Home Phone Reviews Sony Xperia 1 review: a tall order

Sony Xperia 1 review: a tall order

Sony Xperia 1 review: a tall order

The thing that I like about Android is there can be so many different kinds of phones, just a lot of weird choices. But lately, it seems like there are really only two choices, at least in terms of screen size.

There’s regular and there’s extra large, which is why I was so excited to try this phone right here, the Sony Xperia 1. I mean, just look at this good tall boy. It’s got a 21:9 aspect ratio, which makes it relatively narrow and super, well, tall.

I think it’s a fascinating phone, and it’s way nicer than I expected it to be. But I don’t think it can really justify its $950 price. Let me tell you why. Now, a lot of people would like to have a big-screened phone, but they’re put off by how big these phones feel.

And that’s the reason I like the Xperia 1. It has a big screen, there is no doubt about it. It’s 6.5 inches. But it’s quite a bit narrower than this OnePlus 7 Pro here. So you get the benefits of seeing more stuff on your screen, like on the web or on Twitter, without the drawback of feeling like you have a big honking glass slab you can barely wrap your fingers around.

This phone is also really good if you like to do split-screen apps, which… I don’t know, I guess people still do that. I never do. Anyway, it’s nicer to hold, but that doesn’t make it a one-handed phone by any stretch of the imagination.

You’re still going to need to use your second hand to reach the top of the screen. Sony has a couple of software tricks that help with how tall this phone is, but neither of them are great. You can double tap the home button to make a smaller version of the screen.

Or there’s this other thing with… Er, wow. What are you doing there, Chuckles? Huh. Sorry, let’s back up. Or you’re supposed to be able to tap either side of the screen or swipe on it to do other stuff.

It’s called Side Sense, and it kind of sucks. I can never get it to work when I want it to, and it pops up all of the time when I don’t want it to. Now the reason that Sony says it made this phone at this weird, tall aspect ratio is for watching movies, and Sony says that it has a 4K HDR OLED screen.

It also has, quote, “professional level color reproduction.” So it can be in the DCI-P3 color gamut. It can also be in the BT.2020 color space if you care about that. And it has the D65 white point.

There’s this whole “Creator Mode” thing. Basically, Sony is trying to make this phone appeal to people who really care about video quality, both watching it and recording it. But Sony, the thing is, if you’re going to do that, this screen should get way brighter.

It is way more dim compared to other OLED screens. Anyway, yeah, I will say watching a 21:9 movie on this phone with its Dolby stuff, without letterboxing or weird camera cutouts, is great. But the truth is that most of the video that I watch is not 21:9.

It’s stuff on YouTube, and so I still end up having big black bars on the left or the right. Or, if I expand it full screen, I end up cutting off people’s heads. Now, I do think this phone is pretty good from a build quality perspective.

It’s got Gorilla Glass and IP68. It’s got some bezels, but they’re not too big, and it’s just nice to hold. But, you know, of course there’s no headphone jack. But there’s no getting around how it being this tall makes it really awkward.

It’s so tall, it couldn’t fit in my pocket. I was sitting down, and it just slid right out of my pocket and clattered on the concrete, which is why there are dings on the edges of the phone on our review unit, which is sad.

The buttons are also awkward. They’re all on the right side of the phone and, I don’t know, the fingerprint sensor is separate from the power button for some reason. And sometimes it gets a little dirty and you have to wipe it off before it will actually work.

I do like that there is a dedicated camera button. But overall, when I’m trying to use this phone, I just end up hitting the wrong button, like, all of the time. On the back, there are three 12-megapixel cameras.

There’s a regular, a 2X telephoto, and a wide. Sony put some nice optical image stabilization on the main lens, and you know what? Finally, Sony has made a phone with a camera that’s pretty good. It’s not quite as good as a Pixel 3 or a OnePlus 7 Pro to my eyes, but it’s finally respectable.

I do wish that the telephoto was more than 2X, but the wide angle one, it’s really fun. I kind of love it. But I don’t love Sony’s camera software. The wide angle thing makes you pick between prioritizing image quality or distortion.

The auto made doesn’t do HDR by default, and there’s just a bunch of other settings that just really look and feel kind of silly. Anyway, let’s get into the results of what I actually get out of these lenses.

I think that Sony prefers leaving detail in, even though that also leaves in a bunch of noise. It also doesn’t do as aggressive HDR as I would like unless you have to, you know, manually turn it on. But the thing that did surprise me is that even though there’s no dedicated night mode, sometimes it actually really nails it anyway, even if it’s incredibly dark.

Now, you can shoot 4K, and that’s one of the reasons this phone exists. And so Sony also included a Cinema Pro app that lets you really dial in all these manual settings for shooting 4K video. Unfortunately, the 8-megapixel camera on the front is junk.

It’s really not good. I don’t know, man. If this phone didn’t cost $950, I’d probably be a little bit less nit-picky, but you know what? It does. So I am. In terms of software and performance, I actually don’t have a ton of complaints.

It’s a fairly clean version of Android 9 with just a few bells and whistles. It has a Snapdragon 855 processor so it’s fast, and there’s 6GB of RAM, which is decent, but not stellar. I am a little bit grumpy that there’s only one storage option: 128GB of storage.

If you’re going to want more, and especially if you’re going to want to shoot 4K, you’re going to need to expand it. And you can because there’s a microSD card slot. Battery life is average-ish for big phones.

I’m getting over four hours of screen time, and it’s lasting through a day, but there’s only a 3,300mAh battery in here, and I kind of feel like that’s not enough. I would be happier with that if there was wireless charging on this phone.

But no, there’s not. It does do fast charging, but one neat thing Sony does is it won’t fast-charge when it knows that you’re charging overnight, which helps with the overall life span of the battery, which means it should last longer, a year or two for now — at least in theory.

Now, after all that, if you’re still interested in this phone, you should also know that Sony as a company has kind of been deemphasizing phones since it hasn’t been really successful with them in the past few years.

And that kind of makes sense, and I also think it makes sense for Sony to try something new and move into this niche of making tall boys, like this guy right here. Now, of course, you can spend less money and get a better phone like the OnePlus 7 Pro, but what you can’t get is any other phone in this tall aspect ratio, so I like the idea of this form factor.

I think that it should exist in the world of Android phones. So I’m glad that Sony’s trying to make 21:9 happen. But I don’t know that I’d recommend this particular phone to anybody. If you really, really, really love the tall screen or you really love what Sony does with video, then maybe.

But there’s no getting around the fact that this is an expensive phone. For $950, I expect more, and you should, too. Hey, thank you for watching. Do you want a tall phone? Let me know in the comments below.

Also, if you’re wondering if there are other tall phones, we did review the Xperia 10 last month. It’s kind of the same idea but cheaper and also, it’s really bad for a whole other set of reasons. But if you want to see a review of a good big phone, click here.


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