Sony Xperia 1 Key Specs
Dimensions: 167 x 72 x 8.2 mm
Weight: 180 g
Screen: OLED 6.5-inch, 1644 x 3840 pixels, 643 ppi
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Battery: 3,330 mAh
Cameras: [Rear] 12MP (wide), 12MP (telephoto), 12MP (ultrawide) | [Front] 8MP
OS: Android 9.0 Pie
Welcome to T3's Sony Xperia 1 review. Earlier this month I spent a week testing out the Japanese maker's latest flagship phone and here is my considered take. As ever, I've evaluated the phone on many different criteria, ranging from design and screen, to specs and performance, and onto OS, software and battery life.
For those who want an immediete takeaway from this Sony Xperia 1 review, though, then this is it. The Xperia 1 is, in many ways, a technical showcase that really reminds you just what quality Sony is capable of. However, it is also a technical showcase that still retains some issues that feel left over from the maker's difficult last five years or so in the mobile phone industry.
As such, the finished product is one that lacks the all-round game that many of its major rivals like Samsung and Huawei demonstrate, which will range from minor annoyance to deal breaker depending on the individual in question. For my full take on the Sony Xperia 1 then read on.
Sony Xperia 1: Price and availability
The Sony Xperia 1 costs £849.99 new and is available to buy right now from a wide-variety of retailers including the official Sony store, Amazon, Very, Carphone Warehouse, Currys, Fonehouse, Metrofone, Buymobiles, GoMobile, and Mobilephonesdirect.
The phone can also be picked up directly through a selection of UK networks, too, with EE, O2, and Vodafone. Right now Vodafone if offering an Xperia 1 PS4 bundle deal whereby if you pick up the phone on a Pay Monthly contract then you get a PlayStation 4 Slim along with a copy of Spider-Man for free (click the link or banner image above to check the deal out).
My analysis of the Sony Xperia 1's price point, especially contract free, is that it is £50 to £100 too expensive. It must be hard to build a phone with such impressive technical highs while keeping the price down, but in charging £849.99 for the entry level spec, and on a phone with a few features that are less than ideal, Sony are asking for properly serious amounts of money. More money, for example, than the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is going for right now on Amazon, and by quite a way, too (the S10 Plus is currently available for £723 at the retailer).
There's no doubting that the Sony Xperia 1 carries a premium price point.
Sony Xperia 1: Design and display
Take the Sony Xperia 1 out of its box and the first thing you notice is just how tall and slender it is. That 21:9 aspect ratio screen just seems to go on and on, and after slipping it in the pocket and sitting down, it immediately becomes apparent that this is not a pocket friendly phone.
I ride a Kawasaki Ninja 650 motorbike 😎 and, with the Xperia 1 in my jeans pocket, it was an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Does that mean I hate the big screen? Absolutely not. I am huge proponent of big screens as anyone who reads T3 regularly will know, and will plump for a device with a large screen more often than not, but it is worth noting that this is a carry in the bag phone primarily.
And, simply put, you'll want to grant maximum protection to the Xperia 1 as that screen is an absolute stunner. 4K, HDR and OLED together is super powerful mix and delivers a screen that, arguably, is the absolute best looking on the market today. Crispness, colour reproduction and contrast between the lightest and darkest areas of the screen are just superb on the Xperia 1, and make everything from browsing the internet and using apps, through playing games like Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, and onto viewing photos and watching videos a proper joy.
And don't even get me started on how good the screen is if you actually feed it 21:9 movie content. Watching movies like Sergio Leone's classic western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, was simply god-tier (check the sample images below), with the movie's gorgeous long shots, expansive wide-open locations, and detailed, character-filled close-ups really presented beautifully.
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Now, of course, not all content is delivered in 21:9, so it is important to note here that not everything you watch is going to make use of all that display real estate. However, almost all new content today is shot in 4K and, in many cases, with HDR support, too, so there's no escaping the quality of this Bravia team-designed super screen.
One area where the Xperia 1's screen is definitely not quality, though, is in its maximum brightness. I found that I had to keep the phone on maximum brightness to feel happy with it during daylight hours, and really during most applications. Colour and crispness of images on the phone's OLED screen are top tier, and naturally I wanted to enjoy them at their max, which at stock brightness levels I simply could not do.
I am convinced that this low brightness is directly connected to, as we will see further on, underwhelming battery.
