change the SIM card or microSD card, you can access them through a hatch that's also on the right edge of the phone. The headphone jack is on the top.
Sony came so close. I like the shape of the TL a lot. If it had used fewer materials and thought about the button placement a bit more, this could be a really great piece of hardware. Instead, I found it uncomfortable to use over the course of a day.
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