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Sony Xperia I IV review revisited: The good and bad six months later
When it comes to spending top dollar, there’s premium and then there’s Sony Xperia 1 IV premium. Priced at a sky-high $1,600, Sony’s 2022 flagship was always a tough sell. It certainly didn’t help that the hardware package, while mostly solid, contained a few issues too.
Six months after its US release and now in the midst of 2023’s flagship season, can the handset still hold its own against the best smartphones? Well, for starters, a discount (if we can call it that) down to $1,199 makes the latest Xperia much more palatable, but what else? Let’s take a closer look in this Sony Xperia 1 IV review revisit.
The look may not have changed much over the years, but Sony knows how to build great-looking and feeling smartphones. The Xperia 1 IV remains a stunner, with a metal chassis and matte finish encased in Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back.
But you can find similar quality elsewhere, too; what really sets the Xperia apart are its design features. It’s one of the few remaining flagship phones sporting a 3.5mm headphone jack, complete with front-facing stereo speakers. There’s also a microSD card slot, another industry rarity, for up to 1TB of expandable storage if you own a mammoth media collection. The side-mounted fingerprint scanner is also wonderfully responsive and there’s a dedicated camera shutter button too to round things off.
As lanky as the phone is, the 21:9 aspect ratio has grown on me compared to wider handsets. It’s a little tall to use Sony’s stacked multitasking windows effectively, but reaching across the handset with a single hand is no problem at all. It fits slightly nicer in the pocket too. Sony continues to earn a thumbs up for aesthetic and ergonomic design.
Multimedia features galore
If you’re tempted by the thought of a flagship phone with a headphone jack, chances are you’ll also be thrilled with the range of additional multimedia features packed into the Xperia 1 IV. Sony has increasingly shifted focus toward content creators, expanding from imaging to videography and now music recording features. This takes the form of its dedicated Photo Pro, Video Pro, and new Music Pro apps.
The first two offer deep manual modes that go well beyond what you’ll find from virtually any other smartphone, whether that’s fine control over photo exposure or setting a dedicated lens for your video shoot. Music Pro is far less fleshed out; it’s little more than a multi-track recorder rather than a serious DAW. Sony’s “studio tuning” auto-enhancement subscription feature doesn’t seem worth the money or even that useful as a serious tool.
Content creators will find plenty of joy with the Xperia 1 IV's suite of tools.
Sony also debuted streaming integration for both gamers and videographers this year. You can stream from the Video Pro app directly to your YouTube channel or RTMP URL. Likewise, for gamers, the Xperia 1 IV supports YouTube streaming and the Game Enhancer app even offers basic stream overlays. There’s also the option to use a capture card if you’re after a more customizable setup.
I’m not convinced that professional or even serious amateur creators will rely exclusively on Sony’s mobile software. But these are all pretty nice features to have when inspiration takes you while on the road.
It’s a flagship, obviously
Outside the multimedia menagerie, the Xperia 1 IV is obviously a high-end piece of hardware. It’s fully equipped with 5G networking, but only on sub-6GHz bands outside of the US. Wi-Fi 6E is also onboard for blazing-fast data potential, providing you have a compatible home router.
There’s an IP65/68 rating, 4K OLED display, a massive 5,000mAh battery, an innovative variable focal length telephoto camera, 4K HDR video recording on all lenses, wireless charging, and Snapdragon Sound with aptX Adaptive or Sony’s LDAC for Bluetooth audio.
That original $1,600 asking price was obviously very steep, but Sony does pack in a lot of expensive tech and features.
The not so good
As good as Sony’s flagship hardware package is, it’s a little dated in places and is missing a few features you’ll find across its rivals.
For instance, the 4K HDR OLED display is great to look at, but it lacks the ultra-low, battery-saving, sub-10Hz variable refresh rates you’ll find on other phones. You’re either locked to 60Hz, which is the default out of the box, or can switch to a more power-intensive 120Hz, with nothing in between.
Charing the otherwise rock-solid 5,000mAh battery is similarly hit-and-miss. You’ll have to buy your own 30W charger with USB Power Delivery support, but once in place, you can hit 50% capacity in 30 minutes. That’s reasonably swift and will get you through most of the day, but a full charge takes a rather sluggish one hour and 36 minutes. Not so great, and you won’t find anything beyond standard 15W Qi wireless charging either. The Xperia 1 IV also misses out on ultra-wideband support. Still a niche feature, but one that you might expect at this price point.
The Xperia blueprint hasn't changed much over the years, and some wrinkles are starting to show.
Similarly, Sony’s version of Android 13, updated from Android 12, isn’t quite the refined package either. It looks a lot like Google’s version of Android, embued with many a Sony toggle and extra setting. It’s functional and has certainly improved since the launch version. For instance, Material You is now in place to match the color scheme to your wallpaper. But the Google and Sony app combo results in a mishmash of themes. Furthermore, we could do without the pre-installed bloat, which includes Amazon Shopping, Prime Video, Facebook, Netflix, TIDAL, LinkedIn, Booking.com, and YouTube Music.
The Xperia 1 IV isn’t a bad performer, as such. The handset doesn’t struggle to run your favorite apps, multitask, or even handle gaming sessions. However, that latter point comes with a big asterisk.
Due to the dubious thermal properties of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, the Xperia 1 IV struggles to sustain peak performance in stress test benchmarks. It wasn’t alone in this fault during 2022, but it definitely falls toward the bottom of the pack. A revised Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 would have helped.
