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Sony Xperia 1 II review

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2020 winner. Sony promises audio and video excellence – and delivers Tested at £1099 / $1199 / AU$1840

5 Star Rating
Sony Xperia 1 II review
(Image: © Sony)

Our Verdict

The Sony Xperia 1 II delivers superb music and picture performance, plus an all-round performance to match, and that makes it a winner in our book

For

  • Class-leading sound quality
  • Class-leading video quality
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

Against

  • Shape may not be for everyone
  • No face ID

It has been a long time since we reviewed a Sony phone and almost as long since we reviewed a phone that puts a real focus on audio and video quality. Thankfully, the Sony Xperia 1 II kills those two particular birds with one stone.

With a glorious 4K resolution screen, Sony’s sonic expertise and cutting-edge audio features, plus a great camera complete with plenty of pro features, this could be a brilliant smartphone for music and movie lovers. There’s a headphone jack, too. The Sony Xperia 1 II (pronounced Xperia One Mark Two) is not cheap, but if you want a top-of-the-range phone from a big-name brand, that’s just how it is right now.

Expensive though it is, the Xperia 1 II is in the same price band as the dearest offerings from Apple and Samsung. The Xperia 1 II launched at £1099 ($1199, AU$1840), putting it on a par with the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max (£1149, $1099, AU$1899) and the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (£1179, $1299, AU$1849). This is a top tier phone in every sense.

Features

Sony Xperia 1 II features

(Image credit: Sony)

The Xperia 1 II's design does its best to make that chunky price tag feel like money well spent. It’s a sleek, shiny handset with a black metal design. There’s Gorilla Glass 6 front and back, plus neatly rounded corners to an otherwise angular design.

This Sony achieves the difficult task of standing out from the smartphone crowd by sporting a 21:9 aspect ratio with a 6.5in display, giving it a long, slim appearance. This actually makes it easier to grip one-handed than many of the largest phones on the market, though naturally no easier to reach the top of the screen. Despite those large dimensions (165.1 x 71.1 x 7.6mm), the phone is relatively light compared with other premium mobiles, at 181g.

Sony Xperia 1 II tech specs

(Image credit: Sony)

Display 6.5in OLED

Resolution 1644 x 3840 (643ppi)

Front camera 8MP

Rear camera Quad 12MP Ultra Wide, Wide, Telephoto, 0.3MP Depth

RAM 8GB

OS Android 10

Storage 256GB + microSD

There’s a standard volume button on the right side of the display, joined by a flat, touch-sensitive power button. This button also doubles as a fingerprint sensor – there’s no under-screen fingerprint scanner here, nor is there face ID. The good news is the fingerprint sensor works quickly and regularly.

The SIM card and microSD card tray is on the left side, while a USB-C charging port is at the bottom. And for those who still prefer wired headphones, the increasingly lesser-spotted 3.5mm headphone port is here too, on top of the device.

Don’t think that because this isn’t an iPhone or Galaxy phone that you won’t get top-tier specs and features. In fact, not only has Sony ticked plenty of expected boxes, there are some neat surprises that you won’t find on other phones – and we don’t just mean the headphone jack.

For the last few years, flagship phones have been locked in a battle of one-upmanship when it comes to camera performance, and while we can wax lyrical about the audio and video skills, Sony is every bit as focused on its camera. The phone has a quad-camera lens array, built into a polite bump that’s noticeably smaller than many others, so the phone rests fairly flat on a table.

There’s a 12MP f/1.7 wide lens, a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens, a 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide option, plus a 0.3MP time of flight sensor. There is also a staggering amount of software trickery if you want to get your hands dirty when it comes to expert levels of photography, thanks to the Photo Pro app.

The good news is using the point-and-shoot auto mode, the Sony is simple to use, focuses quickly and delivers great images that are natural, sharp and detailed. If you’ve been frustrated by the move to a more processed look taken by most rivals, the Xperia 1 II provides something of an antidote, offering more realistic colours and contrast.

In terms of power, the top-of-the-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset and 8GB of RAM ensures speedy operation comparable with any phone on the market. There’s also a 4000mAh battery that is capable of powering a full day’s typical usage, despite that pixel-packed screen. There’s fast-charging for 50 per cent power in 30 minutes and support for wireless charging, too.

Screen

Sony Xperia 1 II screen

(Image credit: Sony)

We could write a whole review on the picture features for the Xperia 1 II, but we’ll start by just saying “Wow”. Watching 4K YouTube videos or Netflix streams, even lower-quality web videos and streaming apps, this Sony Xperia 1 II takes Android phone video performance to a new level. The picture matches the design of the phone: sleek, smooth, premium.

Sony’s 21:9 CinemaWide 4K HDR OLED screen is all about enjoying videos “as the creators intended”. There’s even a Creator mode, “powered by CineAlta”, that promises to use Hollywood studio techniques to bring unrivalled colour accuracy. And we wouldn’t argue.

