Sony Xperia T review: T-rex

Posted on Tuesday, Sep 25 2012 on 02:30 PM

 Back when the driving seat was shared with Ericsson, Sony was a little short of delivering a real winner in the high-end market, the company's top-range smartphones always a notch below the Galaxy S lineup and their HTC counterparts. Now on their own, Sony cannot shy away from the toughest of battles and the Sony Xperia T is ready to be thrown in the fire.


Sony Xperia T official photos


A true flagship, the Sony Xperia T comes properly powered by a Snapdragon S4 chipset, boasting a class-leading 13MP camera and a marvelously sounding 720p display. There's no quad-core on its resume, but the Xperia T is ready to take on the best Android offerings out there.


Key features


Quad-band GSM /GPRS/EDGE support

3G with 42.2 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA

4.55" 16M-color capacitive LED-backlit LCD touchscreen of 720p resolution (720 x 1280 pixels) with Sony Mobile BRAVIA engine; Scratch-resistant glass

Android OS v4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich

Dual-core 1.5 GHz Krait CPU, 1 GB RAM, Adreno 225 GPU, Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8260A chipset

13 MP autofocus camera with LED flash and geotagging, Multi Angle shot

1080p video recording @ 30fps with continuous autofocus and stereo sound

1.3 MP front-facing camera, 720p video recording

Wi-Fi b/g/n and DLNA


16GB of built-in storage, microSD card slot

microUSB port with MHL and USB-host support

Stereo Bluetooth v3.1

Standard 3.5 mm audio jack

Stereo FM radio with RDS

Voice dialing

Deep Facebook integration

PlayStation Certified, access to the PS Store

Accelerometer and proximity sensor


Main disadvantages


Display has sub-par viewing angles for a flagship

Slightly thicker than main rivals

Relatively modest battery

JellyBean update not available at launch

Poor loudspeaker performance

Video recording could be better


Optimized Xperia UI on Ice Cream Sandwich


The Sony Xperia T runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich out of box but Sony is promising an update to Jelly Bean. On top of Android runs the custom Sony launcher, so the interface doesn't feel too different from what Sony users are used to. This isn't the first time we've seen ICS on a Sony device either, but this time it seems that Sony have put together an excellent software package. It has enough of the traditional Android UI so you won't feel lost, as well as a couple of new features that might raise a few eyebrows.


The Xperia T has the usual five-pane homescreen configuration, but there is no option to add or remove panes. Along the bottom, there are five docked shortcuts (the app drawer shortcut and two on each of its sides). These are visible across all five homescreen panes and are user configurable: they can be either single icons or folders with multiple items in them. For folders, you get smaller icons of the first four items in them.


As with older Sony smartphones, you can change the color theme of the launcher according to your preferences.


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The Sony Xperia T UI • Choosing theme • Folders


The homescreen does a neat trick called Overview mode, which lets you quickly find a widget across any of your homescreen panes. Pinch to zoom out on any of the 5 homescreen panes and a new screen opens up showing all active widgets for easy viewing and selection. Tapping on a widget takes you directly to the homescreen that it is on.


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Overview mode helps you find the widget you are looking for


The Xperia T has some custom-made Sony widgets in addition to the standard set. Those include the Timescape widget (there's a dedicated app too) and a Mediascape-like widget for photos and videos (the actual app isn't there anymore, but the Album gallery is).


Pressing on an empty area of a homescreen opens up a small contextual menu under the status bar. It gives you two options - choosing a widget and choosing a wallpaper/theme. It's oddly placed and easy to miss at first because the animation is so understated it looks as if nothing has happened.


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The new personalize menu is a lot less obtrusive • Choosing a widget • The wallpaper menu


Moving and removing widgets hasn't changed and is as simple as on droids of old - hold a finger over a desired widget and move it around. The action has a cool wobble animation to it.


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Moving and deleting widgets


A cool new addition to the lockscreen, missing from the Xperia phones of old, is the Walkman widget which lets you control music playback without unlocking the phone. You can also enable Face, Pattern, PIN or Password unlock, in ascending order of security.


