Sony Xperia 1 II review: a classy camera and a superb display lead the way

The Sony Xperia 1 II is a flagship worthy of the name

Sony Xperia 1 II
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The Sony Xperia 1 II, like most Sony flagships before it, impresses in a lot of key areas – the camera, the display, the speed. If you like the design, and if you can afford it, then the Sony Xperia 1 II might be worth investing in as your next high-powered flagship phone.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Excellent screen

  • +

    Great camera

  • +

    Decent battery

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Price is high

  • -

    Boxy design

  • -

    Tall display

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The Sony Xperia 1 II (aka the Sony Xperia 1 mark 2) shows Sony unafraid to continue its baffling mobile phone naming strategy of the last few years – this is technically the successor to last year's Sony Xperia 1, and continues with a lot of the same themes.

Those themes include strong showings in terms of the display and the camera, as you would expect from a company that also makes TVs and DSLRs. Speaking of DSLRs, this phone's camera comes with a whole host of manual settings you can play around with.

The Sony Xperia 1 II is a triumph in a lot of ways, and it deserves to find a crowd of eager buyers – that's been true of several flagship Sony phones in the past though, and it's a shame that that promise hasn't necessarily translated into healthy sales figures.

As usual with our phone reviews, we've been testing out the Sony Xperia 1 II in all the categories that matter, from camera performance to software sheen. Read on to find out if this is one of the handsets that you should be thinking about spending money on in 2020.

Sony Xperia 1 II review: design and screen

Sony Xperia 1 II

(Image credit: Future)

As you would expect from a company that makes some very nice television sets, the 6.5-inch, 1644 x 3840 pixel resolution OLED display we've got here is a joy to use. We can't really recommend watching movies and TV shows on a phone, but if you absolutely insist then the Sony Xperia 1 II is one of the best options for doing it. Details look razor-sharp, colours look perfectly balanced, and you're certainly not going to be disappointed when viewing videos or indeed anything else.

There is the 21:9 aspect ratio to talk about, carried over from the Sony Xperia 1. While many movies are recorded in this aspect ratio, a lot of TV shows and YouTube clips aren't, leaving you with black boxes either side when watching in landscape mode. It's not a massive problem but speaking personally, we find a 21:9 aspect ratio on a phone a little off-putting – it feels either slightly too wide or slightly too tall.

Your mileage may vary of course, and it does at least enable you to run two apps side by side (or on top of one another) – Sony even includes a dedicated app for doing this. It's a nice little feature to have, but we can't really imagine using it much, and we'd rather stick to a more conventional screen aspect ratio. Even though you can fit plenty on screen from top to bottom in portrait mode (websites, message conversations), everything still feels rather narrow.

As for the rest of the design, Sony sticks to its familiar approach: this is a business-like glass slab of a phone, very much moulded for the boardroom table or the study desk. Black and purple are your colour choices, there is a headphone jack here, and there's also a fingerprint sensor embedded in the power button on the side. As with Sony Xperias before it, it's a good-looking, stylish phone, but it's more angular and serious-looking than a lot of the competition.

Sony Xperia 1 II review: camera and battery

Sony Xperia 1 II

(Image credit: Future)

Sony phones usually excel in the camera department – Sony sells sensors to the rest of the industry, after all – and the Sony Xperia 1 II is no different, with a quad-lens 12MP+12MP+12MP+0.3 MP offering. Sharp focusing, quick shutter speed and excellent colour reproduction are all on offer here, and we had a lot of fun touring round and taking snaps with the handset. It even has a dedicated physical camera button on the edge for when you're shooting photos and videos in landscape mode.

The phone also comes with Photo Pro and Cinema Pro apps that offer you a wealth of manual controls for your pictures and videos – this even beats Huawei's handsets in terms of what's possible, from frame rates to ISO speeds to white balance. If you really want to dig deep in terms of framing and composing shots, then the Sony Xperia 1 II will fit you perfectly; the only problem is that if you're that serious about photography then you're probably going to take out a DSLR with you anyway.

Whether you dive into the Pro settings or stick with the point-and-shoot, the phone produces some excellent pictures that we were really impressed by. The ultrawide lens and 3x optical zoom really help in terms of flexibility, and the phone also impresses with its night mode shooting: while it can't match the sort of software processing we've seen from the likes of Google, Huawei and Apple on low light shots, you can still get some very nice pictures without much light available.

As for the battery life, we were impressed here too. Even with the high-resolution, bright screen, an hour of video streaming only knocked down the battery life from 100 percent to 92 percent, so you're looking at around 12 hours of Netflix from the phone. In day-to-day use, without putting the phone through anything too demanding, we were regularly seeing a quarter of the 4,000mAh battery capacity left at the end of the day at least.

Sony Xperia 1 II review: other specs and features

Sony Xperia 1 II

(Image credit: Sony)

The Xperia 1 II has a Snapdragon 865 processor under the hood, and 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of internal storage that you can expand with a memory card if you need to (you probably won't). Those are some of the very best specs that you'll find on an Android phone this year, so you're going to have enough power for years to come.

We certainly noticed no lag or slowdown at all during our time with the phone – it really is a classy performer, with apps opening up in a snap, and games running quickly and smoothly. In terms of connectivity, you do get 5G on board with the Sony Xperia 1 II in the UK, but note that the version sold in the US is only 4G LTE.

The latest Android 10 software is on board here, and as usual – thankfully – Sony has barely messed with it. Sony handsets continue to be some of the best options if you want a version of Android that has as little bloat on it as possible, and we certainly prefer this take on the OS over some of the versions put out by Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei and Xiaomi.

Wireless charging is included, which we're pleased about, and the phone also boasts IP68 water and dust resistance – it should survive complete immersion under 1.5 metres (nearly 5 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes without suffering any long-lasting damage. The inclusion of a headphone jack and memory card slot will please a lot of people too, as they're no longer a given on smartphones.

Sony Xperia 1 II review: price and verdict

Sony Xperia 1 II

(Image credit: Sony)

The Sony Xperia 1 II doesn't differ too much from what went before it in the long line of Sony flagships: it's tastefully put together and well built, with an excellent camera and screen, and very good battery life. That covers the key features that most people are interested in when it comes to phones, and the phone can also boast top-tier specs and a bloat-free version of Android.

So why might this phone not sell huge numbers of units? The Sony Xperia design remains very business-like – it's nice, but it's quite boring and cold too, and more boxy than a lot of the handsets that it's going up against. Meanwhile, that 21:9 aspect ratio just feels unnaturally tall to us, though that's more of a subjective call.

Then there's the price – check the widgets on this page for the very latest Sony Xperia 1 II deals and offers, but you're likely to have to spend a little more than £1,000 on this smartphone. In the era of the OnePlus 8 and the LG Velvet that's quite a lot of cash. Apple and Samsung are sticking to the very high end, and have the loyal customer support for it – whether this Sony flagship can attract many takers at that price remains to be seen.

We're very impressed with the Sony Xperia 1 II, as we have been with just about every Sony phone we've tested in the past, and we'd be more than happy to carry it round as our day-to-day phone. It scores highly in all the categories that matter, but there are just one or two factors and caveats that prevent it from being a sure-fire, 5-star winner.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.