Sony Xperia 1 Review

Sony Xperia 1 Review
The Xperia 1 is more than just Sony's latest flagship phone. It is the catalyst in the company's transformative turn in a new direction – one that would hopefully bring the Xperia brand back on the radar. It is 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 makes it ideal for multitasking and watching movies, while camera features like eye-tracking autofocus and Cinema Pro video recording with full manual controls should have creators intrigued. But at a price of nearly $1000, does the Xperia 1 stand a chance against the high-end Android competition? I've been using it for about two weeks now, so here are my thoughts on the matter.

In the box:
  • Sony Xperia 1 phone
  • USB-C to USB-C cable
  • Wall charger (18W with USB Power Delivery support)
  • USB-C to 3.5mm audio adapter
  • Wired stereo headset with 3.5mm jack
  • Start-up guide

Design


I find it fair to start with the most peculiar design trait of the Sony Xperia 1 – its shape. It is dictated by the 21:9 display aspect ratio (or 9:21, if you will), making this one of the tallest phones in its class. At the same time, Sony's flagship is narrower than rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S10+ or the iPhone XS Max.

There are several practical benefits to these unorthodox, extra-tall proportions. On top of the list I'd put the fact that the phone is easier to hold and use than its peers, especially considering the fact that it's a 6.5-inch screen you're handling. Furthermore, you do see more content in the web browser and in apps like Facebook, Twitter, and basically anything that has a vertical feed to scroll through.


Other claimed advantages are up for debate, however. A valid point Sony makes is that 21:9 is a popular cinematic aspect ratio, so it's great for movies, but on the other hand, YouTube videos, most of which are shot in 16:9, are shown with huge black empty spaces on the sides. In fact, unless you're watching one in fullscreen mode – which is not an ideal solution as it crops a significant chunk of the frame – a 16:9 YouTube video on the Xperia 1 is comparable in size to what you'd get on a Galaxy S7. Lastly, a taller screen is much more suitable for side-by-side multitasking, especially when the phone can fit a YouTube Video, an app, and the keyboard on its screen. However, it must be pointed out that after many years of availability, Android's split-screen experience still leaves room for growth: many popular Android apps, including Facebook Messenger and Instagram, have no split screen support and you can't put two instances of the same app, such as two Chrome tabs, side by side.

Aspect ratio aside, the Sony Xperia 1 is a premium, well-built phone, as one can tell after feeling the extra-powerful vibration motor or by the way its Gorilla Glass 6 surfaces blend seamlessly with the solid metal frame. Its general styling is rather conventional. Instead of the arching back we had on the Xperia XZ3, the rear is now a solid piece of glass with the camera lineup sticking out. Also, the XZ3's curved display edges have been dropped so as to not interfere with the cinematic experience. A 3.5mm audio jack is still missing, but you do get stereo speakers.

There's quite a lot going on on the right side of the Xperia 1. In the middle is a fingerprint reader – one that gets the job done but is neither as fast nor as reliable as those on other phones we've tested. Curiously, the power button is separate now instead of being embedded with the fingerprint reader. The volume rocker is up top and at the bottom you'll find a rare beast: a dedicated 2-stage camera shutter button. Personally, I don't always use it to take photos, but it makes a great camera app shortcut.


Sony Xperia 1

Sony Xperia 1

Dimensions

6.57 x 2.83 x 0.32 inches

167 x 72 x 8.2 mm

Weight

6.28 oz (178 g)

Samsung Galaxy S10+

Samsung Galaxy S10+

Dimensions

6.2 x 2.92 x 0.31 inches

157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8 mm

Weight

6.17 oz (175 g)

Apple iPhone XS

Apple iPhone XS

Dimensions

5.65 x 2.79 x 0.3 inches

143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm

Weight

6.24 oz (177 g)

OnePlus 7 Pro

OnePlus 7 Pro

Dimensions

6.4 x 2.99 x 0.35 inches

162.6 x 76 x 8.8 mm

Weight

7.27 oz (206 g)