Let the picture do the talking and you’ll enjoy pin sharp images, beautifully realistic and full of detail. Sony has no time for lurid colours and over-cooked contrast and instead simply peels back a previously invisible film, revealing an apparent extra layer of realism and insight compared with even the best Android smartphones. You may have thought your existing phone was showing a natural colour palette, the Xperia 1 II may well convince you it wasn’t. Motion is smooth, too.

That 21:9 screen automatically shows you the content as it was shot rather than trimming it to fit the screen, which could be happening on your existing phone without you realising. If you’d rather ‘zoom to fit’, a touch of the button delivers that wish.

All told, the 1644 x 3840 4K pixel resolution successfully sets this Sony phone apart from the crowd in more ways than simply size, providing video that is beautifully clear, precise and watchable.

Sound

Sony Xperia 1 II sound

(Image credit: Sony)

Listening without headphones, the front-facing true stereo speakers deliver impressively clear, if unavoidably lightweight, sound. But the real action comes when connecting headphones. If you’ve spent some money on wired headphones, you’ll be pleased to know you can connect them here without needing a dongle. 

But any drop-off when going wireless should be kept to an absolute minimum, thanks to Sony’s LDAC technology, which allows for hi-res audio transmission and aims to maximise performance over Bluetooth.

We use a pair of Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones and the results are seriously impressive. Listening to Tidal Masters tracks, the phone will tell you an LDAC device is connected and allow you to choose to play at the highest quality with “Sound quality preferred” or opt for “Best effort”, which will adapt based on your network connectivity.

You’re treated to more space around sounds, solid but tuneful bass notes, well-rounded voices and enviable insight. Mac Miller’s Blue World shows how well this Xperia phone times, with the itchy hook bumping around your headphones and sounds moving from ear to ear, but it remains controlled and perfectly formed at all times.

The Xperia 1 II successfully delivers the Sony sound: agile, clear, rhythmical. Voices sound close and intimate, but there’s air around notes and dynamics when required. Whether loud or quiet, there’s detail and accuracy. And, in the spirit of the company’s hi-res music players, the better quality your audio, the more you’ll get out of the phone.

A great pair of speakers will have you reaching for your favourite tracks to hear how good they sound, and we get a similar feeling with the Xperia 1 II. It brings new life to smartphone audio – and that’s saying something. Did we mention you can also enjoy Sony 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos? This is a phone for the true AV enthusiast.

Verdict

Our focus has always been on audio and video performance, so we’re thrilled to find a smartphone that does the same. The Sony Xperia 1 II delivers a new level of performance for smartphone video and audio, and the rest of the phone completes the task, delivering an excellent camera, fast performance and decent battery life. If you’re serious about enjoying your mobile entertainment, this is the phone for you.

SCORES

  • Screen 5
  • Sound 5
  • Features 5

MORE:

Best smartphones 2020

Read our Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, New York and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


Read more about how we test

  • Sliced Bread
    Lovely reading an AV focused smart phone review, rather than ones focusing on features and apps:)
    I imagine this style really resonates with the WHF readership.
    Thank you!
    Reply
  • KING DRANZER
    This needs to go on top of the list for Best Smartphone 2020. There is no doubt that XPERIA 1 II got Most of the Things right compared to competition. That is Next Level. King of Smartphones 2020.
    Reply
  • Jay P Savage
    Thank you so much for confirming that a user can watch 4K movies on Netflix and YouTube. Can you guys confirm Amazon Prime Video will display 4K content on this phone as well?
    Reply
  • Gil Jesus
    Hello everyone, am new here and I just wanna say that you should stop asking for Face ID on Xperia phones because they had this feature a long time ago with Sony Ericsson models and Sony knows that by using a picture or a shot of a user through another phone, your phone can be unlocked. That's why they stopped this feature maybe 8-10 years ago. That's all. Take everyone.

    By they way, am getting Xperia 1mk2 for sure. Am still on my Z5, Z3, Active, C3, XZ2! 😁🤣😂
    Reply
  • WarVik
    Gil Jesus said:
    Hello everyone, am new here and I just wanna say that you should stop asking for Face ID on Xperia phones because they had this feature a long time ago with Sony Ericsson models and Sony knows that by using a picture or a shot of a user through another phone, your phone can be unlocked. That's why they stopped this feature maybe 8-10 years ago. That's all. Take everyone.

    By they way, am getting Xperia 1mk2 for sure. Am still on my Z5, Z3, Active, C3, XZ2! 😁🤣😂
    I believe your knowledge about modern face unlocking technology is vastly outdated. 3D face unlock (like on fresh iPhones, Huawei flagship phones or Google Pixel 4) can't be tricked the way you mentioned above.
    Reply
  • WarVik
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    The Xperia 1 II promises audio and video excellence, but can this Sony smartphone really beat the very best?

    Sony Xperia 1 II : Read more
    I don't think so. I compared the speakers sound coming from Xperia 1 II vs iPhone Xs Max and Google Pixel 4 XL. Xperia 1 II sounds worse than two others which is very disappointing.
    Reply