Hands on: Sony Xperia 1 Review

A new name, a new aspect ratio, new imaging and a few world-firsts – the Xperia 1 combines a wealth of Sony technologies into one promising powerhouse.

First Impressions

The Xperia 1 looks to have some of the most impressive display and imaging technologies in any smartphone but without testing them, it's tough to gauge whether their real-world prowess will live up to the hype. Stay tuned...

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £849
  • 6.5-inch 21:9 4K HDR OLED
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC
  • 6GB RAM
  • 64GB w/ microSD up to 512GB
  • Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
  • 8-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Android 9.0
  • Triple 12-megapixel main camera
  • 3330mAh battery w/ PD3.0 fast charging

Sony’s phone names were messy, they’re not alone in this business; I don’t think ‘Mate 20 Pro‘ or ‘G8 ThinQ‘ are particularly good either but Sony’s been a long-standing offender and it seems the company had realised this too. As such, the lineup of shiny new handsets it showcased at Mobile World Congress 2019 also came with shiny new names to boot.

Alongside the new Xperia 10 mid-range duo (the spiritual successors to the Xperia XA2 family), the world was introduced not to the Xperia XZ4 but the Xperia 1. In product naming terms, stripping things back and dropping in a ‘1’ means something; this Xperia is the first of its kind, it signifies an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ approach.

Sony Xperia 1 front handheld angled

Having just stepped out of a pre-briefing session ahead of MWC, I was excited to see how all the new specs, stats and features I’d just learnt of manifested in a physical device. While I didn’t have to wait long to get my hands on an Xperia 1, there also wasn’t a huge amount I could do with it aside from handle the thing.

A lock screen and strict instructions from the demo sample’s handlers kept the press from prying any deeper, as such, here’s the experience thus far and after some more time with the phone at the booth, I will update this piece with deeper insights into the mysteries of the Xperia X1.

Sony Xperia 1 Price and Release Date

Sony’s priced the Xperia 1 at £849, meaning it’s undercut by that of the base SKU of big rival, the Samsung Galaxy S10 (priced at £799). The phone launches in late Spring, with no exact date yet confirmed.

Sony Xperia 1 back on table perspective

Sony Xperia 1 – Design

The Sony Xperia 1 is a decidedly unassuming-looking flagship – at least in its most approachable shiny black finish. It does away with the organic, rounded forms of the Xperia XZ2 and XZ3, and sports a more slab-sided, squared appearance that harkens back to the OmniBalance design language of old, albeit with more nuance.

Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back, meeting at a polished, colour-matched metal frame makes for a sturdy-feeling and sleek-looking smartphone, and the overall look is one of quiet confidence – the implication of power under the hood but it’s not flaunting it. If the black finish is too understated for your tastes, Sony also plans on selling the phone in grey, white and most desirable of all, purple (at least in my opinion).

One small faux pas for a 2019 flagship is the side-mounted fingerprint sensor. There’s no in-display technology at work on the 1 at all. Instead, you’ll find a more conventional fingerprint sensor set into the right side of the phone’s frame.

Sony Xperia 1 front on table upside down

Sony Xperia 1 – Display

Let’s talk about that screen – it’s one of the phone’s big firsts, being the first 4K HDR OLED display on a smartphone ever. The Xperia 1’s sizeable 6.5-inch panel comes packing pixels, dynamic range, great contrast and dependable power efficiency. Not only that, this ‘CinemaWide’ screen boasts a 21:9 aspect ratio, HDR remastering technologies and even leverages upscaling technology born out of Sony’s Bravia TVs.

The phone’s ‘Creator Mode’ (based on Sony’s CineAlta professional film technology) kicks in whenever it detects suitable content, with the aim of recreating said content on screen as true to the creator’s vision and original grading as possible.

The 21:9 aspect ratio is a standout element of the Xperia 1 in its own right. It’s great for enjoying movies and other media formatted for it and indeed Sony’s reps were quick to point out that 61 percent of Netflix films are natively available in 21:9, meaning no black bars on-screen and an immersive wide view for your chosen content.

There’s a bigger question mark around general streaming, with the types of content that most mobile users regularly encounter likely relying on a more conventional 16:9 aspect ratio, at least for the time being.

The standout dimensions of the phone mean it’s narrow and comfortable to hold, despite the overall screen size, and the screen real-estate can even host split-screen multitasking, with a portrait 16:9 app and a landscape 16:9 video sitting atop each other perfectly.

Sony’s also expanded elements of the Android 9.0-powered user experience to more comfortably sit with the phone’s tall display. Easy navigation is key, with on-screen buttons within native apps never being held high out of fingers’ reach, near the top of the UI.

Unlike its launch siblings, the Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus, the Xperia 1’s display sits within more balanced boundaries, with only the hint of a forehead and chin, and just a sliver of bezel running down each side.

Sony Xperia 1 – Camera

The other big first for the Xperia 1 is the use of a rear triple camera arrangement. Only a handful of Sony phones boast a dual sensor array, so a three-lensed camera setup makes the 1 stand out amongst the company’s current portfolio of phones.

The hardware is comprised of three 12-megapixels sensors; with a 16mm setup for wide shots, a 26mm general-purpose offering and a 52mm telephoto lens. OIS and EIS work in tandem when shooting both stills and video, and this phone sounds particularly well-equipped for both, based on the bevvy of Sony technologies integrated into the setup.

Sony Xperia 1 back on table upside down

Pulling from Sony’s Alpha camera range, the phone uses BIONZ X for mobile, which includes processing algorithms like those used in the company’s established high-end digital cameras, as well as Eye AF (another world-first for a phone), letting you snap up to 10fps with subject-based eye-tracking that results in automated focus and exposure management. RAW support, a wide f/1.6 aperture, enlarged 1.4μm pixels and noise reduction are also part of the equation here, to help raise the Xperia 1’s low-light imaging credentials too.

Related: Best camera phones

There’s also the matter of video. The 1 is capable of capturing 4K HDR video and you can even shoot at 24fps, apply colour and alpha profiles at capture without degrading quality and more. This again, comes as a result of that CineAlta integration, taking the form of a dedicated Cinema Pro app, which comes with its own interface based on the Venice cameras used by professionals like James Cameron; at least that’s what Sony told me.

With all this in mind, the triple camera setup sounds as though it’ll have some chance of upsetting both Google and Apple with regards to their prowess in smartphone still and video imaging respectively.

If it’s not already clear, all of these impressive-sounding technologies allude to the reality that this is a phone for geeks, Sony geeks specifically, or at least those who respect the company’s efforts across all of its disciplines.

Sony Xperia 1 – Performance

I haven’t even mentioned the fact that it boats the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, Hi-Res audio and a 3330mAh battery, but in this day an age, it’d be foolish to expect anything less from a competing flagship phone.

Sony Xperia 1 front handheld

While it doesn’t seem like Sony started with a completely blank sheet of paper, on first impressions the Xperia 1 doesn’t feel like an iterative update at all. Overall, it feels like a definite step in the right direction for the company’s flagship smartphone trajectory, and depending on how its rivals play their cards, this new Xperia might be one to watch out for in 2019.

A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.