With the Xperia 1, Sony promised to integrate all its know-how in video, photo and audio into its smartphone. 4K OLED display. In 2021, Sony takes the same formula the Xperia 1 III while making improvements to the concept. Are they sufficient to grab the attention of consumers? Does it correct the faults of the predecessors? Answer in this comprehensive test.
In January 2013, Sony introduced the Xperia Z, the smartphone that would give a path to the high-end positioning of the Japanese brand for the next eight years. Of course, the firm has made some adjustments since then. A first time with the Xperia XZ in 2016 and a second time with the Xperia 1 in 2019. And, over the years, Sony affirmed that its new flagship was the right combination of all its know-how in design, photography, audiovisual, music and video games.
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In 2021, Sony therefore returns with the Xperia 1 III (to pronounce Xperia 1 mark 3), always accompanied by the same argument, the same ambition, the same positioning and some changes. We find some at the level of the platform, the screen, the photo or even the battery. We shared these changes with you in a full article, where we also featured the Xperia 5 III and Xperia 10 III. It was April 14, 2021. Two and a half months later, Sony finally lent us the Xperia 1 III. We couldn’t wait. And here’s what we thought of it after a week of hard testing.
Pricing and availability
As of this writing, Sony has yet to officially release the suggested retail price and release date for the Xperia 1 III. We will of course update this test when we finally have this information.
However, we can make a credible assumption about the price. The Xperia 1 II was launched at 1149 euros. His successor should therefore be proposed between 1100 euros and 1200 euros. At this price, the Xperia 1 III would therefore be in direct competition with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Find X3 Pro or even the Mi 11 Ultra.
Some brands, such as Samsung for example, have managed to lower the price of their flagships very slightly this year. It is therefore not impossible that the Xperia 1 III is very slightly cheaper (1099 euros). However, some novelties in the technical sheet (especially at the photo level) tend to state the opposite.
In the box, you will find the smartphone, a USB type-C to USB type-C cable, an AC adapter 30 watts and a pair of wired headphones 3.5mm mini jack compatible. Sony does not provide a plastic shell, unlike Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme or Vivo.
The design of the Xperia 1 III is very similar to that of the Xperia 1 II. A very elongated smartphone. Angular and sober lines. A little marked protuberance for the photo module. There were several big differences between the Xperia 1 and the Xperia 1 II. This resemblance obviously suggests that there is very little change between the 2020 and 2021 generations of the Sony flagship. Fortunately, this is not (entirely) the case.
Like last year, you will find two sheets of mineral glass sandwiching an aluminum frame. The dimensions change very slightly: it is less high by 0.1 mm, wider by 0.1 mm and thicker than 0.6 mm. Part of the reason for this overweight is the new battery. We will talk about it again in the autonomy part of this test.
The glass is from Gorilla Glass 6 at the back and Gorilla Victus in the front. The Xperia 1 III is resistant to water and dust: the protection rating and IP68. At the back, you’ll find a photo module stuck in the upper left corner. It has three different sensors and a time-of-flight camera. We will come back to these elements later. Above the module, you find two other elements: the flash and a light sensor for the white balance.
To the right of the photo module, you will find the NFC logo: Sony has taken to marking the place where this element is located. Below the NFC logo, you will find the brand’s signature. And on the lower end of this glass panel, the “Xperia” brand and the legal marking. You will notice that the glass is polished. Although it is slippery, the material is very pleasant to the touch and it does not take fingerprints. A very good improvement over the Xperia 1 II whose glass was shiny.
On the edges, you find the same elements in the same places, with one exception: a new hardware button slides between the photo shutter button and the power button (as on the Xperia 1 III). It is used to activate Google Assistant. It is not possible to change the function of this button. And that’s a shame for those who never use Google’s virtual assistant (or usually call it with a keyphrase).
On this slice on the right, you will therefore also find the start button, which also hides a fingerprint reader, as always with Sony, the volume control and the usual photo shutter release (two-step, as in digital cameras). The trigger is textured, unlike that of the Xperia 1 II. It helps to better control the trigger. Amateur photographers will appreciate.
