Sony Xperia 1 II review: stand out from the crowd

"The Xperia 1 II is different from other high-end smartphones, but its specifics are just a little too niche to have any broad appeal."

  • Nice high resolution screen

  • Compact design that is easy to hold

  • The camera takes great photos

  • Excellent audio

  • Fingerprint sensor is weak

  • No. 5G in the US

Sony is doing everything possible to make devices that do not meet the 2020 smartphone rules. The Xperia 1 II (yes, that's "one two" as in the sequel to the Xperia 1) isn't a curvy all-screen phone, it doesn't have a built-in fingerprint sensor to get the most out of it, the camera expects You already know your camera technology. It follows the herd at the price, which is a whopping $ 1,200.

It's refreshing to use a phone that isn't a clone of someone else this year, but while Sony is doing a lot right, the direction in which it tries to make the phone stand out is a little too niche. Let's take a closer look.

design

The looks of the Xperia 1 II will split opinions, but I think it looks excellent. It uses a screen with an aspect ratio of 21: 9 which gives it an elongated, more than wide style, and square sides for a boxy, monolithic shape. The glossy black finish on my test phone is classy, ​​if a little faceless, and the build quality and construction are superb.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

You would expect that, wouldn't you? Of course, but it's noticeable here. While the sides of the phone are flat, the glass on the front and back has a 2D curve on all sides and blends beautifully and seamlessly with the case. It's like the phone has been expertly carved out of a single block of black glass.

On the back is a vertical camera lens module in the left corner. It's so tightly filled with sensors that two won't fit in and get on the body itself. On the right side there is a volume rocker and a power switch, which also houses the fingerprint sensor. Underneath is a two-stage camera shutter release. More on that later.

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On the opposite side is the easy-to-open SIM card tray from Sony. No special tool is needed to extract from the body, which makes life easier for those who regularly switch SIMs or MicroSD cards on the go. It's also much more secure than the Xperia 10 Plus, which was too easy to pull out of the phone.

The Xperia 1 II is light at 181 grams and slim at 7.9 mm. It doesn't have the curves of the OnePlus 8 Pro or the sleek shape of the Huawei P40 Pro, but it offers comfort, grip, and class. The 21: 9 aspect ratio means the body isn't too wide to be held and used with one hand, the glass isn't slippery, and the design has a cool simplicity that means it'll still be good in a year looks.

screen

What an absolute beauty the Xperia 1 II's screen is – just what you'd expect from a company that makes some of the best TVs out there. (Have you seen the new A8H 4K OLED? It's amazing.) The Xperia's 6.5-inch screen is an HDR-enabled OLED panel with an astonishing 3,840 × 1,644 pixel resolution. That is a pixel density of 643ppi – for comparison: Even the beautiful iPhone 11 Pro only manages 458ppi.

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To just call it sharp is an understatement. It's gorgeous in a way that a smartphone screen doesn't have to be. I've experimented with wallpapers, videos, and images online and in my own gallery and it never disappoints. From the inky blacks – set the dark mode to really appreciate its depth – to its unwillingness to display even a single pixel, and anything and everything is a joy to look at. The flat screen also pays off here, as the screen appears to be located directly on the glass surface.

When looking at the settings, you can change the white balance or activate the creator mode, which optimizes the graphics via a special color gamut and 10-bit HDR. It was created with the help of Sony's CineAlta team, who usually work on video cameras that capture the latest blockbuster movies. Sony has also added a video enhancement mode and a motion blur reduction mode. Both are effective, but the look isn't for everyone. Motion blur, for example, smooths out video playback on YouTube, but at the expense of realism.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Carfection's 4K video test of the Alpine A110S on YouTube shows the strengths of the Xperia 1 II. The level of detail is fantastic, including reading the tire brand and size from a distance, and the color balance is exemplary. If I have criticism, the palette is pretty cool, so white can be pretty strong at high brightness, but enabling Creator mode can improve that.

