There’s plenty of scope to offer something new in a mid-ranged phablet. The price is certainly right here, but can Sony’s latest effort deliver?
It never rains, but it pours. After a long summer of big releases, with some fantastic flagships, outstanding budget options and neat compacts, we’ve seen very little in the way of mid-range phablets.
Now, in the space of just one month, we’ve had two eye-catching, cheap, big phones. The Sony Xperia T3, is priced competitively, is a good phone and has very few obvious flaws. But what is baffling is Sony’s product-release cycle.
In January this year, the Xperia T2 Ultra was released. The predecessor to the T3, the T2 Ultra is a better phone in almost every respect. As it’s aged nine months or so, it’s also come down a lot in price. Simply knowing that the T2 Ultra exists makes it hard to endorse the T3, as good as it is.
It almost makes it redundant.
With that public service announcement out of the way, let’s get on with the show. One of the key differences between the T2 Ultra and the T3 is the display. The T3’s screen measures 5.3 inches, compared to the T2 Ultra’s six inches. This means it’s still just about large enough to be called a phablet, but it’s a little more manageable in the hand.
At only 1,280 x 720 pixels, the display is not Full HD resolution, and on such a large handset, you can really notice the difference. Most of the time it’ll be okay, with home screens and apps like Twitter and Facebook looking just fine. But when you want to watch videos or play games, it shows.
As a rule, 300 pixels per inch is about the threshold you want your screen to be above for an unwaveringly sharp image.
With a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels spread out over a 5.3-inch display, the T3 offers a disappointing 267ppi.
It’s a real shame because the rest of the handset looks superb. Despite being a moderately-priced phone, Sony has adhered to its distinct house design.
The large glass front is lined with a shimmering mirrored edge, while the back is smooth black-textured plastic.
The minimalist look manages to convey exactly what the handset is about without shouting that it’s a lower-cost version of the flagship Xperia Z2.
Unfortunately, both sides of the handset attract fingerprints, and getting out a microfibre cloth every 10 minutes is both tedious and impractical. It’s a small niggle, but something that could annoy.
Sony’s distinctive design is present and correct in the user interface, too. The familiar Xperia overlay is one of the less intrusive Android interfaces, and is a welcome presence, as always. Animations are smooth, while home screens are busily populated without being confusing.
In fact, in general use it’s so smooth you’d be hard-pressed to notice a difference between the T3 and Z2. The only time the T3’s 1.4GHz processor begins to creak is when playing the most demanding games. Titles such as Asphalt 8 will run just fine, but frames drop here and there, with occasional juddering. And, as we mentioned, the low pixel count means games don’t look their best.
The screen isn’t the only part of the T3 with a pixel deficiency; the rear camera has only eight megapixels. While this may be standard for mid-range devices, it’s still a shame that Sony didn’t push the boat out a little in this department, particularly with the exceptional 20.7-megapixel camera on the back of the Z2 fresh in our memory.
The software is decent even if the hardware doesn’t excel. Sony’s camera app has a satisfying number of sliders and filters to compensate for the camera’s shortcomings.
The snapper can struggle in mixed lighting conditions, so being able to manually adjust the exposure helps. Chances are that unless you’re outdoors in broad daylight, though, you’ll never really get the shot exactly how you’d like it.
One component that doesn’t disappoint is the battery. Despite the phone having a sizeable screen, its 2,500mAh battery goes a fair distance. It’ll comfortably sit for over a week on standby, while heavy usage with full brightness and a WiFi connection can yield up to 10 hours’ use.
Combine that with Sony’s STAMINA Mode power-saving option and it’ll really run. Useful, but doesn’t everybody charge their phone each night anyway?
It’s a shame – and a little perplexing – that Sony didn’t include the T2 Ultra’s even larger 3,000mAh battery for good measure.
Stamina Mode is definitely one of the more useful Sony apps, and the usual suite is all there. You have the Walkman (remember those?) music player app, which is certainly an improvement over the stock Android player. You also get Track ID, Sony’s answer to Shazam, although you’ll probably find yourself downloading the latter anyway.
It’s also got SmartConnect for easy synchronising with the Sony SmartBand, as well as Sony’s other less successful wearables.
When you factor in the variety of apps, smooth running and premium build, what you have is a user experience remarkably similar to that of the considerably more expensive Z2. Just a warning though, the T3 isn’t waterproof, so be sure not to take it for a swim.
With that in mind, if you’re looking for a cheaper version of the Z2, then the T3 is a winner. If it’s a Sony phablet you’re looking for, though, it becomes a very hard sell, thanks to the existence of the T2 Ultra – a better device in almost every regard, not to mention considerably less costly
The only reason to opt for the T3 is if you’re after a smaller screen.
It’s still hard to criticise the T3 as a device in its own right, though. It’s got enough power to please anybody shopping outside of flagship phone territory, and it looks and feels great.
Sony is its own worst enemy here, but greater choice can only be a good thing for you, the smartphone buyer.