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Sony Xperia 1 (Check on Amazon.com) is a unique phone that has excellent specifications, top-notch quality construction, and… three rear cameras. In addition, it is the ideal cell phone to watch movies on the go.
Its 4K HDR OLED screen offers excellent visual quality and its 21:9 aspect ratio makes it the only cell phone that can show movies without the black bars or without expanding the image and thus cropping the content.
On the other hand, it offers no wireless charging, its front camera is average at best and, although the rear cameras are very good, there are cheaper smartphones that offer better results. In addition, its battery life is below average.
That said, If you bought it in pre-sale and received the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones for free, then you struck gold – those are my preferred headphones and cost (Check on Amazon.com).
If you didn’t and you are considering paying full price for it, there are far better options in the market for a similar or even lower price.
Sony Xperia 1 – A really tall cell phone
The Xperia 1 marks a major change in the design of Sony cell phones, but it certainly maintains different features that have been in the company’s DNA for years.
For example, it sports a very rectangular shape, with very sharp and pronounced corners that make it look almost like a brick, but way thinner.
In addition, the Xperia 1 maintains the dedicated camera button that we liked so much in previous generations and an interface that closely resembles that of stock Android.
However, it no longer has the fingerprint reader in the back, like the past two generations. It is now located on the right side, but it isn’t integrated into the power button.
The power button, the volume rocker, and the camera button are all located on the right side edge, which is great… for right-handers. For someone that is left-handed, it will be more difficult to unlock and use the buttons.
The truth of the matter is that the fingerprint reader works quite well and it is very comfortable to have a camera button as it allows you to press halfway down to focus on the subject and then all the way down to capture the photo, as it is done with classic cameras.
Sadly, the Sony Xperia 1 doesn’t have a headphone jack, but it keeps the microSD card slot and the SIM card drawer doesn’t require a tool for you to pry it open, instead, you can do so using your fingernails.
Also, although it has a Gorilla 6 glass back and a metal frame that makes it very resilient, it does not support wireless charging, which is a serious step back.
Sony Xperia 1 – Impressive screen
The biggest novelty, however, is its screen. This smartphone features a 4K HDR OLED display with an aspect ratio of 21:9, which makes it the best one I’ve ever tried on a phone.
The idea behind this is that this device grants you the ability to enjoy a truly cinematic experience, that no other cell phone can match.
This means that when you watch movies, the content will occupy the entire screen, without the need for black bars, as is the case with all other cell phones today. Therefore, Sony Xperia 1 is automatically the ideal smartphone for watching movies.
That said, most of the content we see on our cell phones are usually videos on YouTube and series on Netflix, content that is not optimized for a screen with a 21:9 aspect ratio.
Thankfully both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video movies usually have a native 21:9 aspect ratio. In addition, they support HDR and Sony’s 4K screen offers much more detail and better color reproduction. And even though the Xperia’s screen brightness is not the best, it is enough to be visible even outdoors.
The Sony Xperia 1 has top-notch performance as you would expect from a device sporting a Snapdragon 855 processor and 6GB of RAM.
Browsing screens, menus, and apps are buttery smooth and the device is always very responsive. The only problem I’ve experienced sporadically was with the camera app, which was sometimes a tad slower than I would have expected.
In our performance test, the Sony Xperia 1 scored a bit higher than both the Samsung Galaxy S10+ (Check on Amazon.com) and the OnePlus 7 Pro (Check on Amazon.com). You will not be able to experience this difference in day to day use but it is good to know that you have them beaten.
With its 4K screens, Sony has had trouble offering good autonomy and the Xperia 1 is no exception.
It is worth noting though, that like Sony’s other 4K phones, the screen is not always pushing that high of a resolution, but depending on the content, it only implements it when needed, when viewing 4K video for example.
With standard use, the Sony Xperia 1 lasted a full working day – which is good, but nothing to write home about.
In our Wi-Fi video playback test (which was heavily skewed thanks to the 4K screen), the Sony Xperia 1 achieved just 11 hours and 41 minutes, well below the 21 hours and 30 minutes of the Galaxy S10+, or the 16 hours of the OnePlus 7 Pro.
Sony Xperia 1 – Three rear cameras and one on the front
Xperia 1 is the first Sony smartphone with a triple rear camera module, and thus it offers more versatility than before, allowing for standard, wide-angle, and zoomed photos.
This cell phone is equipped in fact with a standard camera with optical image stabilization, a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom and optical image stabilization, all of them rated at 12 megapixels.