Let’s continue the tour of the product: main microphone and USB type-C port on the lower edge, 3.5 mm jack port (which was already making a comeback in 2020 in the Xperia range) and secondary microphone on the upper edge, card drawer SIM on the left edge. Like always, the drawer does not require any tools for its extraction. Sony is one of the (too) few brands to offer this.
At the front, we find a large, elongated touch screen. The side borders are less pronounced than those at the top and bottom of the screen. You will notice several elements. A selfie sensor positioned in the top border and not in a hole or notch. Right in its positioning, the brand still refuses to give in to this temptation. And, always in the borders, you find two front speakers. As with every high-end Xperia since the Xperia Z.
Let’s turn on the screen and take a closer look at what the Xperia 1 III has to offer. The first remark about this screen is that it doesn’t really change from the one on the Xperia 1 II. There is only one change. But an important change: the refresh rate goes to 120 Hz, while it was at 60 Hz previously.
We believe this change is driven by competition. Everyone is gradually switching to 120 Hz. The Xperia 5 II has also migrated. It would therefore be difficult for Sony to justify a 60 Hz or 90 Hz panel on a smartphone positioned at more than 1000 euros. Is this useful? Except to play in a pinch, the answer is no. Note that 120 Hz is disabled by default. In addition, the sampling frequency is 240 Hz, or twice the refreshment. It’s good. But others are doing better.
The screen definition is “Almost 4K”, with 3860 pixels in height and 1644 pixels in width. It’s not real 2160p. This was already the case with the screens of the Xperia 1 and Xperia 1 II, while the definition of the Z5 Premium, XZ Premium and XZ2 Premium was indeed 2160p. 2160 pixels wide by 3840 pixels high. And a resolution that ranged from 760 to 810 pixels per inch.
Here we are on a slightly lower definition, at 643 pixels per inch. But it remains far superior to almost all of the competition. The most recent smartphone that comes closest to it is the Galaxy S20 (released in 2020), with its 6.2-inch QHD screen: its resolution is 563 pixels per inch. And it is still very far from the Xperia 1 of 2019, 2020 and 2021.
On a daily basis, this resolution is not useful. You’ll feel like the screen is sharper than a QHD screen. You would also have the impression that the images are drawn better and that the lines are straight. And you would be absolutely right: this panel is very precise and contrasting, with excellent sharpness. But other than being able to natively play 4K content on this phone, we’re not sure there’s any use to it. Maybe there will be some in the future? But by then, you may have changed your smartphone.
The Xperia 1 III panel is OLED, obviously, with infinite contrast ratios and extremely deep blacks. The screen brightness is slightly lower compared to the competition which heavily uses AMOLED displays. Maximum manual brightness is less than 400 candelas per square meter, regardless of the display mode. It’s not much and it’s a shame. Fortunately, in automatic mode, it rises higher depending on the ambient conditions.
The Xperia 1 III offers two display modes: standard (default) and ” Creator “. The latter is a mode inherited from Bravia which allows the color profile to be adapted according to the content (a bit like the “Netflix Calibrated” mode). This is a mode which is visually much “warmer” than the standard mode and which corresponds to the “pro” or “cinema” modes of other brands. Note that there is an option that automatically switches from one to the other … just like on a Bravia!
Like that of its predecessor, the screen of the Xperia 1 III is compatible HDR and BT.2020. According to Sony, the screen is capable of displaying over a billion different shades. But does it display them well? This is the question we asked our probe. And according to her, Designer mode is a very good mode. Perfect gamma (2.1 on average). Delta E also very good, averaging 2.1. Only three colors above one Delta E of 2 : dark blue, light blue and dark green. The homogeneity of this panel is excellent. Standard mode is not as good: in addition to having lower brightness, average temperature and Delta E are much higher.
As with Xiaomi, Sony offers a lot of tools to compensate for the few display flaws. The controls here are closer to those of a television than a smartphone. You can choose to warm or cool the colorimetry. You can also choose to increase the proportion of any of the primary colors.