Does this affect real-world gaming? Well, yes and no. Shorter sessions and lighter games aren’t a problem. You can lock 60fps on popular battlegrounds titles with no issue. But crank up the graphics on more demanding titles or emulators and you’ll feel the handset heat up, and might even notice some dropped frames.
Overheating and throttling are a letdown for a phone that advertises game streaming as a major feature.
It won’t be a problematic issue for most, but as Sony bills the Xperia 1 IV as a gaming phone, complete with streaming capabilities, it’s a letdown to be certain. If you’re a serious gamer/streamer, you’ll probably want to check out Sony’s Xperia Stream cooling accessory.
Lack of long-term value
Sony has slashed the price of the Xperia 1 IV from an unfathomable $1,600 to a more competitive $1,199. That’s what you’d pay for a new Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, which, based on the hardware on offer, feels a bit closer to the right ballpark, provided you don’t care about the aforementioned aging or missing hardware features, such as sluggish charging and no UWB.
However, Samsung’s flagship is supported with up to four years of Android versions and five years of patches. Sony, by comparison, provides just two years of OS updates and three years of security updates. That’s closer to what we’d expect from a solid mid-range phone than something claiming to be top-of-the-line. With Android 13 now applied, there’s just one more OS update to come if you buy today, which highlights just how little longevity is on offer here.
Apple, Google, and Samsung are all miles ahead. New models from Chinese brands OnePlus and OPPO now also outclass Sony for update commitments, and often at lower price points too. Simply put, there are much better long-term investments to make the most out of your $1,200.
You told us, the cameras don’t cut it
It’s controversial, but six months later and the all-important camera has been cast down into the “not so good” category. We have our readers to thank for that — as I’ll explain shortly.
That said, I like elements of the Xperia 1 IV’s camera. It’s certainly not perfect; the selfies are below par (portrait mode is still iffy on the 1 IV yet fixed on the 5 IV) and you won’t find point-and-shoot sensibilities like a night mode here. That said, the Xperia 1 IV takes some sublime photos, in the right hands. That’s the key issue really; you have to be happy digging into the manual modes, mastering the camera’s intricacies, and even doing a little RAW editing to get the most out of the Xperia 1 IV.
Of course, manual editing will always lend you more artistic control, but often you’ll want to fix up basic exposure and white-balance issues too. See the difference between the off-camera and edited examples below. Same camera, the same pictures, from bad to good.
It’s frustrating because I really rate the feature parity across all three lenses, which includes eye-tracking autofocus, 20fps burst modes, and 4K HDR video recording. Paired with an innovative variable 85-125mm focal length zoom and powerful manual controls, there are features here you won’t find anywhere else. I just wish Sony would do more to fix the camera’s HDR inconsistencies and hit-and-miss color pallet. You shouldn’t have to boot up Lightroom to make mobile snaps look passable.
You shouldn't have to boot up Lightroom to make the Xperia 1 IV's snaps look passable. But when you do, they can look sublime.
Because of that, whenever we’ve put the Xperia 1 IV head-to-head with the best camera phones, the handset has fallen behind the pack. In part, because we’re looking at results straight off the camera’s “basic” mode, no editing allowed. Case in point, you voted the Xperia 1 IV dead last, behind the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max, Google Pixel 7 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, at the end of 2022. It’s hard to disagree with that assessment, based on the images below.
Having spent a lot of time with Sony’s handsets over the past few years, the cameras aren’t consistent enough for daily use. Only the most persistent editors will find them enjoyable, but the best smartphones should excel at point-and-shoot too.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review revisited: The verdict
At launch, the Sony Xperia 1 IV was a no-go, mostly due to its spit-take-inducing $1,600 tag. But even at the revised $1,199 price point, there are quite a few compromises that still leave the phone feeling overpriced.
Why settle for finicky camera editing when you can grab the outstanding Google Pixel 7 Pro ($589.98 at Amazon) for a fraction of the price? Alternatively, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra ($1199.99 at Samsung) packs even more hardware, including an S Pen and UWB, as well as a five-year update commitment for the same chunk of change as the 1 IV. Want all of the best bits of the Xperia 1 IV with all the caveats but for less money? The Xperia 5 IV ($998 at Amazon) delivers all that in a more compact and more affordable package.
The Xperia 1 is built for Sony fans, but future models could do well to meet the mainstream part way.
Six months later, Sony is clearly content doing its own thing with its flagship Xperia line. That’s fine for series fans, even admirable given the homogeneous state of modern flagship phones, and there’s a whole lot to love about the Xperia 1 IV’s bold, uncompromised vision. But ignoring the mainstream comes at a cost to quality-of-life features we’ve come to rely on. As such, the Xperia’s camera and software features, as good as they can be, aren’t going to suit everyone. In fact, they probably won’t suit many users compared to flagships from the bigger global names.
Six months later: Do you think the Sony Xperia 1 IV is still a good buy?
Sony seems to be OK with that, as are Xperia fans. But that’s all a bit of a shame because the Xperia 1 IV has a lot of really great ideas that more consumers should be in a position to enjoy. I don’t want the Xperia 1 series to lose its unique identity and excellent features, but it needs to find a way to cut through a little closer to the center ground. Unfortunately, a sky-high price tag and pursuit of the niche at the expense of familiarity are running the latest Xperia down a completely different track.