It's colorful, vibrant, and extremely customizable. It's probably the best phone screen I've ever seen. What a shame there isn't a 90 or 120 Hz refresh rate, a feature many would consider a staple for any 2020 flagship phone.

camera

Here is an overview of the cameras in the Xperia 1 II. You get a standard 12-megapixel sensor with optical image stabilization (OIS), a 12-megapixel wide-angle sensor and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens with OIS. It has a 3D time-of-flight sensor, flash, photo light and Sony's high-precision eye-tracking technology. The camera expert Zeiss supplies the lenses and there is a 3x optical zoom, HDR, 4K HDR video recording with up to 60 frames per second (fps) and a burst mode with 20 fps.

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Sony has also pre-installed two custom camera apps, Cinema Pro and Photo Pro, which emulate the user interface and functionality of Alpha cameras such as the Sony A9 and Sony A7 III. Continuing to leverage the know-how from within, Sony wants its smartphone cameras to be an extension of its pro-level gear and offer a similar level of versatility in a compact, portable device. As a strategy, it makes perfect sense; In reality, it's still something regular phone buyers may never handle.

Take the Cinema Pro app. You have complete control over how you record videos on the Xperia 1 II, from focus to shutter speed, white balance, ISO and the overall look of your footage. I don't doubt the features are clear and you will get the highest quality video out of the box if you are familiar with using a pro level camera to record video. If you're like me, someone who puts the camera on auto, the learning curve is very steep and you'll be shooting a ton of junk videos before you get to anything halfway decent. The thing is, you could just take a picture with the regular camera app and cut out all of the sweat and swearing that comes from trying to change Cinema Pro's settings correctly.

Photo Pro and Cinema Pro are too complex for ordinary phone buyers, but it's great to see Sony are working to differentiate their devices by leveraging their massive in-house expertise and there will be a segment of buyers who will be the granular ones Controlling loves these apps. Does it affect the usability of the regular Xperia 1 II camera? Fortunately no. In most environments, you can safely use the phone's normal camera app and take great-looking, shareable photos.

The saturation isn't too clumsy, so photos appear natural but have enough pop to pass along without editing. The wide-angle and 3x optical zoom offer a lot of versatility, and the physical two-stage focus / shutter release works great. I noticed a halo in some photos in bright sunlight that isn't particularly good in low light. The selfie camera can also take blurred, lifeless photos. The camera is good for the most part, but I think you really need to understand photography and should learn to use the pro apps to get the most of it.

This is where Sony starts to lose points on the basics. The app is poorly designed to start with. For example, the button to switch to selfie camera is hidden in the menu at the top of the screen so you'll have to look for it. It's also a bit slow: there is a noticeable pause when switching between lenses and when taking a photo. This is fundamental and frustrating on a high-end phone from a seasoned manufacturer. Switching to a better camera app could help.

Performance, Connectivity and Software

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 and 8 GB of RAM provide the Xperia 1 II with 256 GB of storage space and a slot for a MicroSD card or a second SIM card in this practical quick-release compartment on the side. The phone also has UFS 3.0 for fast storage access (for laypeople this means that storage performance is closer to SSDs, but has longer battery life). This is all what we'd expect from a flagship smartphone, and it was as quick and smooth as expected.

Geekbench 5: 895 single core / 3287 multi core

3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 6.062 (volcano)

These scores are slightly lower than the OnePlus 8 Pro and lower in 3DMark than the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus with Exynos technology, although the Xperia outperforms it in Geekbench 5. I haven't found any performance deficit. I like to play on the Xperia 1 II. I've mostly played casual games and spent way too much time with Hill Climb Racer, mostly because the phone is very comfortable to hold in landscape mode. The 21: 9 widescreen aspect ratio looks great, the screen is incredibly sharp, and I didn't really miss a higher refresh rate either. If you're playing more graphically intense games like Real Racing 3, the phone does a great job and never gets hot.

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Even though the Sony phone has a 5G capable Snapdragon 865 processor, 5G is disabled in the US. It's active in the UK version but I couldn't test the functionality because 5G isn't available in my region. If there is no 5G in a phone at that price, it affects its long-term appeal. All calls sounded fine, although reception was a bit problematic and the phone wasn't receiving a strong signal compared to others. The phone also tends to get quite hot during extended calls, but against the palm of your hand rather than your face.