Like many other elements of the Xperia 1 III, the interface does not change much compared to the 2020 Xperias. The Xperia interface is a good interface that has improved a lot over time. Here we find the few good ideas that we noted last summer: the Google Search module permanently accessible at the bottom of the home screens, the Side Detection pane or even the game optimizer. With, of course, some slight modifications. We regret that none of them relate to the customization of the interface, which is still a bit sparse at Sony.
Several modifications caught our attention. First, the menu game optimizer, which is superimposed when you play, has changed very slightly. Quick access is easier to reach, the screen brightness is adjustable and there is now a multitasking function. You will of course find the performance modes for the game, the charge bypass mode to play with the mobile connected to the mains without damaging the battery, and audio optimization tools.
The second modification is to be discovered at the level of the shutter Side detection. It now allows some apps to be opened in a separate pop-up window (imagine the Google Maps window superimposed on other apps while driving, the effect is the same). Find a few examples opposite. These windows can be resized, reduced to an icon, and moved. This mode complements the multi-window mode and the “one-hand” mode offered by this shutter.
The third modification is to be found in the application Pro Photo. This has changed a lot, as it now includes a basic mode which replaces the standard photo application that you used to find in all Sony smartphones. Sony’s goal is to provide a unified interface for all photographers. Of course, newbies will stay in basic mode, while others will tickle the P, S, M modes that you find in Sony Alpha SLRs for example.
Basic mode is quite different from the experience you might have with other preinstalled photo apps from other brands, be it Samsung, Oppo, Vivo or Xiaomi. For example, there is only one mode: automatic. Point. No night mode, no portrait mode, no mode, no macro mode, etc. Basic mode analyzes the scene as a camera would and then determines the ISO, aperture, white balance, etc. settings. We will see the results in the photo section.
By merging the two photo applications, Sony makes the use of Photo Pro mandatory. Not wanting to scare newbies, Sony wanted to improve the accessibility of Photo Pro, with basic mode, without sacrificing its “expert” positioning. And the result lacks intuitiveness. Note that Sony does not do the same with Camera Pro. You can shoot with the latter or with the basic mode of Photo Pro. This is one of the little paradoxes.
Beyond these few changes, we are delighted to find this Xperia interface which offers very good responsiveness, a wide choice for connecting devices and accessories (audio, video, game) and the possibility of installing applications or not. commercial. Of course, some are mandatory. Netflix. Facebook, LinkedIn, Call of Duty, Tidal, and Asphalt 9. But it could have been a lot worse. Note that on first launch, the Xperia 1 III offers you a list of applications (Google, Sony or third-party vendors) to install. You don’t have to adopt them.
The interface is fluid because it is relatively light, but also because the screen is responsive and because the platform is robust. In the Xperia 1 III, you will find the Snapdragon 888, Of course. You also find 12 GB RAM. This is the first time that an Xperia has been sold in France with 12 GB of RAM. The French Xperia 1 II and the Xperia 5 II, tested last year, only had 8 GB. So there is a real improvement.
An improvement that has a positive influence on the performance of the platform. As you can see from the screenshots below, the Xperia 1 III performs excellently on Geekbench, PC Mark or AnTuTu. On these tests, the Xperia remains below dedicated gaming smartphones, such as Legion Duel 2 or ROG Phone 5. But it is above most of its main competitors, the Mi 11 Ultra, the Galaxy S21 Ultra or the Find X3 Pro. It is on par with the ZenFone 8 and ZenFone 8 Flip, or even with the OnePlus 9 Pro.
Let’s take a look at the graphics, with 3D Mark. The Xperia 1 III is very often above all the competition, even the one that specializes in video games. And that’s a double performance, because the Xperia is “weighed down” by UHD definition, while the vast majority of opponents are in QHD or Full HD. Does the Xperia 1 III hide a true gamer’s heart? It could have been quite possible. But that’s not entirely the case.
