The phone people love to hate. After a week of spec-hunting, review-reading, and even cardboard models, I decided to give the TL a try. I’ve got at least 14 days, and up to 30 thanks to Best Buy (which seasonally dropped the price to $50 instead of the usual $100).
I’m not ignorant of the critiques (battery life, viewing angles, etc) but choosing a phone is all about what you value. For me, it’s size. I’m happy with a 4″ screen, and under 5″ tall. That left me with 2 options really: the LG Escape, and the TL. Into this debate, I also threw the LG Optimus, being 5 mm wider.
Most stores aren’t going to let you pocket a phone and walk around (like trying on a pair of shoes), nevermind that most places lack seating to test that position. Cardboard models I made confirmed the LG’s extra 5millimeters were too wide for me; I was already granting 3mm larger than my Captivate with the TL. I noticed the Optimus G’s width too much when walking up stairs and around the house. It may be thinner, but only by 1.5mm. The TL’s width was much closer to my old Captivate, and only 1mm wider than the LG Escape, the smallest of options.
Screen Viewing Angles
Vlad pretty much destroys any hope of this being a good screen (35minutes in). But y’know what? It’s better than the LG Escape (which I can’t confirm he’s looked at). The screen is fine Vlad. It might not be perfect, and I might wish the blacks were as good as Samsung’s AMOLED, but it’s bright. It doesn’t cause my eyes to fall out. What’s being described isn’t pixelation, just a touch of blur, or blacks being a bit more grey. Interesting though, that Sony added black/grey gradients all over the UI, perhaps in an attempt to hide that fact. The LG would directly shift blues to green – or worse.
One other interesting point: my old AMOLED was glass; this is plastic. And it took 2 days to notice, but it is noticeable. Perhaps a bit warmer to the touch, and a tad more friction (but not impossibly, skin-rippingly). What tipped me off was the frequency of random dust being attracted to the screen.
One more point about the screen: the 3 Android buttons (back, home, multitask) are on-screen. I really wondered about this. It matters on 2 points. First, because this phone has a taller physical aspect ratio, the buttons allow for the same screen ratio as a 1280×768 screen. Second, the buttons don’t seem to dim, and don’t have enough physical differentiation from the screen-area. This is huge. It means you’re never exactly sure when you’re hitting the dock or the Android buttons; when the notification window slides down, you’re more likely to hit the home button than slide it back up. even a 1 millimeter non-touch-enabled gap would matter. And that’s why many other phones still have capacitive buttons off-screen.
People critiqued this phone most on this point. Since nearly everyone has always complained about the battery life of any and every phone, I had a hard time finding truth from fiction in the reviews out there. GSM Arena put the life at 35 hours, against the 47 of the HTC One X and LG Optimus – but browsing-time was near-equivalent. My own “non-torture torture test” proved the TL to be at least equivalent to my Captivate at around 8%/hour (100% screen on, wifi on, data off). I knew 4g/3g likes to drain the battery, and it wouldn’t be a fair fight to compare with 4g. I’m not away from both wifi and power that much, and don’t feel like racking up a huge data-bill just because a widget decided to sync.
One final feature I noticed on my Captivate, the side edges are rounded, but in a non-bulging sort of way; by having the edges always curve back from the top, it makes the phone very easy to pick up. The TL comes pretty close on this point; while the first part of the sides do angle down, the majority of the sides curve back in, and having the back curved, it makes for a quick grap.
Buttons & Power
Sony decided to place the both buttons and USB on each side. They’re all in an odd location. Standardization matters for human habit, I admit. But I don’t find them to be in my way. I actually hold my phone in my left hand, so it works for me. Finding the power button is as easy as sliding my index finger down the edge. I’ve never accidentally hit the buttons, they’re sufficiently hidden back.
- My wife has an iphone 5, whose mass went down to the 125-ish grams to match my old phone. The TL is about the mass of her old phone, the iPhone 4. Totally just swapped masses.
- My thumb is only able to reach about 60% the way across the 4.55″ screen, rendering my interest in 4″ screens all the stronger.
- The vibrate is impressive. Strongest I’ve ever had, and kinda loud.
- Boot time is very impressive – the fastest I’ve ever seen.
- The final death for the LG Escape was hope for hacking/updates. I had absolutely zero hope or guarantee from the company. This is huge. I bought my Captivate knowing a 2.3 upgrade was coming. And when 4.0 wasn’t made available, I had the luck of it being a popular flagship phone, meaning plenty of people were working to put CyanogenMod on it. Since the LG Escape had literally 1 review online, I had no hope of people working for the future of this device. The Sony TL community was huge already, and Sony had promised a 4.1 upgrade.
Conclusion: I’m not wowed, but I never wanted to be wowed. I had no hope that it was an “incredible” device, because there were no phones out there that would come close to the size I was most interested in. There are other angles though: It’s better than my Captivate – only worse on the screen-blacks and size; 2 things I had no choice on (thanks AT&T – please provide real choices in 2 years).