Sony Xperia 1 III camera 4
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Sony Xperia 5 II was one of our favorite phones of 2020, making it to the top five of our Editor’s Choice Awards. Its more premium sibling, the Xperia 1 II, was a better phone on paper but the value/specs ratio of the Xperia 5 II trumped it. We’re not quite sure if that’s going to happen this year with the Sony Xperia 1 III, though.

Simply put, the Xperia 1 III might be the best 2021 choice for Android enthusiasts. It makes very few compromises in almost all respects and even offers a few features that competitors simply don’t. Of course, its price, availability, and software might be its ultimate downfalls. In this buyer’s guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about this premium flagship!

See also: The best Sony cameras to spend your money on

Sony Xperia 1 III at a glance

Sony Xperia 1 III rear of phone showing camera module
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Sony Xperia 1 III is Sony’s top-tier premium flagship for 2021. This is the phone that has all the bells and whistles. Every other Sony phone on the market is now objectively weaker than this one in nearly all regards.

One of the best aspects of premium Sony flagships is their cameras. While they often lack the versatility of some other brands’ offerings, they usually are terrific at capturing crisp, stunning images as well as beautiful video. This year we saw the same formidable results from the Xperia 1 III. Unfortunately, we also saw the same confusion regarding hardware capabilities and software usage — more on that in a bit.

The Sony Xperia 1 III has a 4K display, a Snapdragon 888 processor, and a headphone jack. What more could you want?

Outside of the camera, the Sony Xperia 1 III features all the usual 2021 premium flagship staples. That includes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, 5G support, tons of RAM, plenty of internal storage, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, and fast wired charging. You’ll also get a 4K OLED display, a microSD card slot, and the oft-neglected headphone jack.

Unfortunately, the Xperia 1 III is a very expensive phone. It is also tricky to get in some areas of the world. Software updates will likely be slow and infrequent as well. These are the trade-offs one needs to make with pretty much any Sony phone.

Is the Sony Xperia 1 III worth buying?

Sony Xperia 1 III software 2
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

With Sony phones, you need to make your decision based on what you prioritize. If you want an affordable flagship with frequent Android updates and ultra-fast wired and wireless charging, this likely isn’t the phone for you.

Instead, folks who want a powerful camera, a headphone jack, expandable storage, and one of the highest-resolution displays you can get on any phone would likely love the Sony Xperia 1 III. The headphone jack, in particular, is a feature that pretty much no other OEMs offer with flagships. The only other company that frequently did so was LG, and it is no longer in the smartphone game. Simply put, if you want a Snapdragon 888 phone with a headphone jack, the Xperia 1 III is one of your very few choices.

See also: The best Android phones you can get

We have more information on the camera below, but the biggest thing you need to keep in mind there is that the software has a reputation for being really confusing. Professionals love it because of its versatility, but people acclimated to the point-and-shoot ease of cameras on Samsung, Google, and Apple phones will face a learning curve.

Overall, the Sony Xperia 1 III is an incredible phone that could be worth its very high price. However, the phone appeals to a pretty niche audience rather than the average buyer.

We gave the phone a 4.5/5 and awarded it our Editor’s Choice badge, so we are quite keen on this device.

What experts think of the Xperia 1 III

Sony Xperia 1 III software
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

In our review of the Sony Xperia 1 III, we gave the phone one of our highest scores: 4.5/5 stars. We also awarded it our Editor’s Choice badge, which is one of the highest-level badges we offer. Simply put, this is already one of our favorite phones of 2021.

Check it out: Our full review of the Sony Xperia 1 III

We really love the display of this phone. It could end up being one of if not the best displays of this year. We also loved the performance, the battery life, the camera quality, and the headphone jack (obviously).

We were a bit disappointed that Sony’s camera experience is still quite confusing (it is getting better, however). We also weren’t too fond of its slow charging speeds and bloatware. The biggest thing we were disappointed with, though, is its very, very high price tag.

Here’s what other reviewers from around the web think about the Sony Xperia 1 III:

  • Allison Johnson from The Verge: Johnson gave the phone a 7.5/10, which is a lower score than we offered. Like us, she loved the display and the camera quality. However, she didn’t care for Sony’s poor history of software support and also severely criticized the phone’s price tag.
  • Patrick Holland from CNET: Holland gave the phone a slightly higher score than The Verge at 7.6/10. Holland also loved the display and the camera quality but issued the same criticisms towards its pricing. However, Holland criticized the phone’s battery life, which is interesting since we thought it was great.
  • James Peckham from Tech Radar: Peckham gave the phone 4/5 stars, which is pretty close to our score. Like us, he loved the display, the battery life, and the fact that it has a headphone jack. Like everyone else, he criticized the high price but also criticized the lack of an in-display fingerprint sensor, which not many other reviewers have painted as a negative thing.

