I don't love admitting this, but it can be hard to take Sony's phones seriously sometimes. That's not because of a lack of effort on its part — it's more that the phones they do release often seem gleefully out of step with the mobile mainstream. Need further proof? Just look at the Xperia 1.
This is the first high-powered flagship Sony has released in some time, and it's nothing if not unusual. Super-tall, super-high-res screen? Check. A vibration motor that plays along with your music? Uh-huh. A surprisingly small battery? Sadly, yes. There's little question that the Xperia 1 is the kind of device only Sony would make, and that no other smartphone maker out there is working with the same set of priorities. Occasionally, that means the Xperia 1 feels refreshing. The rest of the time, though, it's enough to make you wish Sony had just made a few decisions differently.
- Excellent performance
- 4K screen is beautiful
- Great for split-screen multitasking
- Underwhelming battery life
- 4K is totally unnecessary on smartphones
- Triple camera needs more polish
Hardware and display
Any discussion of the Xperia 1 has to start with its design. It's easily one of the most polarizing phones I've tested in a long time. That's all due to Sony's choice of display: It's a 6.5-inch panel with a longer-than-usual 21:9 aspect ratio. As a result, the Xperia 1 looks more like a remote control than a smartphone, and that resemblance quickly turned off most of the people I showed the phone to. Me? I don't mind it so much, particularly because that tall, narrow design means the Xperia 1 is surprisingly comfortable to grip. Even now, and as strange as it might sound, I find myself gravitating toward the X1 because it's easy to hold for long periods of time. Yes, you'll probably need two hands to use it effectively -- you just have to know that going into things.
Of course, how palatable this tall screen really is depends on what you want to use it for. I spend a lot of time reading on my phone, and slightly wider displays make for longer, more visually pleasant lines of text. The Xperia 1, with its narrow screen, feels less than ideal for me. No, this a phone meant for watching stuff. And how pleasant that experience is all boils down to how easily you can find cinematic, 21:9 content to binge on.
Movies will be your best bet here, and Netflix's support for ultra-wide displays means the service gets along great with the Xperia 1. Watching the right kind of videos makes for what might be the most immersive experience you'll find on a smartphone right now. Though, unless you're talking about devices with big, fold-open screens, the phrase "immersive smartphone" still seems pretty oxymoronic.
What's more, a lot of the stuff you'll run into on a daily basis won't look quite as good on this screen. Watching standard 16:9 widescreen clips on YouTube leaves you with big, black bars on either side of the display, and 4:3 video? Forget about it; there's nearly as much dead space as there is action on-screen. It just looks silly. (At least you'll have plenty of room to rest your thumbs.)
Gallery: Sony Xperia 1 review | 14 Photos
Gallery: Sony Xperia 1 review | 14 Photos
Ultimately, I can understand why Sony went with a screen like this. Ultra-wide content is becoming more readily available, and the Xperia 1 is a joy to watch that stuff on. Other smartphone makers have latched on to this more cinematic trend, too. To me at least, It's the display's 4K resolution that seems less sensible. Sony is the only company, so far, to have bothered squeezing a display that pixel-dense into a device this small, and it really went overboard by making it an HDR OLED panel. For those keeping track, that's a smartphone first.
And what can I say? It's beautiful — it doesn't hurt that there's a bevy of screen-tuning settings to get everything looking just the way you want it. Case in point: Right out of the box, the screen was set to look cooler and more neutral than I generally prefer. After jumping into the settings, I found I could very easily dial up the color temperature to something a bit more palatable. If sheer accuracy is more your thing, the built-in Creator Mode does its best to emulate the neutral tones of a reference monitor. Point is, you've got options.