Sony Xperia 1

Sony Xperia 1

Dimensions

6.57 x 2.83 x 0.32 inches

167 x 72 x 8.2 mm

Weight

6.28 oz (178 g)

Samsung Galaxy S10+

Samsung Galaxy S10+

Dimensions

6.2 x 2.92 x 0.31 inches

157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8 mm

Weight

6.17 oz (175 g)

Apple iPhone XS

Apple iPhone XS

Dimensions

5.65 x 2.79 x 0.3 inches

143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm

Weight

6.24 oz (177 g)

OnePlus 7 Pro

OnePlus 7 Pro

Dimensions

6.4 x 2.99 x 0.35 inches

162.6 x 76 x 8.8 mm

Weight

7.27 oz (206 g)

To see the phones in real size or compare them with other models, visit our Visual Phone Size Comparison page


Display


The Sony Xperia 1 stands out with being the first and only phone with a 4K OLED display. It measures 6.5 inches across the diagonal and has a resolution of 1644x3840 pixels for a pixels-per-inch figure of 642 ppi. Now, we won't get into a debate on whether a human being can tell the difference between this and a Quad HD smartphone screen (probably not). What we do want you to know is that this screen looks gorgeous, and at times, I do feel like I'm looking at pictures printed on a piece of paper. It is worth noting that in order to save battery, the phone renders content in full 4K resolution only when that makes sense: in the Album app, in Google Photos, or when an app is playing 4K video in landscape.


But when it comes to color accuracy, there's a catch. By default, the Xperia 1 is set to display cold, oversaturated colors – probably because a typical user would simply like colors that pop when they check this phone out at a store. To get better color accuracy out of this screen, you have to go to Settings and choose the so-called Creator Mode under the Display tab. This sets a display color profile similar to what you'd find on Sony's Master monitors, used by professionals when editing movies. Strangely, whites still looked cold to my eye even in Creator Mode, and our measurements did confirm a color temperature of over 7700K, which is too cold to be considered accurate. Fine-tuning the white balance manually is possible in the Display Settings menu, so that's what I did to get the appearance that I wanted.

The maximum brightness value of 587 nits was measured on an all-white screen. We were able to hit 650 nits when a white image was only partially hitting the screen. All in all, outdoor visibility is not an issue with the Xperia 1.



Interface and software


Android 9 Pie comes loaded on the Sony Xperia 1, and the user interface looks very similar to what we've seen on previous Xperia models. Overall, the software has a "stock" feel to it. Google's Digital Wellbeing feature is available and so are Google's on-screen navigation gestures if you prefer those over classic on-screen buttons. Ambient Screen, Sony's always-on display feature, shows quick status information on the display during stand-by: time, alarms, pending notifications. To save battery, Ambient Screen lights up only when you lift the phone, but it can be set to be on at all times.

Side Sense is still here and it is as frustrating to use as it was on the Xperia XZ3. For those not familiar, the feature lets you access frequently used apps, toggles, and modes with a quick double tap on the edge of the display. This sounds fine in theory, but in practice, your taps need to be so precise that you're likely to give up on it while still in the Side Sense tutorial.

Game Enhancer is a tool that gamers would appreciate. What I like the most about it is that it can disable auto-brightness while I'm playing. It also lets you record your gameplay and reduce performance in order to extend battery life. What I don't like is that the Game Enhancer icon stays floating above your game at all times while it's active.

Processor, memory, and performance


Having the fast Snapdragon 855 chip in a phone running clean, simple Android software is a recipe for success. The Sony Xperia 1 switches swiftly between apps and responds instantly to input. Day-to-day performance has never been an issue throughout my testing, even though the 6GB of RAM may not seem like much in 2019.

Of course, the Xperia 1 can handle even the heaviest of modern mobile games, although some of them might not be able to fill the entire screen. I have noticed signs of thermal throttling once or twice, but only during prolonged periods of playing – after an hour or so.