Why ? Because Sony has taken the decision to handle the heat of the SoC with caution. We’ve seen it with the Mi 11i, for example, the Snapdragon 888 heats up a lot. To temper this ardor, you have to opt for an active cooling system (as on the Legion Duel 2) or for a bridle. Sony chose the second solution: at 45 °, the performance of the component is reduced. We have carried out several stress tests: none of them succeeded in passing above the 45 ° (even if, very locally, it can reach 55 °).
As a result of this careful management, performance drops drastically after a few minutes (on average 10 minutes). The stability of the Xperia 1 III is less than 60%. This means that performance drops by around 40% when the safeties are activated. If you are a gamer, two choices: either opt for very greedy games where the games are very fast, or lower the graphics quality of the games for a smooth experience from start to finish.
To power this powerful platform, obviously you need a generous battery. That of the Xperia 1 III is rather in the good average with a capacity of 4500 mAh. This corresponds to an increase of 500 mAh compared to the Xperia 1 II and almost 1200 mAh more than the Xperia 1. Each year, Sony realizes the problem of autonomy of its flagships, with their energy-consuming technological advantages. And that’s good !
Is this sufficient to ensure the Xperia 1 III exceptional autonomy? The answer is no. But it is better than that of the Xperia 1 II. It’s already a first victory. And it is in the good average of current high-end smartphones. This means that the smartphone doesn’t shine, but neither is it disappointing. With traditional use (web, social networks, streaming, messaging, calling, photo), the Xperia 1 III offers a day and a half of battery life. But not two full days.
For the players, we performed several battery life tests. First, 3D Mark’s stress tests (Wild Life, Wild Life Extreme and Wild Life Unlimited). Then two sessions of Genshin Impact with the default graphics and very high graphics. The combination of all these tests allows us to obtain the following range: between 3 hours and 6 hours and 15 minutes of battery life. A good average score, but nothing out of the ordinary either. Is it disappointing for all that? No. It could have been a lot worse. The OnePlus 9 Pro proved it to us.
For charging, again very good news: Sony includes in the box a charger that takes advantage of the maximum power compatible with the smartphone. Is 30 watts. We would have expected the Japanese brand to adopt 45-watt fast charging, to partly catch up with the Chinese brands (Oppo, OnePlus, Xiaomi). But that will have to wait until next year. Pity.
This is all the more unfortunate as the “fast” charge is relatively slow. With the cable and charger provided in the box, the Xperia 1 III charges in 1 hour and 47 minutes. It’s a lot. This measurement was carried out from the switched off telephone (extinction due to battery fault, precisely). We did not turn on the smartphone during the charge cycle.
In contrast, Sony continues to include tools to extend battery life. And that is great news. Scheduled charge (overnight for example). Restricted load (90% by default, but you can choose less). Load avoidance during long games.
Now on to the audio. There are two important topics in this area with the Xperia 1 III. First, the hardware on the Xperia 1 III is really good. On the one hand, the hands-free kit supplied in the box is of good quality. The sound is really above most of the headphones that are usually supplied. It connects to a 3.5mm mini jack port that Sony has optimized, further enhancing the experience. And it can be heard.
On the other hand, Sony continues to integrate two front speakers into its high-end smartphones. And that, too, is great news. They are powerful, almost symmetrical speakers (we wish they were 100%) and offer good immersion. If we were nit-picking, we could blame Sony for a certain inaction. But, the Japanese brand is one of the few to systematize front speakers. And we are delighted.
Second important topic: support for advanced audio formats. The Xperia 1 III is compatible Dolby Atmos (including an extremely complete equalizer to refine the settings on the different possible audio uses), 360 Spatial Sound and DSEE Ultimate. The last two are Sony technologies. The first offers 360 ° spatial sound for compatible headsets. The second enriches the compressed pieces with artificial intelligence. Be careful, they are incompatible with each other. By combining software and hardware, you have an experience rarely offered in telephony. Note also that a system allows the phone to vibrate according to the sound. It is compatible with some VOD services and with YouTube.