The standard notification area is also present, and features a few added connectivity toggles. There's also a quick shortcut to the settings menu. For some reason, the notification area isn't accessible from the lockscreen as it usually is on other ICS-running Xperia phones.


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The lockscreen • Lockscreen options • The notification area now has a few connectivity shortcuts


There's also a brand new task manager, which still lets you go to open apps as well as remove them with a side-swipe, but also introduces something we haven't seen in Sony ICS before, and that's 'small apps'. They are similar to Mini Apps from Samsung, and pop up tiny widget-like applications on your homescreen, which you can move around and use without having to fully open a dedicated app. So far, there's a default set of four: Calculator, Timer, Notes, and Voice Recorder - and it looks like you should be able to stock up on some more from the Play Store as well.


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The updated task manager now features 'small apps' • The Timer small app


As a part of the ICS platform you get the Data usage app. Sony provided one on Gingerbread as well, but this one is far more accurate in calculating your traffic. It also lets you set a limit for network data for a specific period and usage is broken down by apps.


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Data usage app


Sony has added its own Backup & Reset feature for Android ICS. It works for apps you've uninstalled and then reinstalled again, restoring them with the previous saved settings. The reset option is in the same submenu.


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Backup & reset


Sony has made a lot of improvements to its ICS build - like the notification area toggles, but it's still missing a few extras that are some that other OEMs are opting for. For example, Samsung has aRemove all feature when you open the task switcher, and most Android UI's let you adjust the number of homescreen panes.




The Sony Xperia T phonebook looks slightly different from what we're used to in ICS. The bottom bar no longer shows you shortcuts to phone, favorites, contacts, and is now a search and add number field. The contacts, phone, favorites and groups tabs have been moved to the top and can be side-swiped.


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The phonebook • The quick contact shortcuts • The options from the contextual menu


The contact list can be sorted by either first or last name. There are two contact search options - a dedicated search field at the bottom of the contact list, and an alphabetical scroll bar to jump to names starting with a specific letter on the right.


You can sync with multiple accounts, including Exchange and Facebook, and you can selectively show or hide contacts from some accounts (as well as filter specific groups in an account), or set the phonebook to display only contacts with phone numbers or only contacts that are online.


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Filtering contacts in the phonebook


If a contact has accounts in multiple services, you can "link" their details to keep everything in one place. Their Facebook photos and interests (part of the Facebook integration) will show as extra tabs.


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Viewing a contact entry • Editing a contact • Contact groups


Quick contacts are enabled - a tap on the contact's photo brings up shortcuts for calling, texting or emailing the contact.


Each contact can have a variety of fields (and repeat fields of the same type). There's an Add field button and the X button lets you remove fields as needed. The fields cover anything from names (including a field to write the name down phonetically) to addresses, nicknames and notes.


There is an option to redirect calls directly to voicemail. Custom ringtones are enabled too.

Smart telephony


Receiving and making calls on the Xperia T was trouble-free. The built-in secondary microphone is used for active noise-cancellation, so calls are loud and clear even in noisy environments.


The call log is integrated in the dialer - it shows a list of recently dialed, received and missed calls in the top half of the screen and the keypad on the bottom half. Once you start typing, the call log is replaced by the smart dial list which searches for matches in both the contacts' phones and names. You can hide the keypad to make more room for the call log.


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Smart dialing is available


Messaging is business as usual


Text messages and MMS use standard threaded layouts. Each thread is displayed as an IM chat session, with the most recent message at the bottom. You can manage individual messages (forward, copy, delete) and even lock them against deletion. Search is enabled to locate a specific message in all conversations and you can also activate delivery reports.


Adding multimedia (photos, videos, sounds, etc.) will convert the message into an MMS.


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The messaging app • Adding multimedia turns it into an MMS


Moving on to email, the Gmail app supports batch operations, which allows multiple emails to be archived, labeled or deleted. The app supports multiple Gmail accounts, but there's no unified inbox for other email services.