These three cameras work quite well with one another and offer great versatility and solid results, but I do not consider them the best at anything. The Google Pixel 3 (Check on Amazon.com) and 3 XL (Check on Amazon.com) [and even the Google Pixel 3a (Check on Amazon.com)] manage to capture more details and better colors. In addition, they are masters at rendering exceptional portrait photos.
- Google Pixel 3 XL review
- Google Pixel 3 review: a unique jewel
- Google Pixel 3a review: the Pixel camera at half price
Quality-wise, I place the Xperia 1 below the Samsung Galaxy S10+, although the latter has similar problems with portrait mode.
Xperia 1 also uses artificial intelligence for scene detection and consequently better results. The AI is mostly spot-on, but every now and then it messes up the exposure which results in unusable photos.
On the other hand, and despite the fact that the Xperia 1 does not have a Night mode (a huge misstep from Sony), the cell phone takes surprising good low light photos.
The wide-angle camera, although huge (137°) has difficulty at capturing good detail and is distorted more than other, less wide lenses.
The only outstanding feature here is that the Sony Xperia 1 offers the most similar technology, functions, and interface to a digital camera. For example, it comes with the Eye AF technology, which allows the camera to follow the movement of the people’s eyes in order to achieve better results. It also has a separate app called Cinema Pro, which allows you to record footage in 21:9 format, like the one we find in movies, and gives you all the various advanced manual controls. Both of these features are found only on Sony’s professional cameras.
To achieve this, Sony collaborated with different internal departments of the company, beyond the mobile division, and brought different people from the professional camera team to develop these features.
In general, the video quality is unparalleled, be it with the regular camera app, which most users will use, or with the Cinema Pro app.
As for the front camera, its quality does not stand out much and its performance is average. Both rear and front cameras have a Portrait mode and allow you to control the intensity of the bokeh effect but again this isn’t something we haven’t seen with other smartphones.
Sony Xperia 1 – Side Sense, One-hand mode and more
The Sony Xperia 1 runs Android Pie 9 and the experience is not far from stock Android, which is great
It is also a good thing that Sony included different software solutions to get the most out of that huge screen.
Side Sense, for example, is a function that allows you to tap on the edge of the screen in order to activate a floating menu that gives you access to different shortcuts. The problem with this is that its activation is hit or miss and many times it gets activated by mistake.
Likewise, the Sony Xperia 1 also allows you to slide your finger along the edge of the screen to activate the Split Screen mode that takes advantage of the big screen. Similar to Side Sense though the activation is not that straightforward.
A truly helpful function is that of One Hand mode, which allows you to shrink the desktop by tapping twice on the Home button. This makes it easier to control your phone with just one hand and it is similar to what Samsung did with its Galaxy Note phones years ago.
Moreover, the Xperia 1 also brings back the advanced vibration system, which is again hit or miss. When it works as intended, it makes the whole experience much more immersive, but when it doesn’t, it ends up being more annoying than anything else.
Sony Xperia 1 – A unique cell phone that costs too much
Sony Xperia 1 is a good smartphone that sets itself apart from all the other. It sports an elongated 21:9 screen with a 4K resolution, video recording with professional controls similar to that of a professional camera and a dedicated camera button that is always a good thing to have.
Its performance is on par with the competition thanks to its excellent specifications and its three rear cameras offer great versatility.
The main problem with the Sony Xperia 1 is that all these amazing features are not essential in a cell phone that neglects important aspects, such as battery life and wireless charging and, although its cameras are good, they do not reach the level of the Pixel 3 nor the Samsung Galaxy S10 (Check on Amazon.com).
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S10 review: finally complete
For this reason, the suggested price of (Check on Amazon.com) is somewhat high and makes it difficult to justify the splurge, unless you are very fond of the Sony brand or if you love watching or want to record movies.
I consider the “budget” OnePlus 7 Pro, which costs (Check on Amazon.com), a better option since it offers a more attractive design, an outstanding 90Hz display, and a very similar photographic quality, although it lags behind in video playback.
The Galaxy S10+ is also a device that costs less and offers altogether better performance. Its cameras are a bit more reliable, it includes a headphone jack, wireless charging and has a better battery life. In addition, the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10e (Check on Amazon.com), which are even cheaper offer similar specifications.
If you were one of the lucky ones that got the Xperia 1 on pre-sale while in a bundle with the excellent Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones – my favorite noise-canceling headphones – with a price tag of (Check on Amazon.com), then good for you. If, or when you can find it at sub $600 then it will be a best buy, till then these are the smartphones that you should choose from.