Wrapping up the design, the Xperia 1 features Gorilla Glass 6 both front and back (very nice!) and has a lush brushed aluminium frame. Corners are rounded, and all the device's buttons, which include power, volume and camera, are located down the right hand side of the phone.
And talking of the right hand side of the phone, that is also where the device's fingerprint scanner is located. I will come back to that later.
On the bottom edge of the phone is the Xperia 1's USB-C charging, data-transfer and (via bundled connector) headphone port. There is also one of the phone's two speaker grills, with the second positioned in the front notch. Lastly, an extractable SIM card / microSD slot finishes off the exterior features.
Overall, the Xperia 1 is an attractive if not jaw-droppingly stunning smartphone that communicates a mature, professional look. It is an order of magnitude away from the monstrosity that was the Sony Xperia XZ Premium though, which lest we all forget, was only two years back. The head-bangingly huge bezels on that fugly device have, thankfully, been well and truly confined to the past and Sony has rapidly switched up its aesthetics to remain competitive with its rivals.
Sony Xperia 1: Specs and power
That strong start in terms of design and screen is then continued in terms of the Xperia 1's specs and hardware. Qualcomm's finest Snapdragon 855 mobile processor, along with 6GB of RAM and an Adreno 640 GPU and, unsurprisingly, the benchmark scores it delivers are top tier.
As can be seen in the nearby box out, in GeekBench 4 the Xperia 1 posted an absolutely incendiary Multi-Core score of 11,245, which for context, blows past every Android phone we've tested this year, including the powerhouse Samsung Galaxy S10, which could only manage 10,347 in the same test.
Sony Xperia 1 Geekbench 4 scores
Single-Core score: 3,506
Multi-Core score: 11,245
RenderScript score: 7,406
Battery score: 4,138
Single-Core performance isn't as impressive, with a modest 3,506 racked up, however when these numbers are evaluated in terms of real-world performance, it is obvious that the Xperia 1 is a very, very fast phone. Opening and closing apps, loading a myriad of browser windows, split screen operation, installing games, navigating the UI and more is just an instantaneous, lag-free experience. And this speed partnered with the luxe screen leads to a very pleasing visual experience.
And talking of performance, it would be amiss of me to not mention how pleasing I found the Xperia 1's audio playback options and reproduction. Dolby Atmos virtualization as well as DSEE HX Hi-Res audio upscaling tech on tap means that, especially if you are using a quality pair of wired headphones, listening to music and spoken word content like podcasts and audio books is zero-compromise good.
Lastly, in terms of Xperia 1 performance, I am pleased to confirm that the phone absolutely smoked every mobile game I threw at it, including Harry Potter: Hogwards Mystery, Tekken, DBZ Legends, Super Mario Run, Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition and Ultimate Car Driving Simulator. For gamers, the Xperia 1 is a great choice.
Sony Xperia 1: Camera and battery
The Xperia 1 features Sony's best camera system to date, with a main 12MP rear camera (f/1,6, 26mm) partnering a 12MP 2x zoom lens (f/2.4, 52mm) and a wide angle 12MP lens (f2.4, 16mm) round the back, and an 8MP (f/2.0, 24mm) camera round the front.
The rear camera array can record up to 4K, HDR footage at 24 or 30 frames per second, while the front camera can capture 30fps, 1080p HDR footage. As mentioned above in the design section of this review, the Xperia 1 is rather unique in that it has its own dedicated physical camera button that lets you raise the system, focus and snap. It feels pleasingly old school and works well.
Sony's mobile camera systems have, in the past, leant a little too much towards grain for my liking, however I was impressed with the natural, dynamically lit shots taken by the Xperia 1 during testing. The camera UI itself is very serviceable, too, making it easy to switch between modes and tweak settings.
I also warmed to Xperia 1 features like eye-tracking and smart scene detection, which again helped flesh out the user-experience side of the camera system, which Sony has in the past had a tendency to forget despite delivering excellent hardware.
Overall, the Xperia 1 delivers a strong all-round camera system for shooting still images and videos, however I feel it falls slightly short of the best systems on the market today, such as those found in devices like the Huawei P30 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus. It certainly isn't disappointing, though, and in partnership with the Cinema Pro app people who like to shoot their own videos are going to be very happy.