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Gmail app supports batch operations and multiple (Gmail) accounts


However, the generic email app can do that. It can handle multiple POP or IMAP accounts and you have access to the messages in the original folders that are created online.


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The generic Email client has a combined inbox option for multiple services


Google Talk handles Instant Messaging. The GTalk network is compatible with a variety of popular clients like Pidgin, Kopete, iChat and Ovi Contacts.


You can also get a quick overview of your Twitter and Facebook feeds using the integrated Timescape app. Your feeds show up in a flowing vertical carousel that is very quick and responsive.


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The Timescape apps is great for social networking


As for text input, the Xperia T offers a customized on-screen full QWERTY keyboard. Typing on the portrait keyboard is fairly comfortable - the screen is big enough to house decently-sized keys that are easy to hit.


Flipping the phone to landscape gives you even bigger, easier to press buttons. There's also the added feature of being able to customize the keyboard. You can choose a different skin, or even a new key layout.


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Xperia T keyboard is comfortable in either layout


You can also try the so-called Gesture input if hitting those keys individually doesn't give you the desired typing speed. It's similar to Swype, and even if you've never used a Swype-like input before you'll quickly get used to it.


The brand new gallery


The Sony Xperia T comes with a new Sony Ice Cream Sandwich gallery, called Album.


Images are organized into stacks of thumbnails and sorted by date. You can opt to show all of your albums in one place, and there are three tabs above the stacks - Pictures, Map and Online.


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The Album gallery


Pictures is the main tab and one of its features managed to impress us: you can use pinch gestures to make the image thumbnails bigger or smaller. The whole thing is super responsive and hundreds of thumbs fall in and out of differently sized grids with cool animation.


Map reminds us of the iOS gallery, where all geotagged pictures are shown on a world map.


The Online tab displays pictures from Google Picasa and Facebook. You have options to tag, like and comment on Facebook photos much like you did in the previous Xperia Gallery.


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The Geo-tagging à la iOS


mages can be cropped or rotated directly in the gallery. Quick sharing via Picasa, Email apps, Facebook, Bluetooth or MMS is also enabled.


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Viewing an image


The BRAVIA engine enhances contrast and colors by sharpening the image and reducing noise. These steps normally lead to visual artifacts, but you'll have to look at them very close up to notice. You can switch BRAVIA off, but we recommend keeping it on - it really improves the viewing experience.


New video player includes powerful editor


The video player is dubbed Movies and it too has a new interface. It's connected to Gracenote, which helps you find additional information about the movies you have preloaded - although it identified our version of The Mask not as the famous Jim Carrey flick, but rather a horror movie from 1961 by the same name.


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Watching a video on the Xperia T


The Xperia T did a very good job with almost any file type and video codec we threw at it, including DivX and XviD. The only glaring exception was videos with AC3 audio, where we got no sound, although the video still ran fine.


A video editing app called Movie Studio is bundled too. It lets you edit video, images, and audio together (both imported from files as well as recorded/taken by the device itself), using a variety of cool transitions. You can then export the resulting project into a video file that you can share using the T's generous connectivity features (more on this below).


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The Xperia T Movie Studio


Walkman music player on board


Another of the redesigned Sony media apps which has gotten a facelift is the new Walkman music player. It retains all the functionality of the older music players but adds a little bit extra here and there.


It is divided into Playing and My music panels.


In the My music section, you can update your album art and music information like album, year released, and more. SensMe is included, meaning you can filter your songs by mood - upbeat, energetic, mellow, dance, etc. Creating playlists is enabled and you can also view your Facebook friends' activity if they too use the Walkman player.


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The music player is decent looking and snappy


The Now Playing screen offers the standard music controls, shortcuts to the library, "Infinity" key and the song cover art. The Infinity key lets you quickly look up a song on YouTube or browse for the lyrics, among others.


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The Now Playing interface • The equalizer


Finally, the Walkman player offers support for customizable equalizer settings, giving die-hard audiophiles the chance to fiddle around with the individual EQ bands.


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Sound enhancements and EQ


While the rest of the music player is the same as what we saw on Sony Ericsson handset, this one adds music controls to the lockscreen. Swiping them to either side brings back the clock. The notification area also offers the now playing screen with music controls and the option to jump into the Walkman player.


