Sony’s mobile business went through several transformations since its inception back in 2001. Sony
was making phones even prior to that but the crucial partnership with Ericsson marked the start of Sony’s real journey into mobile phones.
Sony Ericsson focused on multimedia and produced some interesting phones during the collaboration. From the interesting K series to the Walkman phones and the P9xx smartphone models, Sony Ericsson made an impression on the global scene.
Then in 2011, Sony decided to buy out Ericsson’s stakes and get the smartphone business in-house. The Xperia was born. History lessons aside, Sony did manage to bring some interesting concepts and ideas to the smartphone market and despite its market share shrinking beyond recognition, the Japanese company did manage to turn a profit for the first time in years at the beginning of 2021
So, what are the best Sony phones in 2021? Obviously, the company is on the right track. Today we’re going to talk about modern Xperia phones and what are the choices before the average Sony fan. Here we go!
Best Sony phones at a glance:
Sony Xperia 1 III
Don't let the naysayers get to you, the Xperia 1 III is the best Sony phone money can buy, and there are plenty of reasons to buy one. For starters, this phone has a 4K 120Hz OLED display (world's first with these specs) and it also sports Sony's cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio without any notches, cutouts and other eyesores. Sony phones of late kinda stand out from the rest of the smartphone crowd, thanks to this tall 21:9 formfactor and some other quirky features we're getting to in a minute.
The Xperia 1 III is also the first phone to feature a unique periscope zoom system with lenses physically moving inside. It's an innovation that's quite cool and basically offers two zoom cameras in the space of one. Sony said that it could've made it to have a continuous vario zoom (not fixed between 70 and 105mm) but chose to play safe. The phone also has a stereo speakers setup (front facing), and quite good at that - not your average unbalanced speakerphone/loudspeaker combo.
It's also super-fast with the latest Snapdragon 888 chipset and 12GB of RAM. And guess what? You can expand the internal storage (256GB) with our dear old friend - the microSD card slot. There's also a 3.5mm audio jack present, defying modern smartphone trends. All in all, the Xperia 1 III is the best Sony phone at the moment, but there's a big drawback - the price. Sony's asking $1,300 for this device and as good as it might be, that price tag would turn many people away. Nevertheless, if you want Sony's best, that's your fix.
Sony Xperia 5 III
The Xperia 5 III is a technology masterpiece. It’s pretty, fast, and comes packed full of features. The 6.1-inch 21:9 OLED display is as beautiful as they get and it also boasts a 120Hz refresh rate, there's the latest Snapdragon 888 chipset on board, a 3.5mm audio jack, an IP65/68 water and dust protection, a big 4,500mAh battery with fast charging, the list just goes on and on. Oh, and also - the most advanced camera system in a phone to date!
You're probably looking at the rating now and thinking, how's it possible - it's the best Xperia phone, at least on paper. There are some issues with the Xperia 5 III, most of them could probably be resolved with a software update from Sony. The fingerprint reader misfires from time to time, the proximity sensor misbehaves and sometimes you get instability while using Chrome or Google News.
However, these little shortcomings could and probably would be addressed soon. The only real drawback is the price - the Xperia 5 III is a $1000 device, and for that kind of money there are plenty alternatives. Nevertheless, if you want the variable focus zoom lens, the Xperia 5 III is the cheaper way to get it - the bigger sibling costs $300 more.
Sony Xperia 5 II
While we wait for the Xperia 5 III to come and snatch the "compact flagship" title away, we can take the previous generation Xperia 5 II into consideration. This phone takes everything good from its bigger sibling and shrinks it down a notch. The Xperia 5 II even adds new cool features that you won't find in the 1 II such as the 120Hz display refresh rate and 240Hz touch sampling rate.
The Xperia 5 II is a gorgeous little phone with a gorgeous display - a 6.1-inch FHD+ HDR OLED that also features X1 Bravia mobile HDR technology and Creator mode powered by CineAlta. You get 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage on this phone but you can expand it with up to 1TB via the microSD card slot. The beating heart of the Xperia 5 II comes from Qualcomm - the Snapdragon 865. It's a year-old chipset but still performing quite admirably even in 2021.
Even though the camera system doesn't sport variable zoom magic, the Xperia 5 II produces some great, true-to-life shots. And you get the amazing double-action physical shutter button as well. The battery inside this phone is a 4,000mAh cell, which might not sound much but consider the fact that the Xperia 5 battery size is just 3,140mAh, so we're talking a substantial upgrade here. We mentioned a friendlier price tag earlier on. Well, the phone's not cheap by any standard but you can get it for well under $1,000.
Sony Xperia 10 III
Sony did a great job with the Xperia 10 II
and the stakes were high for its successor. The Xperia 10 III kinda lives up to all the expectations set by Sony's last year budget offering. You have to remember that this phone is more than half the price of Sony's upper echelon models (actually, you can buy three Xperia 10 III phones for the price of one Xperia 1 III).