Beyond this good media experience, we have a little regret: the absence of a microphone dedicated to video capture. Other brands, such as Apple, Asus, Xiaomi and Oppo, integrate a microphone on the back of the device, in the photo module or next to it, to improve sound recording. It would have made sense. There weren’t any last year. There are still none this year. Pity.
Let’s end this test with a vast subject: the photo. Vast subject because the Xperia 1 III wants to be an expert camera hidden in a smartphone. We got a glimpse of this when we mentioned the Photo Pro application, a new software prerequisite for taking pictures on a daily basis. It combines a basic mode and several expert modes. And it’s not that easy to understand.
But it becomes evident when you look at the photographic equipment. Roughly speaking, the latter does not change much. There is always three 12-megapixel sensors at the rear, accompanied by a Time of Flight camera for calculating distances. This is very convenient for moving subjects. One with very bright stabilized optics (f / 1.7 aperture). One with a telephoto lens. And one with wide-angle lens. And there is always a selfie sensor on the front. The latter has not changed in the past two years, an 8 megapixel model.
Sony makes several relevant choices here. A 12 megapixel main sensor with very large pixels (1.8 microns) and not a 64 megapixel sensor with small pixels (which we have to combine to have the same thing. The same definition, as at Apple, to obtain homogeneity of rendering. Two optical stabilizers. Autofocus on all the sensors. Only useful sensors (no easily replaceable macro sensor). And this variable telephoto lens which brings a real novelty that no other smartphone of 2021 brings .
What are the results ? By day, the Xperia 1 III takes excellent photos. The colors are natural. HDR is not too pronounced (unlike Chinese brands which strongly emphasize it). The contrasts are good. Details are too, even in the shadows. And there is a nice balance. Obviously, this will be the main sensor that will bring you the most satisfaction. You can compose stunning photos even in basic mode.
The Xperia 1 III manages backlighting, night time and movement (no blurring, even on moving cars). It detects objects, faces, animals and scenes. It behaves exactly as an expert APN would. Without a dedicated night mode, it will sometimes have some difficulty in managing the light sources as could a Find X3 Pro or a Vivo X60 Pro, for example. You have a small virtual button for the bokeh, to compensate for the lack of portrait mode.
The other two sensors also offer good results, although the light is slightly less visible. Since there is no night mode, there is no compatibility issue. Artificial intelligence is in charge of clarifying the scene, while not distorting it. The optical zoom goes up to 4.4x, but it is possible to go up in digital up to 12.5x. With this report, the results are rather bad, even if the optics are stabilized. Why ? Because the definition of the sensor is too low for this exercise. This is the flip side.
The selfie sensor turns out to be arbitrary. We had already noted this with the Xperia 1 II and the Xperia 5 II. And that unfortunately does not change, although the new photo app offers new possibilities. In video, you can shoot in 4K at 30 frames per second and 1080p at 60 frames per second. By activating slow motion mode, you can go up to 120 fps in 4K and 240 fps in 1080p. The result is quite good and here you benefit from the optical stabilizer (in addition to the gyroscope).
We really liked the Xperia 1 II last year. And the Xperia 1 III is the perfect successor. Sony succeeds here in erase certain imperfections, especially with regard to the battery and charger. The battery life is better and the charger is consistent. RAM has been increased. The telephoto lens is even more useful. The 4K display goes to 120Hz. Not to mention everything we liked about the Xperia 1 II: the interface, the design, the audio, the display, and more. In short, the Xperia 1 III is a nice evolution of the Xperia 1 II.
Of course, he doesn’t just have qualities. A few wrong notes spoil the fun a bit. The new version of Photo Pro which lacks intuitiveness. The virtual uselessness of the Google Assistant button. The digital zoom still a little light. Excellent performance, but which deteriorates quickly. Very light customization. The lack of a microphone dedicated to video capture. A little light on the screen. Or a webcam that is slow to be improved. But all this will only annoy the most finicky. And again, not that much.