My test device has Android 10 installed with the July 1st Android security patch installed. In addition, it has a Sony-owned user interface that is very similar to Google's Pixel software. Gestures work well, there's an effective dark mode, and the notification shadow and app drawer are where you'd expect them to be. I didn't have any speed issues, but was frustrated at times that apps took a while to close after swiping to quit.

There are a few too many pre-installed apps, including LinkedIn, that send prompts to use when you're using the phone. This also applies to Sony's own apps, such as the News Suite app, which isn't very attractive and has too many sponsored articles to be useful. Many other manufacturers have given up this procedure or at least offer the option of being able to preinstall these apps recommended by Moneymaking during setup. It's annoying that Sony isn't doing the same thing.

Battery and sound

The 4,000 mAh battery lasts around five to five and a half hours of screen time a day. This meant that outside of very heavy usage days, it could travel a full distance from 8 a.m. to midnight before a charge was required. It's acceptable, but not great. The fingerprint sensor is the same – acceptable, but not great. It's unreliable and quite awkward to use as it's smaller than the side sensors on previous Sony phones. It doesn't like wet fingers either. All of this is made more annoying by the lack of a face unlock to resort to.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Sony has equipped the Xperia 1 II with stereo front speakers. These are excellent and offer a full, deep, and engaging sound. Audio is enhanced by a feature called Dynamic Vibration, which uses haptic motors to add vibration to the media being played on the phone. It works in many apps, including YouTube and Twitter, and is surprisingly effective. It can get a little too much with music videos where it's constantly vibrating, but it's pretty much fun with movies. Best of all, you can adjust the intensity directly via the volume or turn it off entirely if you don't like it.

The excellent audio performance combined with the stunning screen make the Xperia 1 II an excellent multimedia phone.

Price, guarantee and availability

The Xperia 1 II is priced at $ 1,199 in the US and is available now from Sony, Amazon, and other retailers. In the UK, the Xperia 1 II costs £ 1,099.

Our opinion

The Sony Xperia 1 II is something else, and that instantly makes me warm. The screen is one of the best in the business, the camera takes some great photos, and the quality of the phone itself is superb. I also appreciate Sony's attempts to make the Xperia 1 II stand out from the crowd. However, the complex pro-level camera apps are very attractive, and the decision not to include 5G in the US models is as confusing as it is unfortunate.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. If you want a top-of-the-line Android phone with a good camera, we recommend either the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus or S20 Ultra, or a look at the Galaxy Note 10 Plus or the new Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, depending on your budget. The OnePlus 8 Pro is also highly recommended and is considerably cheaper. If you are in the UK or don't mind importing, the Oppo Find X2 Pro is excellent too.

Our other suggestion here is to buy an iPhone 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max. The camera is excellent and if you need professional tools. There are many apps available in the App Store that you can use to replicate Sony's Cinema and Video Pro app functionality. You will receive our recommendation for the best phone to buy as a bonus today. Note, however, that it doesn't come with 5G either. For that, you'll have to wait for the iPhone 12 to arrive this fall.

How long it will take?

The Xperia 1 II is IP68 water and dust resistant, which gives it a good chance of survival if the humidity changes, and the Gorilla Glass 6 front and rear are durable. My test model noticed a few faint scratches on the screen from spending relatively little time in pockets and pockets. A screen protector and a case would be advisable.

While the lack of 5G in the US version isn't a big deal for everyone right now, it will become an increasingly desirable feature over the next two years. This is the minimum time we would expect you to keep this phone. and not having it as an option can be a problem. We encourage you to carefully consider whether you are likely to want 5G in the near future and buy accordingly.

Sony hasn't said when Android 11 will arrive on the Xperia 1 II. During the general review of ongoing software updates, we were told: “Sony Mobile offers regular and timely security upgrades. While phones cannot be updated indefinitely, we offer industry standard security upgrades on our devices, depending on the region and network operator. "

Should you buy it?

No. Despite its strengths, you can buy a phone with similar features that has 5G on board and is ready for the future. When you spend $ 1,199 on a phone, expect it to have the latest technology to ensure it has a long life. In the UK, where the phone has 5G, the Xperia 1 II is a better choice.

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