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Xperia 1 II is a silly name that perfectly sums up Sony's smartphone woes

Sony is at it again.

Published onFebruary 24, 2020

sony xperia 1 ii black back front

So then, the Xperia 1 II. Wow, that’s a silly name.

Sony wants me, you, and the rest of the world to call its latest flagship the “Xperia 1 Mark 2.” The logic, and I use that word very lightly, is that buyers will recognize the “Mark” format from Sony’s rightly beloved Alpha camera series. Also, Roman numerals are cool and add gravitas, right?

The problem, of course, is that the Japanese firm has ostensibly named its new phone the Xperia 1 2 (buckle my shoe), which looks and sounds flat out ridiculous. You can tell Sony is worried about this too, because it’s emphasizing that it’s pronounced “Mark Two” in all of its press materials in big bold letters.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time Sony has bungled its branding and it surely won’t be the last as it struggles to define an identity for its increasingly directionless smartphone business.

Now you know your ABCs and X, XZ, XZ1s

The back of the Sony Xperia XZ3.

As much as the Xperia 1 II name opens itself up for ridicule, I should be fair and say that it’s not the most objectively awful label Sony could’ve come up with. We recently compiled a list of the worst named phones of all-time and Sony’s latest wouldn’t even crack the honorable mentions.

What we have instead is a case of “I see what you were going with, but no. Just no.” I can’t figure out which I dislike more, but Sony’s approach is about on par with the harebrained decimal point system HMD Global uses for its Nokia phones. Sure, both work in theory as an alternative to counting from one upwards, but sometimes it’s better to keep things simple.

Related: Sony Xperia 1 II specs: 5G, super-smooth display, and a beefy camera

However, Sony’s latest moniker mishap is the latest in a long line of inadvertently dumb or flat out confusing designations. Looking back, Sony’s run of flagships from the Xperia Z1 to the Xperia Z5 was its golden streak when it comes to naming conventions… if you ignore the fact that its tablets were also dubbed Xperia Z with “Tablet” slapped on the end, but let’s not go there.

Things took a dire turn in 2016, though. After years of diminishing returns with dull “Omnibalance” devices, Sony rebooted its smartphone business with a new look under the guise of the X series.

The first phone out of the gates was the Xperia X, an underwhelming mid-ranger priced like a flagship killer. For the real flagship, you needed the Xperia X Performance, except the small battery and lowly RAM meant it couldn’t live up to its own name let alone match the might of the Samsung Galaxy S7.

The best Android phones of the decade: 2010-2019

Following scathing reviews, Sony went back to the drawing board to design proper top-tier phones. But what to call them? Start over again with the X1 or even X2? Well, no. What we actually got was three phones in the space of five months: the Xperia XZ, the Xperia XZs, and the Xperia XZ Premium. Not confusing at all.

Sony’s entry- to mid-tier phones couldn’t escape its bizarro nomenclature either. In 2017, in what is now a weird mirror of the Galaxy S20 series, Sony dropped the Xperia XA1, Xperia XA1 Plus, and Xperia XA1 Ultra. Ignoring the weird specs that left the larger Ultra phone with a far smaller battery than the Plus, there was at least some semblance of consistency, but why did we need that extra X? The Xperia A1 would’ve been just fine!

The Xperia XZ1 followed the XZ range (mercifully, there was no Xperia XZs1) and Sony stuck with that style until the Xperia XZ3. After a few years of alphabetical anarchy, the letter-letter-number format somehow seemed palatable. But in hindsight, this was still a ludicrously clumsy attempt from Sony to avoid an immutable fact that most preschoolers grasp at a relatively early age: there are no more letters after Z.

The Xperia 1 was the perfect answer to years of mishandled branding... until it wasn't.

What makes all of this even worse is that Sony effectively exorcized its naming woes at MWC 2019 with the launch of the Xperia 1. It was perfect. Xperia 1 told you everything you needed to know. This is the ultimate Sony flagship — the one, the only.

But Sony being Sony, it had to shoot itself in the foot by also announcing the Xperia 10 series as well. Any hope of a clean run of sequentially numbered phones was already in tatters. Then Sony released the Sony Xperia 5 in late 2019 and put a bullet into the other foot just to be sure.

And now we have not the Xperia 2, but the Xperia 1 II. To make matters even worse, the Xperia 1 isn’t even Sony’s best phone anymore. That honor goes to the Xperia Pro, and just for a second, I want to actually give Sony some credit here because unlike the 49,364 other phones launched over the past 12 months with Pro in the name, the Xperia Pro is exactly that: a phone designed for professionals. Good job, Sony.

What’s in a name? Quite a lot

sony xperia logo

The sad part of all of this is that Sony clearly settled on the Xperia 1 II name with good intentions at heart. After all, it’s not just the name that Sony is borrowing from the Alpha series, it’s also bringing over a bunch of imaging tech and hopefully expertise from its storied camera team. Referencing that fact in the name makes some sense, as does wanting to siphon off some of the prestige attached to the Alpha brand. But doesn’t that say more about the Xperia brand than it does Alpha?

This is all symptomatic of a much wider issue. Think of all of Sony’s marquee product lines from past and present: Walkman, Alpha, and PlayStation (maybe even Bravia if you’re feeling generous). They all have a clear identity and legacy. Xperia does not, and until it does, Sony will continue to sink further into irrelevancy in the ultra-competitive smartphone market.

Like so many Sony phones over the past few years, the Xperia 1 II has all the worrying hallmarks of yet another Android flagship from an OEM that appears content to tread water indefinitely. While other OEMs are carving out niches — Samsung in design and innovation, Google in AI smarts, HUAWEI in camera hardware, OnePlus’ great value flagship killers — Sony’s phones are the definition of vanilla.

Perhaps the Alpha camera upgrades and the ZEISS lenses will finally put Xperia back on the map with a killer photography suite. With the headphone jack making a welcome return, maybe the Xperia 1 II can outdo LG, another embattled former Android heavyweight, and become the phone of choice for audiophiles. We’ll know for sure when we get the phone in for review, but Sony needs something to justify charging anywhere close to $1,000 at a time when its rivals are at the top of their game.

Sony needs its new flagship and the wider Xperia brand to be known for something, otherwise it’ll just be remembered as yet another Sony phone with an extremely silly name.

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