The Xperia 1 comes with 128GB of on-board storage. That should be plentiful for most people, and for those who need more, a microSD card slot is available.

AnTuTu is a multi-layered, comprehensive mobile benchmark app that assesses various aspects of a device, including CPU, GPU, RAM, I/O, and UX performance. A higher score means an overall faster device.

Higher is better
Sony Xperia 1
330402
Samsung Galaxy S10+
331252
Apple iPhone XS
358091
OnePlus 7 Pro
373664

Camera



Now comes the fun part. The Sony Xperia 1 is the company's first phone with a triple camera, and it's a setup rivaling the best cameraphones in terms of specs and abilities. In a nutshell, you get a main all-purpose camera and a telephoto camera for portraits and zooming, while the third cam has a fixed-focus super wide-angle lens, kind of like the one you'd find on a GoPro. Out of all multi-camera setups we've seen so far, this is the most versatile one, and its no surprise that high-ends like the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and the LG V50 both use identical triple-camera arrangements.




The time needed to start the camera app, focus, take a pic and save it.

sec Lower is better
Sony Xperia 1
1.7
Samsung Galaxy S10+
1.6
Apple iPhone XS
0.9
OnePlus 7 Pro
1.8




I'm far less impressed by the software driving the Xperia 1's cameras: it simply feels unfinished at this point. The camera app is sometimes slow to launch and even slower to switch between cameras. Taking multiple portrait photos too quickly causes the camera app to become unresponsive and unable to focus properly. Glitches aside, there's just one button to cycle between lenses, meaning that to get to the wide-angle cam, you have to switch to the telephoto one first, which eats up precious seconds in certain situations. I know that Sony is trying to keep things simple here, but there has to be a better solution.



Image quality


On a more positive note, the Sony Xperia 1 is well capable of taking fantastic photos – especially when it is in the right hands. Images look neutral in tone, with no enhancers or AI gimmicks trying to make them "better" by boosting the contrast and saturation beyond realistic levels. The 2x telephoto camera is great for portraits. The wide-angle camera can capture epic shots from dramatic angles and has real-time distortion correction (if you enable it). The eye-tracking autofocus comes in handy when shooting close-ups and works even on pets or when your subject is wearing glasses. The burst mode helps you capture split-second moments with clarity by adjusting the focus and exposure for every image. All in all, Sony has packed a great arsenal of camera tools in the Xperia 1. You just need to know how to take advantage of them, and the learning curve isn't the smoothest.

Here are some of my favorite shots.



But again, I feel like the software is holding this otherwise capable camera back. While there is an automatic HDR-like mode, the camera uses it only when absolutely necessary. Because of this, my gallery contains more than a few photos where the sky is completely washed out or the subject is obscured by shadows. Take a look at the first five images in the gallery below.

Low-light images out of the Xperia 1 are okay, though nothing out of this world. At night, the camera may literally take four seconds to take and process a photo, but the final result isn't any better than what I captured with a Galaxy S10 or an iPhone XS in the same situation – and in a fraction of that time. There is no dedicated night mode similar to Google's Night Sight, but Sony is looking into it.



Selfies


Shots out of the 8MP front camera with OIS look average. I can't say that I'm happy with the details that it produces in low light, but the HDR mode does a good job taking care of bright backgrounds. The lens itself is wide enough to fit a lot of people, but does introduce some distortion near the edges – something typical for lenses this wide.



Video


Videos shot on the Xperia 1 look really good overall and has very clear stereo audio, but the footage might have been even better with a more steady image stabilization. HDR video is still an option, but while that video looks good on the phone's screen, it could be incompatible with some social media services, so use it with caution. You may switch between the main and the telephoto cameras while filming video, but not to the wide-angle one. Another limitation is that 4K video is shot at 30FPS tops. There is no 4K 60fps mode on the Xperia 1.



