It seems Sony is getting back into the swing of things when it comes to smartphones. The Sony Xperia 1 III is the company’s latest flagship phone and while certainly falling in the evolution rather than revolution category compared to its predecessor, is another excellent handset that is well worth considering if audio and video performance are key factors for you when choosing a mobile.
We loved the last-gen Xperia 1 II but here the design has been tweaked, the battery boosted, the 4K display now has a 120Hz refresh rate and there’s an upgraded chipset and GPU. Photography fans will be pleased by the inclusion of a periscope lens, too.
But crucially for us, Sony has eked out yet more performance from the Xperia 1 III screen and 3.5mm headphone jack (wireless audio is of course an option), which gives us even more reason to recommend it over what was already an Award-winning smartphone.
Put on the spot and asked to identify the Xperia 1 III next to the Xperia 1 II… we’d be sweating. The same 6.5-inch OLED screen and 21:9 aspect ratio ensures once again this feels like a long, slender phone compared to the squatter, 16:9 form that is most common.
Run your eye over the specs and you’ll see it’s ever so slightly thicker and ever so slightly heavier but we’re talking millimetres (this is likely due to the larger battery), and there is Gorilla Glass Victus instead of Gorilla Glass 6 on the front panel. This should decrease still further your chances of scratching the screen, though no doubt it’s more than possible if you try hard enough.
Turn the phones over and the change is more (or should that be less?) glaring, with the previous generation’s glossy finish being replaced by an anti-reflective frosted treatment. This finish helps to make grubby fingerprints a less discernible issue and should be similarly more forgiving when it comes to scratches.
Sony has been shipping its flagship phones with 4K resolution screens since 2015 and the Xperia 1 III is no different. The company remains an outlier in this respect so if you want a 4K display in your hand, your quest for a new phone in 2021 begins and ends here.
It’s a 6.5-inch OLED, 21:9 aspect ratio screen, which is designed to maximise your enjoyment of movies “as the creator intended”. There’s a Creator Mode to prove it, as seen on the previous generation. The 1644 x 3840 pixel resolution (643ppi) may be the same but you do now get the benefit of 4K at 60Hz and full HD at 120Hz. In fact, 4K is possible at 120Hz on certain apps. The 120Hz refresh rate screen also helps smooth out scrolling and general navigation around the interface.
Display 6.5in OLED
Resolution 1644 x 3840 (643ppi)
Front camera 8MP
Rear camera Quad 12MP Ultra Wide, Wide, Telephoto, 0.3MP Depth
OS Android 10
Storage 256GB + microSD
The chipset has been upgraded to the Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G, a new Adreno 660 GPU, and 8GB of RAM for speedy operation comparable with any phone on the market. There’s a bigger, 4500mAh battery inside, an increase on the 4000mAh in last year's model.
There’s fast-charging for 50 per cent power in 30 minutes and support for wireless charging too.
The Xperia 1 III has a triple camera set-up with that new 12MP f/2.3 telephoto lens. There’s also a 12MP f/1.7 standard lens, 12MP ultra-wide f/2.2 and an 8MP f/2.0 selfie camera. Sony borrows plenty of technology from its Alpha camera range, with that telephoto set-up offering 2.9x and 4.4x zoom magnifications and optical image stabilisation.
Crucially, after all those specs, the point and shoot method works just as well thanks to a simple Auto mode that turns out natural, faithful images. Some might miss a Night Mode but low-light photos again prefer to reveal what the naked eye actually saw rather than an artificially-enhanced, smartphone’s representation. No bad thing in our book.
We’re used to smartphones making incremental improvements; a new model every year, as is the now-standard cycle, means serious upgrades across the board can be hard. This phone’s predecessor delivered Award-winning audio and video performance so any small upgrade would be a bonus. And that’s what we’ve got.
Listening to the Xperia 1 III using Tidal through our reference Beyerdynamic T1 Mk III headphones we’re treated to a sonic performance that manages to deliver a little more punch and a little more detail compared to its predecessor. Comparing the two phones we’d be more than happy to recommend either based on their sound performance but we’re impressed to hear there are marginal gains with the new model.
Bass notes sound a little tighter, meaning more control and agility, and helping tracks such as New Ferrari by Surprise Chef sound like they’re in a particularly good mood. Listening to Black Rainbow by Koreless, the brooding sense of tension is well conveyed and it’s clear the Xperia is capable of dynamics to rival any phone on the market and plenty of dedicated hi-res players.
As well as a wired connection via the headphone jack you can use Sony’s LDAC technology, which allows for hi-res audio transmission and aims to maximise performance over Bluetooth. There’s also support for Sony 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos. It’s an all-round entertainer.
Talking of entertainment, that’s what it’s all about when it comes to the 4K screen. The world’s first 4K 120Hz phone screen sounds good on paper and it looks even better in reality. The refresh rate really does make scrolling through, well, anything, that much smoother but of course it really comes into its own when playing games or watching video content.
The shape of the phone takes a little getting used to for day to day use but makes perfect sense when using the screen in landscape mode. Sony has really doubled-down on delivering a natural, realistic “as the director intended” image. The 21:9 screen automatically shows you the content in the format it was shot rather than forcing it to fit, though there’s a ‘zoom to fit’ mode if you prefer.
Watching 4K video on YouTube, the Xperia 1 III refuses to ramp up the colours to lure your eyes, instead sticking steadfastly to offering up images that are faithful. Skies are blue, roses are red – and suddenly the previous generation, which we loved, does look to have over-cooked some of the bright colours by comparison.
Throw in bags of detail, smooth motion and careful handling of black levels and skin tones, and we think it will be hard to beat the video performance on offer here.
It should be no surprise that Sony is capable of making excellent smartphones. The company knows more than a thing or two about audio devices, has plenty of pedigree when it comes to displays, and has a fine reputation when it comes to cameras. And the Xperia 1 III does the job of being more than the sum of those inherently good parts.
While some of the specs may be overkill, and the shape might take a little getting used to, there’s no denying it will be hard to beat this phone when it comes to audio and video excellence.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 5
Read our round up of the Best Smartphones 2021
Read our Samsung Galaxy S21 review
Read our iPhone 12 Pro Max review
Read our Sony Xperia 5 II review