Sony’s Xperia phones for 2019 take a bold approach with new screen shapes that dramatically change the appearance and personality of Sony’s lineup. The Sony Xperia 1 flagship is joined by the Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus mid-range handsets. All three were developed with the same cinematic vision in mind.
In January, Sony launched a fresh direction for the company. It now sees itself as a “creative entertainment” business and it wants to get closer to users and creators. This is the backdrop Sony set for the Xperia line.
A decade ago, most smartphones had 4:3-shaped screens. Phone makers later jumped to the 16:9 format, which matches the shape of modern television sets. In the last two years, the 18:9 and 19.5:9 aspect ratios started showing up. Now, we’re seeing the rise of 21:9.
Sony is all-in with the 21:9 screens. Based on its conversations with content creators, Sony says more and more video will be shot in the 21:9 aspect ratio. Thus, it wants to ensure the best possible video experience on its new line of phones.
Does 21:9 really make things better? Sony claims it allows for improved experiences. The big one is multitasking. With such a wide space, users will be able to drop two open apps on the display and see more of each app. Sony is working with Google to make multi-window multitasking accessible via Google Assistant. People will be able to say, “Hey Google, open Gmail and Calendar” and the Xperia phones will do it. Sony did not demonstrate this, as it’s a feature that will only reach the phones after launch.
The 4K HDR OLED of the Xperia 1 might be amazing, but we can’t say with certainty. Sony only allowed us to look at the lock screen. We can only hope that the experience lives up to the drool-worthy specs. The full HD+ LCDs on the Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus looked great. The panels were very sharp, and colors had a natural tone to them. The screens really popped in the harsh lighting of the event space.
Sony Xperia goes tall and skinny
The screen shape plays a huge role in the overall look of the phones. Sony did a decent job keeping bezels to a minimum on all three. With the bezels in check, you’ve got almost nothing around the side and bottom edges. If you thought phones with 18:9 screens looked a bit oblong, the new Xperia line takes things a step further. These are the skinniest-looking phones I’ve seen. It’s something we will all have to get used to over time.
Looks aside, there is a net positive: the phones are narrower. Narrower means easier to hold. Now that phones have 6-inch screens, keeping the footprint of the device as small as possible matters. It’s much more comfortable holding the Xperia line in your hand thanks to the slimmer waistline. Everything about these phones is sleek. The Xperia 1 came across as light, but the metal-clad 10 and 10 Plus definitely felt heavier.
Sony elected to use Gorilla Glass 6 on the Xperia 1. The latest glass from Corning is (supposed to be) even more resistant to breakage and it forms the front and back panels of the 1. The curvy glass is attractive and smooth.
The Sony Xperia 10 and 10 Plus have Gorilla Glass 5 on the front, but an aluminum chassis on the sides and rear. This makes them a bit tougher than the 1. The quality of the metal is very good and has a bit of a texture that I rather liked.
Last year’s flagship, the XZ3, was hindered by a poorly placed fingerprint reader but this time Sony got it right. Sony moved the fingerprint reader to the right edge of the mid-range Xperia 10 and 10 Plus phones. This is a natural resting spot for your thumb and it makes sense.
All three phones run Android 9 Pie with Sony’s fonts and designs. It’s not a horrible skin. We were quite disappointed that Sony did not let us look beyond the lock screen of the Xperia 1. Since the phone is not reaching stores until “late spring” it’s clear that Sony hasn’t wrapped up the UI yet. The most important part of the UI is the new video app. We saw one screenshot of the app and can say that it offers more advanced editing tools to make sure your 4K HDR content looks as good as possible.
Sony had some demos set up to highlight the 21:9 screens on the Xperia 10 and 10 Plus. One included a racing game and the other was the trailer for the upcoming Spider-man movie. The most obvious improvement in the game was space along the sides of the screen for added controls. The movie trailer filled the entire screen. It looked good, but we’ve seen this before on 16:9 screens.
The main home screen and settings look extraordinarily tall. It’s not obvious that you can do more on these screens. However, you do have more room for an additional row of apps.
Sony has ported over its camera app from the XZ3. It’s a cleaner and more usable app than what was available on Sony’s older phones. What we saw on the Xperia 10 and 10 Plus ran smoothly. That’s good news, considering the mid-range Snapdragon 600 series processors in these phones.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?
The Sony Xperia 1 doesn’t shy away from top specs. In addition to the 4K HDR OLED screen, it has a Snapdragon 855 processor with 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. The triple camera setup offers wide, standard, and telephoto views. All three cameras capture 12MP images. The phone can record 4K video in HDR, and offers lots of options for slow motion capture. A 3,330mAh battery purports to offer all-day uptime. The competition has batteries ranging up to 4,000, so I’m a little nervous for Sony.
With simpler camera specs, the Sony Xperia 10 (13MP/5MP) and Sony Xperia 10 Plus (12MP/8MP) can handle bokeh shooting and include SteadyShot for image stabilization. Sony has also included a 21:9 Movie capture mode. These two phones include Sony’s high-resolution audio and LDAC, along with its Digital Sound Enhancement Engine to upscale compressed music files.
Living the unlocked life
After putting hands on these devices for a little while, I can say they are decent. The Xperia 10 and 10 Plus didn’t wow me as much as I hoped they might. The Xperia 1 flagship is more impressive, though we saw less of the software than I expected.
Sony is targeting a late spring launch for the Xperia 1, which could mean any time between now and July. Sony doesn’t have the best track record on meeting such schedules, so we’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach. Sony has yet to put a price tag on the Xperia 1.
The Xperia 10 ($350) and Xperia 10 Plus ($430) go on sale in global markets as soon as March 18 — and that includes in the U.S. In fact, Sony confirmed all three phones will come to the U.S. unlocked. They’ll be sold directly to consumers by Amazon and Best Buy, rather than carriers such as AT&T or Verizon.
Importantly, the Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus will be certified to run on Verizon’s LTE network. This is a clutch feature, as it means the phones have a guaranteed level of service from Big Red.