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Music player controls on the lockscreen and notification area


The Sony Xperia T also features an FM Radio aboard complete with RDS support. The app automatically seeks and adds bookmarks to stations in range, although you'll need to have a set of headphones attached to use as an antenna.


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The FM Radiio


Audio quality is decently clear


The Sony Xperia T performed pretty well in the first part of our traditional audio quality test. The smartphone got very good scores all over and garnished them with average volume levels, making up for one of the good performances we have seen.


13 MP Camera comes with its own interface


The Xperia T boasts a 13 megapixel camera with a back-illuminated Exmor R sensor and a single LED flash. It's capable of producing stills of 4128 x 3096px resolution.


The camera controls on the Xperia T are available on two taskbars on either side of the viewfinder. On the left you get four shortcuts to various settings, while the still camera/camcorder toggle, the virtual shutter and a thumbnail of the last photo taken are on the right.


The menu key brings up two pages of extra settings - scenes, resolution, smile detection, geotagging, image stabilization and focus mode among others. You can customize three of the shortcuts on the left (the shooting mode shortcut is fixed).


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The new camera interface


There are three capture modes to choose from: Normal, Auto Scene recognition, and Sweep Panorama. In Normal, you pick the Scene settings manually or you can enable Scene recognition and let the Xperia S take a guess (it's fairly good at it). Sweep panorama mode lets you take a panoramic shot by sliding your camera in a line from left to right.


The Xperia T features a Quick launch option, which lets you customize the phone's behavior upon a press of the camera key when the phone is locked. The default option is Launch and capture - it unlocks the phone, starts the camera and instantly snaps a photo.


It's hard to frame the first shot right from this mode, but you can quickly take another photo as the camera reloads quite fast. The other option is to just unlock the phone and start the camera, or you can just disable this feature altogether.


The 13 MP camera sensor on the Xperia T produced stills which were for the most part good, with the notable exception of some serious overexposure issues.


For the most part, this was limited to scenarios where objects in the frame reflected direct sunlight, which resulted in loss of detail and inaccurate color reproduction. Individual channel clipping was also a prevalent issue, as in many cases the red end of the spectrum was severely blown out.


To better illustrate the poor metering, we've included two sets of samples. This first series is taken at the default exposure value.


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Sony Xperia T camera samples


This second series is taken with the exposure reduced by 2/3 of a stop. As you can see, the resulting samples feature more detail and less highlight clipping, particularly in brighter environments, which proves the camera exposure metering is flawed.


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Sony Xperia T camera samples reduced exposure


Otherwise, the camera features a good dynamic range, and excellent macro capabilities. Colors come out good and there's plenty of detail available. The Xperia T might not be the be-all and end-all of smartphone cameras, but it's certainly one of the better cameraphones we've seen.


Image quality comparison


Since there aren't many 13 MP camera sensors out there, we're going to compare the Xperia T to two 12 MP cameras, one belonging to the Nokia N8, the other to the T's predecessor, the Xperia S. Feel free to choose any other adversaries you wish - the tool's page will give you all the information on how to do that and what to watch out for.


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Sony Xperia T in our Photo Compare Tool


Video recording could be better


The Sony Xperia T captures 1080p video at 30 fps, currently the standard for high-end droids.


The camcorder has similar settings to the still camera, including focus mode, metering, exposure value, image stabilization and so on. The layout of the shortcuts can be customized here, too.


The Xperia T camcorder features continuous autofocus. It may take a few seconds to refocus after you re-frame but that's better than repeatedly attempting to lock focus and ruining your video.


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Camcorder mode offers largely the same interface


FullHD videos are stored in MP4 format (20Mbps bitrate) and the frame is very stable at just below the 30fps mark. The Xperia T videos come with stereo sound recorded at 128Kbps bitrate and 48kHz sampling - all pointing to slightly superior video recording compared to the Xperia S.


