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 phoneUSB-C to USB-C cableWall charger (18W with USB Power Delivery support)USB-C to 3.5mm audio adapterWired stereo headset with 3.5mm jackStart-up guide
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.
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 1644×3840 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…
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