What AA readers think of the Xperia 1 III

In October 2020, we ran a poll asking our readers what they were most excited to see on the Xperia 1 III. There were five preset options and then a catch-all “other” option. You can see how the poll results break down in the chart below:

Interestingly, Sony delivered on pretty much every one of these hopes our readers had. The camera has a very unique telephoto lens which will offer a more versatile experience. The headphone jack stuck around, the display refresh rate is high, and the phone has 30W wired charging. It even works natively with the Sony PlayStation DualShock 4 controller, which fits in with the “Better PlayStation integration” option.

For more poll opinions from our readers, head to the bottom section of this article.

Sony Xperia 1 III specs

The Sony Xperia 1 III features the predictable 2021 upgrades. However, it also boasts a stunning 4K display and a unique telephoto lens setup. See our specs table below, and scroll down a bit for a comparison between the Xperia 1 III and last year’s Xperia 1 II.

Sony Xperia 1 III
Display
6.5-inch OLED
21:9 aspect ratio
4K resolution
120Hz refresh rate
240Hz touch sampling rate
Gorilla Glass Victus
Processor
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM
12GB
Storage
256GB
microSD card support
Power
4,500mAh battery
30W wired charging
Charger included in box
Wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging
Cameras
Rear:

1) 12MP main (24mm)
1/1.7" sensor
ƒ1.7, dual-PD auto-focus, OIS

2) 12MP ultra-wide (16mm)
1/2.6" sensor
ƒ2.2, dual-PD auto-focus

3) 12MP telephoto (70mm/105mm)
1/2.9" sensor
ƒ2.3/ƒ2.8, dual-PD auto-focus, OIS

4) 3D iToF sensor

Front:

1) 8MP single

Video
Cinema Pro 4K at 120fps
Audio
3.5mm headphone jack
Dolby Atmos and DSEE Ultimate
360 Spatial Sound
Connectivity
5G support (Sub6 only, no mmWave)
[SIM + SIM] or [SIM + microSD]
Security
Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
Durability
IP65 against dust
IP68 against water
Gorilla Glass Victus
Software
Android 11
Dimensions and weight
165 x 71 x 8.2mm
186g
Colors
Frosted Black
Frosted Purple

What’s up with these camera lenses?

Sony Xperia 1 III camera 5
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

In the specs table above, you can see that the Sony Xperia 1 III has a quad-lens array on the back. Predictably, there’s a primary lens flanked by a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens. Rounding it out, there’s a time-of-flight sensor (ToF) that helps with depth perception and focus tracking.

Fun fact: Sony makes the lenses that appear in most high-end flagships. The sensors in the Galaxy S21 lineup, as well as the OnePlus 9 lineup, are all made by Sony, for example. As such, the lenses here are predictably high in quality and represent some of the best hardware available.

Related: The best camera phones you can get

The odd-ball-out, though, is the telephoto lens. In the specs table, you’ll see that this lens has a 70mm and 105mm size label. To be clear, this does not mean it is capable of zooming in from 70mm to 105mm. It actually means that it has just those two distinct focal lengths: 70mm (~2.9x) and 105mm (~5x). You can jump from one to the other, but there are no stops between.

How does this work? Sony used a mechanical periscope-style system to physically move the lens to those distinct points. This allows for a true optical zoom of 2.9x or 5x. Interestingly, though, anything between those two focal lengths (like 4x, for example) will involve a digital crop. That’s the big difference between this setup and the one we’ve seen on phones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which offers 1x, 3x, and 10x optical zoom with hybrid zoom in between.

The bottom line here is that this is a very unique camera setup that is a bit more limited than it might seem. Yes, you’re going to get lossless optical zoom at 2.9x and 5x, but you are locked to those two settings.

For more information on the camera quality of this phone, check out the article below:

Check it out: Sony Xperia 1 III camera tested: Zoom or bust

How is battery life on the Xperia 1 III?

Sony Xperia 1 III Battery
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Sony Xperia 1 III has a 4,500mAh battery. This isn’t a huge battery when compared to other ultra-premium flagships. The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a 5,000mAh battery, for example, and the Asus ROG Phone 5 has a 6,000mAh battery.

Normally, 4,500mAh would be fine for a phone of this size. The wildcard, though, is that 4K display. A display pushing that many pixels at a 120Hz refresh rate is going to tear through battery power. Interestingly, we came away very happy with the battery life of this phone, even with that 4K panel. We found this is very easily a one-day phone and could even be a two-day device if you used it lightly.