Full-fledged connectivity


The Sony Xperia T has quad-band 2G and pentaband 3G connectivity. Mobile data speeds are an impressive 42.2 Mbps of HSDPA and 5.76Mbps HSUPA.


Local connectivity is covered by Wi-Fi a/b/g/n with DLNA and Wi-Fi Direct, so you can easily share content from your phone on a DLNA TV or music player. There's also Bluetooth 3.1 with A2DP.


MicroUSB handles the charging and connecting to your PC and there's also USB On-the-go support so you can attach external flash drives.


Media Remote isn't preinstalled on the Xperia T but you can get it through the Google Play Store for free. It will serve as a remote control for DLNA-capable BRAVIA TVs and Sony DVD/Blu-ray players too. There are a few versions of the interface ranging from simply changing the channels to mouse input and viewing disc history.


There's a Connected Devices app that also lets you manage DLNA connectivity with the Xperia T. You can either browse content on other DLNA-enabled devices on the same WiFi network, or set the T as a media server for other devices.


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The Connected Devices app


The Xperia T also comes with Sony's Smart Connect app, which replaces the former LiveWare manager, although the functionality remains basically the same. With Smart connect, you can set your device to do a variety of things, like launch an app or set an alarm, whenever you connect an accessory, e.g. a headset or a charger.


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Smart Connect manager can, for example, launch the music player as soon as you connect a headset


Finally, if you have an Xperia tablet, Xperia link is a simple app that lets you share the internet connection from your phone to your tablet.


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Xperia link


The ICS browser is great as usual


The browser interface is quite minimalistic: all you get is the URL bar with a tabs shortcut and contextual menu. The bar automatically disappears as you start scrolling down a page. To make it reappear again, simply scroll up. The contextual menu gives you more browsing options - Refresh, Forward, Save to bookmarks, Share page, Find on page, full settings and a couple of more - Request desktop site (no more hunting for that "Desktop" option buried at the bottom of the site) and Save for offline reading.


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The web browser was redesigned


The full settings menu offers extra options. For example, you can set your search engine to Yahoo or Bing, you can adjust text size and the level of which double tap will zoom in.


The browser borrows several features from its desktop counterpart: when searching for something, if the browser is confident you'll click on a certain search result, it will start preloading that page right away so that it opens faster if you do click it. You can set this feature to work over Wi-Fi only to preserve data.


The other trick is the ability to open Incognito tabs.


Speaking of tabs, the tab switching interface looks exactly like the Recent apps list. You can even close tabs by swiping them off the screen.


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Switching tabs works the same way as switching apps does


Quick controls (available as a Google Labs extra) reveal five controls (New tab, Tabs, URL, Bookmarks, More) when you slide your finger in from the side. These really go a long way in improving the browser experience. Another cool feature from Labs is Full screen, which squeezes in a little more screen real estate by hiding the status bar.


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Quick controls can be enabled from Google Labs


As far as Flash support is concerned, only certain Flash-related ads will pop-up, while YouTube videos will open in their own app once selected and, as expected, flash games are a no-go. The Adobe Flash Player app has been omitted from the Google Play store, so if you don't side-load it from somewhere else, the browser will only be able to handle HTML 5 videos out of box.


You can also opt for the much-improved Google Chrome web browser, which has also been pre-installed. It's very smooth and it's actually the default web browser on Android Jelly Bean. The interface is pretty simple - you get a combined URL and search bar at the top. To the right of it there's a tab switcher button with the number of open tabs on it. Hitting the menu button reveals options like new tab, bookmarks, look at closed tabs on other devices, request desktop site, etc.


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Google Chrome


To switch between tabs you just swipe to the left or right to move between various open pages. In the tab interface you can also swipe away tabs you don't want anymore, except this time with a cooler animation.


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Switching tabs in Chrome


Chrome offers full synchronization with your Google account. Just type it in and it will immediately connect to all of your devices with Chrome installed. The only thing that doesn't get synced is your passwords.


Great organizer


The Sony Xperia T comes with the OfficeSuite 6 viewer. OfficeSuite 6 allows you to view almost any type of document, although you'll have to fork over for the Pro version if you want editing capabilities as well.


