It’s almost a full two years since Sony split from Ericsson and went their own way with the Xperia smartphone brand. In its first year going it alone, the company launched significantly less smartphones on the market compared to the previous year with Ericsson. Many tech pundits liked the idea of a less cluttered release cycle, which, can also be argued, is a better breeding ground for excellent smartphones, opposed to just churning out devices month after month in an attempt to flood the market.
During their second year, however, Sony have increased their production quite considerably. Clear evidence of this is their flagship Xperia Z series has seen three updates in less than two years, the Xperia Z3 released a mere 6 months after the Z2. In and amongst the hectic flagship release cycle, Sony has introduced a number of lower and middle end smartphones to bridge a few gaps in the market segment. The Sony Xperia T3 is one such smartphone. Released back in June 2014, I initially expected the T3 to fill the gap between the M2 and Z2, but it isn’t quite as straightforward as that, even on paper.
Build and Design
Over the past few years, Sony has released a multitude of smartphones based on the same square design, with hints of variation. As simple as it may seem, this minimalist approach has worked for Sony, and, once again, they’ve stuck to the same philosophy with the Xperia T3. In all honesty, the square design has never looked as good on a smartphone as it does on Sony’s lineup of Xperia devices. The T3 doesn’t have the same, rear and front glass panels as the Z2, but instead opted for a glass front and soft-touch plastic on the non-removable rear. Although the frames aren’t a single-piece aluminium, the stainless steel finish still makes it quite attractive. Sony has been previously criticised that the flagship glass smartphones often felt cumbersome to hold in one hand, with the added fear of it dropping and cracking on either end. The plastic rear on the T3 is contoured on all four edges, making it easier to hold, even while being slightly larger than the Z2. Sony has already covered many of the design elements to make the T3 stand out, but went just that little bit further in terms of the build by producing a 7mm thick smartphone; a full 1.2mm thinner than the Z2. Sony were clearly happy with the end result, touting the T3 as the world’s thinnest 5.3” smartphone in the world. It doesn’t hurt either that it weighs 148g as well.
In terms of the device’s ports and buttons, there’s not a great deal of a difference, if any, from that of the previous Xperia devices of late. The metallic power button is situated on the right side centre with the volume rocker and dedicated power button below it. The SIM and SD card slot are neatly hidden away behind a flap that blends well with the metallic frame, situated above the power button. The left side remains relatively empty, but for microUSB port. We have become accustomed to exposed ports on the Xperia devices, while still offering an IR-certification for water and dust resistance. Unfortunately, the T3 doesn’t carry the same certifications, so owners should not be confused with any of the more premium devices offering this feature. On the top of the device you’ll find a 3.5mm audio jack, whereas at the bottom houses the microphone. The rear remains relatively minimalistic, with only a few items breaking the smooth look. These include the camera and flash on the top left corner, a really small NFC logo, the Sony logo in the centre, the Xperia logo at the bottom, right above the loudspeaker. Overall, then, the build and design won’t let you down, even for a device that’s considerably more cost conscious than the Z2, or upcoming Z3.
The T3’s Ace lies with its screen. While there may not be many differences in terms of overall specifications compared to the M2, having a much bigger screen is definitely more noticeable. The screen falls within the phablet range, as it bigger than most flagship smartphones like the HTC One, Xperia Z2, Samsung Galaxy S5, and the likes. Much like what Nokia did when launching the Lumia 1320, the Xperia T3 offers its 5.3” screen at a mid-range price point. While a bigger screen is always a bonus, it doesn’t mean all that much when you’re lacking in resolution. The T3 offers a 720p experience (720x1280px) at a pixel density of 277ppi. This means that while it has a better pixel count that the M2, falls some way behind the 400+ ppi on the flagship devices.
A higher screen size and lower pixel count means that image clarity becomes a talking point. For the most, however, there isn’t much annoyance, or pixilation to speak of. The only truly noticeable weaknesses appear during video playback and playing games. That isn’t to say it is utterly bad, just not on par with industry leaders, but is to be expected at quite a significant price cut. Sony has crammed their Bravia TV engine and Triluminous technology behind the screen to create a bright display. Colours and blacks, then, are good to look at, even when watching videos. The IPS panel provides great viewing angles, even in direct sunlight. All in all, the display isn’t a total right off, and definitely something decent to work with.
Performance and Battery Life
Under normal, everyday usage, the Xperia T3 performs quite well, thanks to its Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 Quad-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A7 CPU. Running on Android KitKat 4.4.2 makes the UI experience just that much smoother, even during slides and animations across screens. The combination between chipset architecture and OS software means that the device performs quite optimally. This is great news for those concerned about battery life on a larger screened device, even with its 2500mAh battery. Where the T3 doesn’t perform as well is in the gaming graphics front. Using the standard test of jamming a few graphic intensive games, such as Real Racing 3, the details aren’t as sharp, which means that the game has set the graphics lower for GPU being used. Manually switching to the highest graphics output available drops the frame rate slightly, along with an increase in heat generated. That being said, Xperia devices of late haven’t had the best record in terms of operational temperatures.
Although the T3 is fitted with an 8MP camera, this resolution has long since been dropped by flagship devices, some two years ago. Thankfully, the camera app coupled with Sony’s build of Android makes provision for a lot more than it may seem at the offset. For one, there is a manual mode (metering, ISO, etc.) for more experienced photographers. That being said, though, I wouldn’t imagine professionals to be using this camera to start off with. While it does offer some good features, the camera app’s performance is a bit sluggish at times. Using HDR mode is the most frustrating of these, and while results may be good (once captured correctly), using the feature isn’t as pleasing. There are also a few issues regarding noise levels for certain images. Although this is mainly as a result of fading or low light, there are still a few conditions when it’s expected to have done a lot better. Video recording is capable of capturing at Full HD 1080p, but not as clear as many of the others with higher pixel count and aperture size.
Considering each element individually doesn’t highlight many outstanding points on the T3, apart from its design. As a whole, however, there is a lot more it has going for it than many other mid-ranged smartphones. The targeted market are those wanting a larger screened device without the cost setback of higher end smartphones. With a recommended RRP of R5,800, the device does fall within the mid-range smartphones, almost half the price of modern-day flagships. For its size, that is quite a good price, but when compared directly to other, smaller screened mid-range smartphones, there are a lot better specced devices out there.
You can find the full specifications here.