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Sony Xperia 1 Review

After being teased to us back in February at Mobile World Congress (MWC), the Sony Xperia 1 is finally available.

Once again for the Sony flagship, they have designed a beautiful device. Welcome to Direct Mobiles our review of the stunning Sony Xperia 1. Visually, this is something that really stands out from the crowd. It’s unusual screen aspect ratio of 21:9 gives it very slender and elegant appearance. Gorilla Glass 6 surrounds the metal frame on both sides, and despite is tall and skinny form, it feels very good and well balanced in the hand.

Sony Xperia 1

The gloss paint finish on the back does a surprisingly good job of hiding those fingerprints and I have to say, the more time I spend with it, the more I appreciate the design. We feel that this is one of the best looking handsets of this year.

Design

As with all Sony phones nowadays, the button layout is on the right-hand side, including the touchpad for the fingerprint scanner, which is perfectly placed and works extremely well. Volume rockers are above that and the power button is underneath. There is also a dedicated two step camera shutter release button; something which is included on all Sony flagships, and it just makes the camera more enjoyable to use. On the top side is the tool-less SIM tray which has space for one SIM card and one Micro SD card. Memory is expandable to 512GB.

Sony Xperia 1
The Xperia 1’s widescreen means you can watch movies in proper cinema ratio with no borders.

Underneath there is USB type-C connector and a down firing speaker grill for one of the stereo speakers. The other is placed in the earpiece.

The Xperia 1 is a media machine

Notch phones seem to have come and gone and all the while Sony have stayed with traditional bezels. It’s actually quite refreshing to review a phone that has some, and these bezels frame what is the main highlight of this phone – the beautiful cinema wide 4K HDR OLED display, with Sony’s ‘X1 for Mobile’ engine, which is capable of upscaling standard definition content into 4K, as well as remastering content to display it in HDR.

HDR content retains more details from the shadows and from the highlights, so it gives a better approximation as to what I can see, which makes for a more natural looking picture. The stretched 21:9 screen aspect matches the format that most movies are shot in, which when watch back on most devices, will give you that letterbox style display, with the black borders at the top and the bottom.

Watching movies on this screen will get rid of those borders and completely fill the display. Games automatically scale up to the wider aspect ratio too, and there’s no denying it, it definitely makes for a more enjoyable viewing and gaming experience. Watching 16:9 content will have the opposite effect if you like, and you’ll get borders on the sides rather than at the top and the bottom. If you pinch to fill the screen, you will lose more of the picture than you would on rival smartphones but for me, that’s a small price to pay.

Sony Xperia 1
The widescreen lends itself well to gaming

This really is a great media machine. Stereo speakers give it plenty of volume and the whole experience is helped along with Sony’s Dynamic Vibration, borrowing technology from the PlayStation which vibrates along to the audio in whatever your playing or watching. For music, I don’t really find it that useful but it does add an extra dimension to things when you’re watching movies, and especially when you’re playing games.

Dolby Surround Sound is available through the speakers and the sound through connected headphones is excellent. Sony do a great job with sound and all of the Sony phones are recommended if you’re really into your music, and you listen a lot through headphones.

We’ve been really impressed with the speed, with boot-up times only taking a few seconds and apps opening very swiftly. The Android 9 based software responds extremely well and it includes Sony’s Side Sense, which gives you a shortcut to your most recently used apps and settings by double tapping on the very edge of the screen. It does work extremely well and I do find it very useful, giving you access to things like the one handed mode, which admittedly on this handset is a bit of a necessity. The Side Sense menu is completely customisable and another option that you might find useful there is the split screen mode. With so much vertical real estate, split screen mode works very well, giving you plenty of room for each app and making multitasking far more usable than on other devices.

Internally the Sony Xperia 1 has a Snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Power comes from a 3330mAh battery. And while it doesn’t have the same capacity of some of the competition, it is perfectly capable of lasting a full day and even with my fairly heavy usage. Fast charging is available through to use of the included power brick and it should get you up to 50% in 30 minutes.

Camera

For the first time, we get a triple camera system with a Sony flagship, and they’ve opted for three 12 megapixel sensors with a variety of different focal lengths. The main sensor is Sony’s ‘Exmor RS for mobile’ memory stack sensor, using the same technology that’s inside their Alpha Series of full frame mirrors cameras, which are known for their incredible low light abilities. The sensor in the Xperia 1 is obviously much smaller, but it does use very similar architecture, rearranging the layout from a typical CMOS sensor to maximise light gathering from each pixel.

Sony Xperia 1
Triple camera lenses on the rear of the Xperia 1

The Exmor sensor is paired with a very fast f1.6 lens. The other two lenses are both at 2.4 apertures, one being an ultra wide angle with a 16mm equivalent view, and the other is a telephoto lens with a 56mm focal length.

So far, I haven’t been disappointed with the photos; sharpness is excellent as is colour reproduction. The sharp difference in light gathering between the main sensor and the other two can catch you out sometimes, but for longer exposures, the stabilisation does an excellent job, allowing you to get a pretty sharp shot in very low light.

Portraits are nicely done and fairly accurate, although you can only shoot portraits at one focal length and with a telephoto lens. Overall I’m very pleased with the photos. Despite being the company that provides sensors for many of the world’s top smartphone manufacturers, Sony phones have never really been able to fully compete with the best of the best. But this time, I feel like the Xperia 1 can definitely hold its own against the very best on the market.

Sony Xperia 1 shot
Shot on Sony Xperia 1
Shot on Sony Xperia 1
Shot on Sony Xperia 1

When it comes to video, the Xperia 1 might just be the one to beat.

The 4k HDR video is superb, shot at a frame rate of up to 30 frames per second and with very nice stabilisation to go with it. The Xperia 1, being a Sony flagship, can also shoot incredible 960 frames per second super slow motion video, in short bursts at 720p but also at 1080p, but for half the duration. The Xperia 1 will record continuously and it’s up to you to tap the button to choose the right moment to record. The results can be really spectacular, even of fairly mundane things.

But if you really want to get the very best from the video performance, then you need to leave the camera app and open the cinema pro app. Designed with professional filmmakers in mind, here you can take control of all the camera functions, including the shutter angle, ISO, white balance and focus control. Well, for two of the lenses at least, the ultra wide angle is a fixed focus. There’s also a number of ‘luts’ or look up tables to choose from, which will give your movies even more of a cinematic feel. You can choose to shoot in 2K resolution or 4K and switch between 24 and 30 frames per second or 23.97 and 29.98 to be precise. For me, someone who shoots a lot of video, this phone can come more highly recommended. In fact, there are a lot of people that this phone would appeal to.

Sony Xperia 1
Cinema Pro mode on the Xperia 1 opens up a whole load of advanced video features

Overall

Gamers will love the extra width that you get from the games as well as the swift performance. Movie lovers will really like this phone as well as both the sound and the vision are class leading. There are some question marks around battery capacity as I mentioned before, although it is pretty good in day to day use, but it does drain off quickly when you start shooting video, and I think that some people may be put off by the unusual shape of the screen. But the more I use the Xperia 1, the more I appreciate its design. Its width is definitely more pocket-friendly, and while it may not be suited to everything that we do with our phones, I think that the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages.

Watching movies is a really enjoyable experience on this phone and actually having more real estate whilst playing games is also a big plus. It’s been a long wait for this one and I did have high hopes for it and now that I finally have one in my hand, I can honestly say that I’m not disappointed.

Let us know what you think about the Xperia 1 in the Comments below and you can see the latest Sony Xperia 1 deals here.

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