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OfficeSuite 6 handles all your documents


There's a Notes app that comes with the Xperia T. It's pretty simple to use - you can select the color of the note and just start typing or doodling. There's also an option for Evernote integration.


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The Notes app


The Power Saver app helps you extend your battery life by toggling things like Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth screen brightness, auto sync and background data on and off automatically when the battery charge falls below a certain user-defined threshold.


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The Power saver app


The calendar has three different types of view - daily, weekly and monthly. The lower section of the screen is reserved for a list of upcoming events. Adding a new event is quick and easy, and you can also set an alarm to act as a reminder.


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The organizer centerpiece - the calendar


The Calendar also pulls info on upcoming events from your Facebook account. Facebook events appear just like regular calendar entries, except that you can't edit them from the app.


There is a nicely touch-optimized calculator aboard. The buttons are really big and easy to hit, and you can expand it to include advanced functions (trigonometry, logarithms).


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Regular Calculator • Scientific Calculator


The clock app supports multiple alarms, each with its own start and repeat time. There's also a desk clock option, although it doesn't have integrated weather or news information.


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The Clock app


The stopwatch, world clock and timer are available within the clock app. The Timer function now has a history option, and the world clock features a cool slider which helps you quickly figure out the local time in another city.


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World Clock • Stopwatch • Timer


The Google Play store is full of free apps that will cater to all your organizational needs.


Offline Google Maps and Wisepilot navigation


The Sony Xperia T comes with a GPS receiver, which took about a minute to get satellite lock upon a cold start. You can use the A-GPS functionality to get near instantaneous locks. Alternatively, network positioning will also do if you only need an estimate of your location.


Google Maps is a standard part of the Android package and we've covered it many times before. It offers voice-guided navigation in certain countries and falls back to a list of instructions elsewhere.


3D buildings are shown for some of the bigger cities and you can use two-finger camera tilt and rotate to get a better view of the area.


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Google Maps


Google Maps uses vector maps, which are very data efficient. The latest version has an easy to use interface for caching maps - you just choose "Make available offline" from the menu and pan/zoom around until the desired area is in view (there's an indicator showing how much storage caching that area will take). You can later view cached areas and delete ones you no longer need.


Note that there's a limit to the size of the area you can cache - you can't just make all of Europe available offline, not even a whole country. We managed to cache London and some surrounding regions before Maps told us the area is too big. Also, there's no address search in the cached maps and you can only cache map data in supported regions of the world.


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Making an area of the map available for offline usage is very easy


You can also plan routes, search for nearby POI and go into the always cool Street View. The app will reroute you if you get off course, even without a data connection.


Wisepilot is also part of the Sony Xperia T package, with a full navigation license and downloadable maps for offline navigation.


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Wisepilot takes care of your navigation needs


The Play Store now has books too


Running on Android ICS, the Xperia T has access to the latest apps and the ample built-in memory plus the available microSD slot guarantees you won't have trouble with space.


The Store is organized in a few scrollable tabs - categories, featured, top paid, top free, top grossing, top new paid, top new free and trending. The in-app section is untouched though and it's very informative - a description, latest changes, number of downloads and comments with rating. There is usually a demo video and several screenshots for most apps too.


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The Google Play Store


Google recently announced ebooks now being available from Google Play. Play Books gives us the first official Android ebook reader app, and it's pretty impressive.


Play Books comes with several book preloaded, which can be browsed in a 3D carousel view (by default). There's page transition animation similar to the one in the iOS reader, and you can adjust things like font style, size, and alignment, as well as background brightness and line height. You can also view the pages as they were originally formatted in the book, rather than optimized for viewing on a screen.


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Google Play Books


Final words


The Sony Xperia T is by all means an impressive phone. The dual-core Krait does a great job of competing with many other flagships not only on its home turf, but in the quad-core arena as well. Add to that a display that pushes out an impressive amount of pixels without issue, and a streamlined Android ICS interface that introduces some nifty features and optimizations not offered by other OEMs, you have a package that is very well put together.

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