See also: The best Android smartphones with the best battery life

Regardless, the phone can charge at a rate of 30W using the in-box charger. That’s the fastest wired charging we’ve yet seen on a Sony phone. Granted, OnePlus has phones that charge more than twice as fast as that, but the entire Galaxy S21 lineup charges slower (and doesn’t have in-box chargers). In other words, Sony’s 30W speeds are faster than some, slower than others. We do wish it charged a bit faster, but it’s not something that makes or breaks our love of the phone.

The Sony Xperia 1 III also features wireless charging and reverse wireless charging. That means you can charge the phone at standard speeds using a wireless charging system. You can also “leech” power off the phone by placing another wireless charging device on the back, such as earbuds or a smartwatch.

How is the Xperia 1 III performance?

Sony Xperia 1 III Google Assistant
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Inside the Sony Xperia 1 III, you’ll find the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset. This is currently the second-fastest and second-most powerful mobile chipset for Android phones, trumped only by the Snapdragon 888 Plus. It’s paired with a hefty 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. As one would expect, performance is terrific with this phone.

Granted, hardware only tells half the story. Sony’s Android skin — known as Xperia UI — is a lean system akin to Pixel UI. However, there’s a lot of bloatware on the phone which power users might get irritiated by. Still, this phone’s performance impressed us and will likely impress most buyers.

Phone software and updates

Sony Xperia 1 III front
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Simply put, Sony’s history when it comes to Android updates and upgrades is pretty dismal. While it might not be the industry’s worst offender, most of its phones languish on older versions of Android even months after the latest launch. Likewise, Android security patches come at a slow and irregular pace.

For a lot of our readers, software updates are a big deal. Not only do they bring new features and bug fixes, but security patches help keep phones safe. For them, Sony’s historical lack of regard for the importance of software upkeep is a major issue.

You, however, might not care much about software updates. You also might be the kind of user who likes installing custom ROMs and relying on that community for your upgrades. If you’re in either of those situations, you’ll likely be happy. If official software is important to you, though, proceed with the Sony Xperia 1 III (or any Sony phone) with caution.

Sony Xperia 1 III vs Xperia 1 II: What’s new?

Sony Xperia 1 II screen in hand

Overall, Sony mostly brought the predictable 2021 upgrades to the Xperia 1 III. The Xperia 1 II has a similar display, a very similar camera setup, and a similar build/design.

The big upgrades compared to last year are the Snapdragon 888 processor, a 120Hz display refresh rate, a bigger battery, reverse wireless charging, 30W wired charging, and the more advanced telephoto lens. Outside of those, the rest of the upgrades are pretty subtle.

Check out the specs table comparison below for more.

Sony Xperia 1 II (2020)Sony Xperia 1 III (2021)
Display
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
6.5-inch OLED
21:9 aspect ratio
4K resolution
60Hz refresh rate
Gorilla Glass 6

Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
6.5-inch OLED
21:9 aspect ratio
4K resolution
120Hz refresh rate
240Hz touch sampling rate
Gorilla Glass Victus
Processor
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
8 or 12GB
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
12GB
Storage
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
256GB
microSD card support
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
256GB
microSD card support
Power
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
4,000mAh battery
21W wired charging
Charger included in box
Wireless charging
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
4,500mAh battery
30W wired charging
Charger included in box
Wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging
Cameras
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
Rear:

1) 12MP main (24mm)
1/1.7" sensor
ƒ1.7, dual-PD auto-focus, OIS

2) 12MP ultra-wide (16mm)
1/2.55" sensor
ƒ2.2, dual-PD auto-focus

3) 12MP telephoto (70mm)
1/3.4" sensor
ƒ2.4/ƒ2.8, PD auto-focus, OIS

4) 3D ToF sensor

Front:

1) 8MP single

Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
Rear:

1) 12MP main (24mm)
1/1.7" sensor
ƒ1.7, dual-PD auto-focus, OIS

2) 12MP ultra-wide (16mm)
1/2.6" sensor
ƒ2.2, dual-PD auto-focus

3) 12MP telephoto (70mm/105mm)
1/2.9" sensor
ƒ2.3/ƒ2.8, dual-PD auto-focus, OIS

4) 3D iToF sensor

Front:

1) 8MP single

Video
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
Cinema Pro 4K at 60fps
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
Cinema Pro 4K at 120fps
Audio
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
3.5mm headphone jack
Dolby Atmos and DSEE Ultimate
360 Spatial Sound
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
3.5mm headphone jack
Dolby Atmos and DSEE Ultimate
360 Spatial Sound
Connectivity
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
5G support (Sub6 only, no mmWave)
[SIM + SIM] or [SIM + microSD]
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
5G support (Sub6 only, no mmWave)
[SIM + SIM] or [SIM + microSD]
Security
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
Durability
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
IP65 against dust
IP68 against water
Gorilla Glass 6
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
IP65 against dust
IP68 against water
Gorilla Glass Victus
Software
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
Android 10 in-box
Android 11 upgrade available
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
Android 11
Dimensions and weight
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
165.1 x 71.1 x 7.6mm
181g
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
165 x 71 x 8.2mm
186g
Colors
Sony Xperia 1 II (2020):
Black, purple, and Mirror Lake Green
Sony Xperia 1 III (2021):
Frosted Black and Frosted Purple

What are some good Xperia 1 III alternatives?

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G on the box
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

There are a few aspects of the Sony Xperia 1 III that are unique. This includes the headphone jack, 4K display, and telephoto lens configuration. It will be tough to find those on any other 2021 flagships.

That being said, if you can do without those three details, here are some other phones that might be worth a look:

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra ($1,199): While this phone won’t have the same display resolution, it will be more than good enough. It also will have a more versatile camera system with easier-to-use camera software and a full IP68 rating. It also has an in-display fingerprint sensor rather than a side-mounted one. Of course, there’s no headphone jack, no microSD card slot, and no charger in the box.
  • OnePlus 9 Pro ($969): This is OnePlus’ best phone to date, with the best camera system we’ve ever seen on a OnePlus device. It has a display with similar quality to the Galaxy S21 Ultra and features wired charging that’s twice as fast as what we see on the Xperia 1 III. Of course, there’s no headphone jack, no microSD card slot, and no 4K display.
  • Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra (€1,199 (~$1,415)): This phone features the largest camera sensor of any Android phone ever. It also features similar high-end specs as the Xperia 1 III while also offering a larger battery that charges faster. However, this phone will be harder to buy for some folks, especially those in the United States.
  • Asus ROG Phone 5 (€899 (~$1,066)): This phone is a “gaming” phone, so it won’t have as good of a camera system. However, it is one of the very few Snapdragon 888 phones out there with a headphone jack, and it does feature a 144Hz display refresh rate, trumping the Xperia 1 III’s 120Hz. This is a very different phone for a very different consumer base, but still worth a look.

Where to buy the Sony Xperia 1 III

Sony Xperia 1 III back 3
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • Sony Xperia 1 III (12GB/256GB) — $1,299 / £1,199

The Sony Xperia 1 III is available in many parts of the world right now. Its starting price is a whopping $1,299. That is $100 more than the starting price of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which is currently Samsung’s top-of-the-line non-foldable phone. It’s also $100 more than last year’s Xperia 1 II.

Sony Xperia 1 III press image
Sony Xperia 1 III
Premium product, premium price
The Xperia 1 III packs in the latest and greatest technology from Sony to create a smartphone purpose-built for multimedia, photography, and gaming.

Granted, you do get some things with this phone you just can’t get anywhere else. That includes the 4K display, the headphone jack, and the microSD card slot — none of which appear on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. For many folks reading this, those the headphone jack alone would be worth an extra $100 for them.

Also, do note that early orders of the phone can get a free gift, usually in the form of Sony-brand headphones. In the US, the freebie is a set of Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds, which are a $200 value on their own.

FAQs

Q: Does the Sony Xperia 1 III have an IP rating?
A: Yes, but it is not a full IP68 rating. Instead, it is IP65 rated against dust and IP68 rated against water. In other words, you’ll need to be a bit more careful in dusty/dirty situations with this phone.

Q: Can I use the Xperia 1 III to connect to 5G networks?
A: Yes, but only certain kinds. The Xperia 1 III works with Sub-6GHz 5G, which is the most readily available variant. It does not support mmWave 5G, which is the faster-but-rarer version.

Q: Does it come with a charger in the box?
A: Yep! The charger is capable of charging the phone at its top speed, which is 30W.

Q: Did Sony bring an in-display fingerprint sensor this year?
A: No. Just like last year, the Xperia 1 III has a side-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor.

Q: What are the big differences between this and the cheaper Sony Xperia 5 III?
A: The Sony Xperia 1 III is physically larger than the Xperia 5 III. It also has a higher-resolution display, a ToF sensor on the back, louder speakers, a higher-grade variant of Gorilla Glass, and wireless/reverse wireless charging. Other than those features, the phones are very similar.

Q: What colors can I get for the phone?
A: There are two choices this year: Frosted Black and Frosted Purple.

Help other readers out