Cinema Pro


This is the name of an app you'll find preloaded on the Sony Xperia 1. It is made specifically for professional video recording and it gives you total control over camera settings such as ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and focus. You may also use any of the three cameras. The look of the video may be tailored to the theme of the setting by applying one of eight different filters. The output video is shot in 4K at a 21:9 aspect ratio. Long story short, this is an app you'll never use unless you're shooting with the intention of editing the footage afterwards, but it could be useful to those who know how to make the most of it.



Audio quality


As I pointed out in the beginning, the Sony Xperia 1 doesn't have an audio jack, but it does come with a dongle you can use to connect a favorite pair of wired earphones. My review unit also came with a wired in-ear headset in the box. It has a 3.5mm connector, not a USB-C one, so it will work with other gadgets like your laptop, for example. Sound quality is well above average, with an ample amount of bass.

Like many Sony phones from the past, the Xperia 1 offers stereo sound through its loudspeakers. One of the drivers is the earpiece, and the other is a bottom-firing loudspeaker. The sound is loud, with clear highs and well-reproduced vocals, and there's a good balance between the left and the right channel. On the downside, there's no bass to speak of. I know you can't expect much in terms of low frequencies out of a smartphone, but both the iPhone XS and Galaxy S10 deliver more bass out of their loudspeakers.

Battery life


On paper, the 3300mAh battery inside the Xperia 1 is one of the smallest you'd find in a high-end Android phone. By comparison, the OnePlus 7 Pro comes with a 4000mAh cell and the one inside the Galaxy S10+ weighs in at 4100mAh. But here's the thing: the actual battery life I've been getting out of the Xperia 1 is not bad at all. It's not fantastic either, but I can't say that the Xperia 1 disappoints in this department. On a busy day, I'd get around 6 hours of active usage including roughly 2 hours of gaming, 1 hour of web browsing, 2 hours of YouTube, and an hour of Spotify streaming. With lighter usage, it lasts me well into the second day, probably because the phone uses barely any power during stand-by. But if you play Fortnite a lot or use the camera all the time, you might need a top-up before the evening.

I got an 18W charger with my Xperia 1 review unit. It needs almost 2 hours to charge the phone completely, but this could be because Sony prioritizes battery health over charging speeds, and slower charging prolongs the cell's lifespan. Besides, the phone charges faster than the XZ3 from last year.

Wireless charging is missing on the Xperia 1 even though it was available on the Xperia XZ3. Sony skipped it because the phone's design was a greater priority, we're told.

We measure battery life by running a custom web-script, designed to replicate the power consumption of typical real-life usage. All devices that go through the test have their displays set at 200-nit brightness.

hours Higher is better
Sony Xperia 1
7h 10 min (Good)
Samsung Galaxy S10+
7h 59 min (Good)
Apple iPhone XS
8h 37 min (Excellent)
OnePlus 7 Pro
9h 10 min (Excellent)

Conclusion


Sony's mobile business is supposedly headed in a new direction, but one crucial aspect doesn't seem to have changed – pricing. In the US, the Sony Xperia 1 can be only pre-ordered for $949 on Amazon, and it won't ship until July 12. A Galaxy S10+ costs $50 less and you can have one today, either unlocked or through a carrier. Had Sony bundled it with a pair of premium earphones, the Xperia 1 would have been a great deal, but as things stand right now, it's going to be another tough sell for a Sony flagship in the US. And this is unfortunate at a point in time when Sony desperately needs a phone that sells.

Don't get me wrong: the Sony Xperia 1 is actually a very good phone. It is fast, it feels solid and well built, and its screen looks lovely, uninterrupted by a notch or a camera cutout. At this price point, however, a phone has to be more than good. It has to be flawless, and the Xperia 1 isn't. The fingerprint reader can be unreliable, but it's something one can live with. On the other hand, the most powerful camera hardware on a Sony phone ever is in need of better software: of both stability and image quality improvements, of more reliable HDR algorithms and better low-light performance. Of course, things could be different in a month, after a software update or two, but again, that's how things stand today.

