The evolution of Sony's Xperia series from the Windows-based X1 to the brand new Z3

The evolution of Sony's Xperia series - from the Windows-based X1 to the Z3
Believe it or not, the Xperia range of smartphones is one of the oldest that’s still around today. Those who’ve been watching the industry for more than just a few years certainly know that the very first Xperia was announced in early 2008, and hit shelves around the world starting October that year. Unlike today’s Xperias, the first model ran Windows Mobile, and was launched at a time when Sony was still in a joint venture with Sweden’s Ericsson - that’s why the handset’s called Sony Ericsson Xperia X1.

Since the release of the X1, more than 50 Xperia models have been introduced, culminating with the Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact that were announced earlier this week at IFA 2014. 

We’re thinking that the introduction of the Z3 models is a good occasion for us to take a look at all the important Xperias that have been released over the years. It’s interesting to see how the Xperia design evolved, while at the same time retaining something that makes us identify them as Sony products - from the 17mm-thick Xperia X1 to the 7mm-thin Xperia Z3. So, let's sit back and take a look at how things progressed in the 6 years since the first Xperia was unveiled.

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1

As we already mentioned, the Xperia X1 was a Windows-based smartphone. It ran Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, featuring a sliding QWERTY keyboard, and a 3.0-inch display. This display had a 480 x 800 pixel resolution, offering one of the highest ppi densities among 2008’s smartphones. By comparison, that year’s iPhone (the iPhone 3G) featured a 3.5-inch display with a measly 320 x 480 pixel resolution and a 165 ppi density, while the HTC Touch Pro - one of Xperia X1’s direct competitors - offered a 2.8-inch screen with 480 x 640 pixels (286ppi).

Sony Ericsson Xperia X2

Although it was announced in September 2009, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X2 went on sale in January 2010. It was the second - and last - Windows-based Xperia. The X2 came with an arguably more elegant design, though it retained the overall style of the X1. It offered an improved QWERTY keyboard, and a larger, 3.2-inch display (its resolution remained unchanged: 480 x 800 pixels).

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Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

The reason why Sony (Ericsson) abandoned Windows Mobile? Android, of course. Two months after announcing the X2, the company revealed the Xperia X10, its very first Android smartphone. The X10 hit the market in March 2010 as one of that year’s Android flagships. Although it was praised for its design and specs (including the large, 4-inch display with 480 x 854 pixels), the Xperia X10 was criticized for shipping with Android 1.6 Donut instead of Android Éclair (which had been available since October 2009).

Sony Ericsson Xperia arc

Announced in early 2011, the Xperia arc was positioned as a uniquely-designed high-end smartphone, featuring a sleek, curved back. Its specs were also attractive for the time: 4.2-inch display with 480 x 854 pixels, 512 MB of RAM, and a 1.0 GHz Snapdragon S2 processor. A slightly upgraded model, Xperia arc S, was introduced in the second half of that year, coming with a 1.4 GHz S2 processor.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

The Xperia Play is important because it’s the first smartphone to offer a dedicated gamepad. It was announced in February 2011, but it failed to be a commercial success. If anything, the failure of the Xperia Play showed that people simply don’t want a smartphone that’s also a portable gaming device in the traditional sense of the word.

Sony Xperia Ion

2012 saw Sony acquiring Ericsson’s share in the Sony Ericsson joint venture, thus forming Sony Mobile Communications. One of the first smartphones to ditch the Ericsson branding was the 4.55-inch Sony Xperia Ion, which can be seen as the handset that signaled a new direction in Sony’s design - you could easily mistaken the Ion for a member of the Xperia Z line.

Announced at the same time with the Ion, the Xperia S introduced a transparent, illuminated strip situated below the phone's 4.3-inch 720p display. This gave the smartphone a distinctive look, though Sony decided to use the same feature on other models (like the Xperia U and Xperia P), thus taking away a lot of its uniqueness. 

This is Sony's first 5-inch smartphone, as well as its first water-resistant flagship, and the first to feature a 1080p display. It was also one of the first high-end Android flagships to be released in 2013, and is still a viable option today - assuming you don't mind your handset being powered by a relatively outdated Snapdragon S4 processor. Needless to say, the Xperia Z kind of kicked off a new era for Sony. 

Only six months after the Xperia Z came out, Sony launched the Xperia Z1, which righted most of the wrongs that the Z included (like the not-so-accurate display, and the questionable rear camera). The Z1 brought a little brother with it: the Xperia Z1 Compact. Unlike other mini smartphones released until then, the Z1 Compact offers the same high-end internals of its larger sibling.

Once again, Sony didn't wait a full year to introduce its next flagship handset. Thus, the Xperia Z2 was launched around the world in April this year, after being announced in February at MWC 2014. The Z2 comes with enhanced specs, as well as a slightly larger display (a 5.2-inch panel, unlike the 5-inch screens of the Z and Z1).

Finally, here we are: several days ago, Sony announced the Xperia Z3 and Xperia Z3 Compact in an attempt to bring the Xperia Z line to perfection. While we'll have to wait until we review them to say if they're the best Xperias ever, the Z3 and Z3 Compact certainly seem capable of overshadowing the older models. You can check out our Xperia Z3 hands-on here, and our Xperia Z3 Compact hands-on here.

Until we get the chance to review the latest Xperia handsets, here's an image comparing all the models that we've presented above (it's quite a large image, so make sure to zoom in):

What do you think? Is the Xperia line evolving in the right direction? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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