In terms of battery performance, unfortunately this is where the Xperia 1 is really at its weakest. As soon as I saw the 3,300mAh battery spec I knew performance was going to be less than ideal (I review a lot of smartphones), and sure as eggs are eggs, the Xperia 1 not only returned bog average benchmark scores (4,138 in GeekBench 4) but also was very firmly in the one day usage camp per charge in the real world.
For a bit of perspective here, the Huawei P30 Pro scored 6,650 in this test and could comfortably be used with medium usage for two days straight on a single charge, while the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus notched up a score of 5,020, too, and was comfortable for at least a day and half of usage per charge. Elsewhere, the Honor View 20 bagged a score of 6,614 in this test, and that phone is currently retailing for under half the price of the Xperia 1.
And when you then realise that the phone's other most notable flaw, its lack of screen brightness unless cranked right up, is connected with this underwhelming battery, you can't help but think what the phone would've been like with even a Huawei Mate 20 Pro-level battery. Both battery life and screen brightness issues I am sure would have been rendered moot.
Sony Xperia 1: Software and features
In terms of OS the Xperia 1 delivers a refreshingly close-to-stock version of Android 9.0 Pie, with a few Sony-specific extras thrown on top like gestures, side-sense functionality and proprietary apps. The OS runs like a dream and anyone who is familar with stock Android phones or Sony's recent efforts like the Sony Xperia XZ3 or Xperia XZ2 Compact will find themselves with an easy transition.
The only other major software of note is the Xperia 1's new Cinema Pro app. This powerful video-shooting application allows you to really tap into the phone's recording power by being granted control over resolution, aspect ratio, lens size, colour filters, shutter speed, white balance, frames per second and more. It's a really nice inclusion and reminds you of just how much top technology is packed into the Xperia 1.
I was also a little disappointed to discover that while the Xperia 1 is IP65/IP68 rated (dust and waterproofing), it does not have wireless charging functionality.
Lastly, I feel it is important to note that I found the Xperia 1's side-mounted fingerprint sensor to be very fast but inconsistent. There's no denying that when it works it works very well, but within days after registering my fingerprint, I experienced a small degradation in unlocking consistency, which led to around 1/5 attempts not registering. Compared to the under-screen, spacious, and more consistent systems installed in some of its current competitors, the Xperia 1's felt like a step down.
Sony Xperia 1: Verdict
For avid movie watchers and/or makers, film aficionados if you will, then the Sony Xperia 1 is simply the best phone on the market today. That 21:9 aspect ratio finally makes sense partnered to a super spacious and high quality 6.5-inch 4K HDR screen, with films and more cinematic TV shows looking simply amazing on the panel.
The Xperia 1's OS and in-app performance is also top tier, with the incendiary Snapdragon 855 providing buckets of power, and a solid (if not spectacular) supporting suite of hardware and features bestowing a look, feel and general use of a high-end flagship phone.
Start scratching at the surface for too long, though, and a smattering of tiny shortcomings become evident. The battery performance is just not as good as the other flagship devices on the market today, with the Huawei P30 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, and even OnePlus 7 Pro delivering better battery benchmark scores and real-world performance.
For such as the Xperia has a quality screen, it just doesn't sit bright enough when adaptive brightness is turned on (by default it is), and I found myself within hours of first use cracking brightness up to the maximum and turning adaptive brightness off. It's not good having 4K resolutions, HDR wizardry and a super spacious 21:9 aspect ratio if everything you watch on it is washed out and flattened through dimming.
As I mentioned above, I am guessing this lack of brightness with adaptive on is a direct result of the underwhelming 3,300mAh battery unit.
A lack of refinement in terms of supporting features and systems also niggle, with the lack of a proper, competitive with rivals night mode, as well as wireless charging functionality and consistency in the fingerprint reader most notable.
What also definitely doesn't appeal is the phone's out-and-out top-end, flagship-grade price point, which at £849 is even more than the best phone in the world right now, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus.
However, that all said, there is a hell of a lot of quality phone on offer here, and one that for fans of watching and creating videos, should appeal massively, and especially so if they can look past the aforementioned shortcomings.
Sony has played to its strengths, finally, with the Xperia 1 and it shows, with the Japanese maker producing a technical showcase in areas where it has proper heritage and expertise. I can't wait to see what they do next, as I feel with a few improvements here and there, if they keep this current vision they could be on the verge of creating something very special indeed.