[alert type=alert-blue]Technical details[/alert]
OS Android 4.4 KitKat
Processor 1.6GHz quad-core
Screen 5.3 inches
Resolution 1280 x 720 pixels
Memory 1GB RAM
Micro SD compatible? Yes
Camera 8MP rear-facing, 1.1MP front-facing
Dimensions 150.7 x 77 x 7 mm
Battery 2,500 mAh
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 had very little in the way of midrange phablets.
Now, in the space of just one issue, we’ve got two eye-catching, cheap, big phones. The HTC Desire 816 can be found on the previous page to this (spoiler alert: we liked it). And here’s an entry from another big name.
The T3 is, first and foremost, a good phone. It’s priced extraordinarily competitively, and has very few obvious flaws. Sony’s one big blunder here is their own baffling product cycle.
In the January of 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 fully endorse the T3, as good as it is, as it almost makes it redundant.
With that public service announcement out of the way, let’s get on to the star of the show. One of the key differences between the T2 Ultra and the T3 is the display. The T3’s screen measures in at 5.3 inches, compared to the T2 Ultra’s 6 inches. This means it’s still just about large enough to be called a phablet, but a little more manageable in the hand.
It’s also beneficial for the resolution. At only 1280 x 720 pixels it’s not full HD, and on such a large handset you can really notice the difference. The majority of the time you’ll be fine, with home screens and apps like Twitter and Facebook looking just fine. When you want to watch videos or play games is when the deficiency begins to show.
As a rule, 300 pixels-per-inch is usually the threshold you want your screen to be on the positive side of in order to retain an unwaveringly sharp image. A resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels spread out over a 5.5-inch display, the T3 offers up a disappointing 267 PPI.
It’s a real shame, because the rest of the handset looks superb. For such a moderately priced phone Sony has done excellently to adhere to its own distinct house style. The large glass front is lined with a shimmering mirrored edge, whilst the back is smooth black textured plastic.
The minimalistic look manages to convey exactly what the handset is without explicitly stating that it’s a low-cost version of the flagship Xperia Z2. Unfortunately both sides of the handset are impossibly attracted to fingerprints, and getting out a microfibre cloth every ten minutes is both tedious and impractical. It’s a small niggle, but something that could annoy owners nonetheless.
Sony’s design is present and correct in the UI as well. The familiar Xperia overlay is one of the less intrusive Android interfaces, and a welcome presence as always. Animations are smooth, whilst home screens are busily populated without being confusing or unfamiliar.
In fact general usage is so smooth you’d be hard pressed to notice a difference between the T3 and Z2. The only time when the T3’s 1.4GHz processor begins to creak is when playing the most demanding of games. Titles like Asphalt 8 will run just fine, but frames drop here and there, and juddering is an occasional occurrence. And, as we mentioned, the low pixel count means games hardly look their best.
The screen isn’t the only part of the T3 with a pixel deficiency – the rear camera’s lens has only 8MP. A fairly standard figure for midrange devices, it’s still a shame that Sony didn’t push the boat out a little in this department, particularly with the exceptional 20.7MP camera on the back of the Z2 fresh in our memory.
Again, the software is present even if the hardware isn’t. Sony’s camera app has a satisfying number of sliders and filters to compensate. It can really 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 which doesn’t disappoint is the battery. Despite having a sizeable screen to power its 2,500 mAh goes a fair distance. It’ll comfortably sit for over a week on standby, whilst heavy usage with full brightness and a Wi-Fi connection can yield up to 10 hours.
Combine that with Sony’s ‘Stamina Mode’ power saving option and it’ll really run. Useful, although 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 3,000 mAh battery for good measure.
Stamina Mode is definitely one of the more useful Sony apps, although 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 just downloading the more established name 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 you don’t 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 sale thanks to the existence of the T2 Ultra. It’s a better device in almost every regard, not to mention considerably less costly at this point. The only reason you should opt for the T3 over it is if you’re after a smaller screen size.
It’s still hard to criticise it as a device in its own right, though. It’s got enough power to please anybody shopping outside of flagship territory, and it both looks and feels great. Sony is its own worst enemy here but a greater variety of choice can only be a good thing for the consumer, we suppose.
Our review model was provided by Carphone Warehouse. The Sony Xperia T3 is available there exclusively from £18 a month with no upfront cost.