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Sony Xperia 1 IV is a welcome update to a very niche phone

Sony has just announced the Xperia 1 IV – and just like the previous entries in the brand’s flagship smartphone series, it’s a niche device for a very specific type of user.

The fourth version of the Xperia I looks to be the firm’s most refined handset to date, featuring a number of upgrades to the camera system, display and overall design. Like many of the best Android phones in 2022 this isn’t a huge upgrade over what we had before, but there’s still a lot to like if you’re already a fan of Sony phones.

What we’ve liked most about recent Xperia phones is Sony’s overt focus on aspects often missed by the heavily-hyped competition. There’s a 4K OLED HDR display here, for example, a feature you won’t find anywhere else. This is also one of the few flagships around that includes both a headphone jack and expandable storage and forgoes the notch for a display that’s interruption-free.

Camera upgrades are at the forefront

Like Samsung, Oppo and Apple, Sony tends to focus heavily on its phones’ cameras with each new iteration of its flagship device – and that’s very much the case here.

While the phone retains the same 12-megapixel sensor array as before, there are improvements all over the place. All the cameras (wide, ultra-wide and zoom) now have Sony’s excellent eye auto-focus and object tracking, along with the ability to shoot 4K HDR video at 120fps. Enabling all the three focal lengths to shoot at the same resolution should allow you to easily switch between them without sacrificing too much quality.

The zoom camera has seen the most improvements, which considering this was our biggest criticism about the Xperia 1 III when we reviewed it last year is a welcome change. Sony stated, in a briefing ahead of the launch, that zoom now has an optical range of 85mm-125mm. We’ll need to properly test this zoom out to see how it compares to the excellent Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, but focussing on this as an area to improve is very welcome.

While the actual sensors on the back seem unchanged from the Xperia 1 III, the selfie camera has a much larger 1/2.9 sensor with 12-megapixels. This is up from the 8MP 1/4 inch sensor used previously and should allow the sensor to bring in more light for better low light performance.

Other additional camera features include direct live streaming from the pro-focussed Videography app and improved HDR results.

Aimed at the Pros

Another big focus here is audio. The Xperia 1 IV retains the 3.5mm Hi-Res audio certified headphone port, while wireless Hi-Res audio and LDAC are supported on compatible headphones. Sony also said the onboard speakers have been improved and should produce louder, more bassy audio. Again we haven’t had any hands-on time with the device yet, so we can’t comment  how big the changes are with real-world use, but I’ll be sure to check when we get it in for review.

Niche features have been a focus of this series since its inception. Dedicated apps that bring in some of the features and UI layout from the brand’s Alpha camera are a great example of this. For the Xperia 1 IV, Sony has taken niche features to the next level by introducing an app dedicated to recording music. Music Pro should help reduce noise and reverb and there are even some cloud processing skills available for a subscription fee.

While Sony still seemingly remains against really pushing its Playstation brand with the Xperia range, you can now stream mobile games directly from the phone to services like YouTube.

Upgrades to the display are minimal, though considering this is one of the better mobile screens around I am still hoping it’ll be able to compete with some of the best. Sony has said the display is now 50% brighter, which hopefully fixes some of the issues I had with outdoor visibility on the Xperia 1 III.

The 6.5-inch screen remains capable of outputting at a 4K resolution and retains the longer 21:9 aspect ratio that’s ideal for films but can feel slightly cramped in other instances.

Inside the phone, there’s the usual array of top-end tech. A Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset runs the show, paired with 12GB RAM and 256GB of expandable storage. The Gen 1 is a powerhouse chip, based on our experience reviewing other handsets powered by it, so this should let the phone run pretty much any app or game with zero issue. We’ll confirm this when we get the phone in for testing.

The battery now sits at 5000mAh (up from 4500mAh) while Sony has gone a step further than both Apple and Samsung by removing not only the charger but the charging cable too. If you buy or have a charger capable of outputting at 30w then you should be able to get a 50% charge in half an hour. 

We haven’t seen or held the Xperia 1 IV yet, so we can’t say too much about the quality of the finish. It is a very light phone, especially when you consider what’s on offer, at 185g. That’s 10g lighter than the already very light Galaxy S22 Plus.

Our biggest disappointment with the phone though is that Sony is only promising two years of Android updates, with a further year of security patches. This is poor for a high-end device, with Samsung offering upwards of four with its top phones.

The Xperia 1 IV will be available to buy from 16 June 2022 for €1399/£1299

Trusted Take

I reviewed the Xperia 1 III last year and I liked it a lot. I had some issues though, notably around battery life; screen brightness and zoom camera performance. It does look like Sony has attempted to fix those qualms here. This isn’t the heftiest update you’ll see, but I am glad Sony is continuing to offer a phone different to the rest of the flagship crowd.

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