Review: Sony Xperia TL for AT&T
The TL is packed with media options. First, Sony reskinned the stock Android music and video player apps. They both offer basic playback functionality of music and videos, but look nicer than the stock apps. The Google Play Music and Google Play Movies content stores are both on board for your music and movie purchasing/renting needs. These are the same apps found on most new Android devices. The Sony Walkman app is the most feature-rich music player available on the TL and surpasses the Google Play Music app in terms of usability and cool tools. I like the way it arranges playlists and albums, and it has a nice visual look and feel.
Then there's Sony Music Unlimited and Sony Videos Unlimited. These are content services run by the Sony Entertainment Network. Once you create a Sony account, $10 per month buys you unlimited music streaming each month via Music Unlimited. The service can cache playlists on the device for offline playback and offers tons more features. The Movies Unlimited service offers movie rentals. Pricing for the rentals varies by title. These services have an incredible wealth of content, and are not limited to Sony's content. The Movies Unlimited offering, for example, will have access to new rentals before Netflix, according to Sony.
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Beyond these options, the TL includes AT&T Live TV (a for-pay streaming video service), an FM radio, and YouTube.
The camera operates well. A long press of the physical camera button — even when the screen is locked — will open the camera. It can also be opened from the lock screen. The viewfinder leaves plenty of room for composing images and the tools for adjusting the settings are floating along the left edge.
It offers panorama and macro modes for taking wide vistas or close-ups. It can detect smiles (small smiles, medium smiles, and large smiles — no, I'm not kidding, it has three separate settings!), and can make various different shutter sounds. I like that the flash has four settings (most cameras have three): on, off, auto, and fill-flash. It's this last option that's cool to have, because it helps take photos when you have a light background and a dark foreground and you want to make the foreground pop a little bit. If you're wondering how this is different from simply turning the flash on, it uses a lower-power burst than normal.
No matter how you choose to configure the camera, it’s very fast and responsive. It focuses quickly and takes/saves images in an instant.
The camera has 13-megapixels to work with. In general, it's a good camera. I found exposure and white balance to be consistently accurate. Focus was a bit inconsistent, though. I had several shots come out blurry when I was certain they'd look great. Having so many megapixels means you can blow the images up to huge sizes. I thought the images looked as good on my 27-inch computer monitor as they did on the 4.6-inch display of the TL itself. My guess is you're going to be pleased with the results.
The 1080p HD video I shot was clear, correctly exposed and showed tons of detail. I was impressed with the quality of the color and how accurate the video was. It suffers a bit from the same jerky movement phenomenon that most 1080p HD video cameras do. In other words, try to hold the TL still when shooting video if at all possible. If you have to move it around, try to do so slowly and evenly.
Sony added some neat tricks to the gallery application. Basically, the grid of thumbnails can be expanded and reshaped by using pinch-to-zoom gestures. By default, one thumbnail (the most recent image) is somewhat larger than the others. Grab that and do a reverse pinch gesture and it will grow to fill the screen. The other thumbnails will also grow. You can use this gesture to make all the thumbnails visible at the same time, or as few as three visible at a time (see the video tour). It's some cool UI stuff that Sony didn't have to do that makes dealing with the gallery more fun.
Otherwise, it has all the tools you expect to find in the Android 4.0 smartphone gallery app. Individual photos and albums can be easily shared with others via messaging apps or social networks. Photos can also be cropped and rotated, as well as adjusted for exposure and similar.
The TL has more than 50 apps preinstalled, which includes a typical mix of AT&T, Google, and Sony software. Most of the preinstalled apps cannot be deleted, but there's plenty of storage space available for your own apps.
I found the Bluetooth radio worked well. It gave me no trouble connecting to headsets or other devices. Calls routed through my car's hands-free system sounded good and music sent to stereo Bluetooth headsets was clear and lively.
The TL includes both the stock Android browser and Google's Chrome browser. Each does a good job of rendering web sites quickly on the TL's display. They interact well with AT&T's HSPA+ and LTE networks and have no trouble delivering a solid web browsing experience. The browsers themselves offer slightly different user experiences and tools, but at the end of the day web sites work well on both.
The lock screen clock is a thin, white, static digital clock that's positioned at the top of the display. It can be hard to see. There are a number of clock widgets for the home screens, but the time is almost always displayed in the status bar at the top.
The TL includes both AT&T Navigator and Google Maps. Both are fine for navigating between points, though AT&T's app costs $10 per month. The GPS radio gave me a little bit of trouble. It was slow to find my exact location, and often took several minutes to pinpoint me. Accuracy was never better than about 50 feet.
The TL supports NFC and comes with one SmartTag in the box. By default, the tag is programmed to launch the TL's James Bond content. It can be reprogrammed, however, to do a number of different things, such as change the TL's wireless settings, send a text message, and so on. There's a companion app that helps manage the NFC radio and NFC tags. Sony is selling the tags - which are more robust than the stickers sold by Samsung and LG - in packages of four for $20. They are plastic circles and can be added to a keyring if you wish.