updated 10:05 pm EDT, Sun October 7, 2012
NFC features figure big for Sony's new smartphone
Sony was at AT&T's Unwrapped 2012 event, showing off its new Xperia TL, a 4G-enabled Android handset that will be launching a bit later this year, and Electronista got to spend a bit of time with the device. The Xperia TL is currently being marketed as the official phone of the next James Bond film, Skyfall, and as such sports 007-related content throughout. Despite the shaken-not-stirred branding, though, it looks like Sony has a very capable device on its hands, and one with a number of intriguing features to boot.
The Sony attendant -- who might have done well to introduce himself as Q -- took a good deal of time to show off the Xperia TL's camera features. Sony has given the device a dedicated camera button capable not only of waking the device, but of snapping pictures as it wakes. The TL boasts a time-to-first-shot of only 1.5 seconds, and wake-to-camera feature can be adjusted in a number of ways to fit a user's preferences. In action, it's impressive, and we say that having missed many an opportunity trying either to wake an iPhone to camera mode or remember which direction on our Android lock screen woke to camera. This feature, along with the 13MP sensor on the Xperia TL, gives the device some solid photographic bona fides, though we didn't have too much of a chance to check out the quality of images produced with that camera.
The other feature Sony wanted to press with the Xperia TL was NFC capability. We got a brief demonstration where the attendant tapped the TL against a Bond-branded smart SmartTag, one that comes free with the device. The phone automatically started playing the Bond theme song. We thought it a clever trick, if somewhat one-dimensional, until the attendant showed us the rest of its applications. He touched the TL to a Bluetooth-enabled speaker, and the devices paired automatically, with the audio switching from the phone's speakers to the wireless speaker. He then touched it to a pair of NFC-enabled Sony headphones, and the audio switched to those. Finally, he tapped the phone against the headphones again, and the audio once again came forth from the TL's speakers. A nice application of a technology that, many times, seems like an afterthought.
Sony also showed off the docking capabilities of the TL. When placed into its dock and connected to a television, the TL's screen and functionality are reproduced on the television's screen. A user can then navigate the phone, interact with apps, and play or display media on the big screen, with the phone's smaller screen mirroring what is shown on the TV.
Aside from these features, the Xperia TL seems a very solid device. Its rear camera can record in 1080p, and its front-facing camera in 720p. It's 4G LTE-compatible, and its 4.6-inch 1080x720 screen produces some vibrant colors. We weren't blown away by its viewing angles, but that may well have been due to the viewing conditions at the event.
Design-wise, the TL maintains the "human curvature" that has come to symbolize Sony's flagship phones. It feels good in the hand and has an airy aspect to it. All in all, it feels solidly constructed, while looking as sleek as you'd expect from a Sony or Bond gadget.
Skyfall will be hitting the big screen this fall, and the Xperia TL will likely be getting quite a few closeups, but we couldn't get any information on when non-secret agents might be able to get their hands on the device. As many representatives informed us at the Unwrapped event, AT&T determines much in the way of pricing and release dates for these gadgets. The best we could manage was an amorphous "this fall," but we expect it will be available some time just before or after Skyfall's November 9 release.