Pros

  • Beautiful display
  • Versatile triple camera setup
  • Fast, clean software
  • Solid, classic design
  • Stereo speakers sound very clear (but lack bass)

Cons

  • Camera software feels unfinished
  • Unreliable fingerprint scanner
  • No wireless charging

PhoneArena Rating:

8.0

User Rating:

10.0
1 Reviews

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34 Comments

1. legar123

Posts: 59; Member since: Mar 26, 2019

Although the S10 ultrasonic fingerprint is unreliable, because its from Samsung and made of Vibranium, I will give it 10/10!

5. umaru-chan

Posts: 358; Member since: Apr 27, 2017

Lol, good use of sarcasm but you should know that comments like these will make you a target of prominent SDF members like jasssssson. Overall, it's a very good review and score is just right.

21. Jason2k13

Posts: 1462; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

I agree with legar, Samsung's fingerprint scanner is far from perfect and can be annoying to use. That's why I end up using face unlock or pin. See umaru-chan the difference between you and me is I will admit the faults in my favourite brand or products. I don't sound like a robot and troll everyone if someone says bad things about the brand that I like.

2. Feanor

Posts: 1365; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

Well... I'm sure that a Galaxy S10 appears to be a better deal in the context of a comparison test, but after discovering during a Samsung Account sign in process how Samsung tries to manipulate customers into giving up their private data, Samsung is dead to me. At least Sony is too poor to try (for the moment) to push their services and they rely on just standard Google services.

3. liteon163

Posts: 45; Member since: Jan 24, 2017

The primary reason I read phone reviews here is to see the screen color specs. Could you please also show how they shape up when you manually try to get the screen temperature as close to 6500K as possible? And then share those settings with us?

4. User123456789

Posts: 908; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

LOL , I knew score would be 8. None android will ever be above iphones here. Even worse phones (Xiaomi and OP) again get above 9. Mate 30 Pro, U19 and V50 will be below 9 too.

7. Trex95

Posts: 2381; Member since: Mar 03, 2013

Even Sony fan reviewer rate Xperia 1 8.5 so. Phone arena rate it Xperia 1 with excellent score wait till theverge review xperia1 and you will see the rate 6.5 or max 7 they rate even iPhone XS and XS max 8.5.

16. User123456789

Posts: 908; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

You can go there and make your review score , you dont need to have the phone. I am using a Samsung at the moment. I can give low score to any phone

9. IT-Engineer

Posts: 543; Member since: Feb 26, 2015

There won't be a Mate 30 Pro!

6. Sparkxster

Posts: 1228; Member since: Mar 31, 2017

I really like the photos this phone takes they look very natural and clean but since it lacks wireless charging I will wait for the Xperia 2.

8. ph00ny

Posts: 2030; Member since: May 26, 2011

How do you determine what looks natural when you're not seeing the shooting subject in real life to compare it?

10. Feanor

Posts: 1365; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

You can check how natural it looks in this YouTube video. Here it really looks like the Xperia 1 takes the most natural pics. It's actually shocking how oversaturated and fake the images of the Galaxy S10 look by comparison. https://youtu.be/TfYVuU8rKVE

11. User123456789

Posts: 908; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

All reviews say that.

12. srgonu

Posts: 548; Member since: Feb 13, 2012

Apple plays Brain games with PA editors.

13. Djz89

Posts: 443; Member since: Aug 25, 2014

This review is basically completely opposite of gsmarena when it comes to camera. I have to agree with gsmarena tho

25. AlienKiss

Posts: 154; Member since: May 21, 2019

gsmarena is the most biased website I have ever seen. They monitors and delete more comments than china itself. If you dare to say that huawei disabled their bootloader service (before the ban), they'll immediately delete the comment. Like I said, the most biased website on the internet. If you check their website, 95% of the news and phones are cheap chinese trash. I wouldn't be surprised if I heard that the website is actually chinese. I stopped visiting that site..