The Xperia 10 III takes the 10 II experience and refines it. You get the same 6-inch notchless OLED panel - a real treat in a phone that's so affordable. The build quality and materials are slightly better, the processor is a bit faster and there's more RAM compared to the previous generation. Small improvements here and there but overall the spirit of this budget offering remains the same.
There's one other thing that's unchanged and it's the camera system. Not that it's bad or something but we hoped to see an upgrade to the 12MP main and 8MP ultra-wide duo. The battery life on the other hand is just astonishing! The 4,500 mAh battery, coupled with the energy-efficient chipset, offers a chart-topping performance. Too bad you need ages to charge it with the bundled 7.5W charger...
Sony Xperia 10 II
The Xperia 10 II is still a great phone in 2021. It may just be the best Sony budget phone out there, trading blows with its successor - the Xperia 10 III. When it first launched the Xperia 10 II was around $400 and at this price it was a real bargain with its 6-inch OLED screen and good looks. Now, a year later, the phone can be found at around $300, making it a valid budget option, despite the looming presence of its successor.
What made this phone so attractive? It's built with the same design philosophy in mind that Sony uses for its flagship phones. A glass sandwich with a tall 21:9 aspect ratio and a notchless bright and vivid OLED screen. When you factor in the 3.5mm audio jack and the microSD card expansion slot, things are starting to look even better.
Granted, you can get the Xperia 10 III for $100 more, but is it such a substantial upgrade? The camera system is the same, the chipset is slightly better but you probably won't be able to tell the difference, and the display is nearly identical (for what it's worth, the Xperia 10 II has more accurate colors and it's just a tad brighter too). The only reason to upgrade and choose the Mark III version is the battery. It's a 3,600mAh cell in the Mark II as opposed to a 4,500 in the next-gen version. So you'll get a day and a half instead of two, probably. Still, the Xperia 10 II has cemented its place in our Best phones under $400 article and for a good reason.
Sony Xperia 5
The Xperia 5 was Sony's first take on the compact flagship, and a nod to its "Compact" branded phones of old. The five is almost the same phone as the crowned flagship - Xperia 1, only smaller. You get the same flagship chipset - the Snapdragon 855, although in 2021 its performance is shifted toward the midrange. 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage can be found onboard, and the 6.1-inch OLED display is still impressive even by 2021 standards, even though you don't get high refresh rate goodness.
The camera system is also decent, it's taken straight from Xperia 5's bigger brother. Photos come out with natural colors and realistic details, the dynamic range is generous, and the triple camera system (2x telephoto, wide-angle, ultra wide-angle) gives you a lot of flexibility.
Sadly, there's no 3.5mm audio jack and the capacitive fingerprint scanner on the side of the phone is pretty first-gen. These are minor things though, and if you want a taste of Xperia but don't fancy a $1,300 flagship, or a $400 budget phone, the Xperia 5 can be your device of choice. It's considerably cheaper than its more modern siblings, and still packs some flagship features.
Sony Xperia 1
With the Xperia 1, Sony decided to turn things around and step into the modern smartphone world. And it succeeded in doing so - at launch, this device was the first Sony phone with a triple camera and the only handset on the market with a 4K OLED HDR display.
The 21:9 aspect ratio was a bold move but now it's a Sony staple and kind of a trademark of all Xperia phones that came after the "One". Hardware-wise the Xperia 1 mirrored its smaller sibling, although it's the other way around, really. Anyhow, the phone packs a Snapdragon 855 chipset, coupled with 6GB of RAM. It's pretty fast and won't stutter even in 2021. The internal storage is "just" 128GB but you can expand it via the microSD card slot (kudos to Sony for keeping it throughout its lineup).
The triple camera system consists of three 12MP shooters - the main camera with F1.6 and approximate 26mm focal length, a super-wide F2.4 snapper, and a telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom. That's a pretty versatile system that you can find in many 2021 flagship phones, so no deficit of any kind here. Images taken with the Xperia 1 look natural and detailed with a good dynamic range. The Xperia 1 may not be the best Sony phone in 2021 but it sure holds its ground. When you factor in the price of this phone in 2021, it can be a real bargain and a wise choice over more current midrange phones with the same price tag.
So there you have it - the best Sony phones you can get in 2021. This list is, of course, work-in-progress, and will soon be updated with the Xperia 5 III. Let's hope that Sony keeps the momentum and pulls itself out of the market share bottom, because Xperia phones are somewhat unique and the market can only benefit from having them around. Needless to say, for avid Sony fans, every new model is the best Sony phone out there, so the loyal fanbase could help Sony Mobile get back up where it belongs.