27. Djz89

Posts: 443; Member since: Aug 25, 2014

Wut? I find them to be pretty fair, and my experience petty much matches their review, at least more than phonearena

28. Mr_Magma

Posts: 5; Member since: May 21, 2019

Agree with Alien. They've been deliting comments way too often

14. erniedgx19

Posts: 3; Member since: May 15, 2019

How predictable from phonearena always giving Sony a bad rating no matter how great it is compared to other low end and mid-range getting 8.5+ rating

15. iczer

Posts: 158; Member since: Oct 14, 2015

Nice Phone! The Camera software that feels "unfinished" and the unreliable fingerprint scanner it will be fixed with a software update, that is for sure! It should have got a rating of 8,5 at least!

17. User123456789

Posts: 908; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

If Xiaomi and OP get above 9, then Samsung and Sony deserve 0.6 more. Iphone Xr deserves 7.5 , got 9.0 ...

18. pogba

Posts: 110; Member since: Jun 13, 2018

that is one long ass screenshot.

19. Ellio74

Posts: 74; Member since: Mar 22, 2018

The night shots are are way better than before and some say it's even better than the S10 for example (which I believe). The lack of HDR processing isn't an issue for me too, as pictures look clearly better than these unnatural HDR-processed ones. This year Sony finally delivers!

20. Feanor

Posts: 1365; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

There is HDR processing. Actually, if I am not wrong, the Sony Xperia Z was the first phone with HDR. The difference is that, unlike everyone else, Sony is a bit more frugal with HDR, using a light version called Backlit Mode in their Auto Mode and a full-on HDR mode in their Manual Mode, which still is probably a bit more conservative than in competition. Whether this is a good thing or not is open to interpretation. Looks like Sony trusts more traditional photography values, like less processing and true to life colours in expense of artificially enhanced dynamic range, which often betters reality, and similar night modes.

29. Ellio74

Posts: 74; Member since: Mar 22, 2018

The HDR I was talking about is the HDR+ or every other thing manufacturers like Google or Apple are promoting everywhere but produces overprocessed pictures with strange halos around high contrast scenes for example. Sony's approach is more natural, most of the time taking pictures without HDR and sometimes as you sais using the "Backlit" setting which is not as "aggressive" as the others.

26. User123456789

Posts: 908; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

There is HDR for Auto. But it works only when phone judges necessary.

22. Mountain

Posts: 5; Member since: Apr 16, 2018

Got mine for $692, through preorder, and I am quite impressed. Out of the 3 phones I have (note 9 and p30 pro), Xperia 1 is definately the most usable. All cameras are more or less the same if you ask me. The only think that is lacking is the storage. Why on earth are they still considering 128GB storage?

23. Nevita

Posts: 44; Member since: Sep 01, 2018

I do not know why they do not mention that the review unit was analyzed with an unfinished firmware. They knew it, they were not the only ones in the place. It was until last week when the phone was released that the update significantly improved the camera and the stabilization. These photos were taken much earlier and you should have clarified that point.

24. Djz89

Posts: 443; Member since: Aug 25, 2014

I loce xperia phones and this is a fair score, if the battery had been bigger it would have deserved a 9. The only thing they got worng imo is the low light shots, they are superb, not meh.

30. mercedesC

Posts: 1; Member since: Jun 18, 2019

Sony lost the ground when come to adapt to new and innovative stuff. I was SONY fun for decades in my house could only one product be present, sony. In my opinion where Sony made a mistake, lost the contact with Consumers second is Customer service, now days is hard to find good customer service but SONY disrespect the people that buying the product on higher level. and people realize that same as i did and stopped buying Sony products. One thing I noticed when come to Phone is BEZEL with sony phones Long time ago design was very strong point to buy a Sony today is just funny what they did. Thanks to few bad Business behavior SONY come to Nostalgic Shop CATEGORY at least for me.......... Sorry to see once great Company get lost in new age.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

Xperia 1
  • Display 6.5" 1644 x 3840 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, Octa-core, 2840 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3330 mAh(24.8h 3G talk time)

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