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Sony Xperia 1 III review

Can the Xperia 1 III keep Sony atop the smartphone pile? Tested at £1199 / $1300

5 Star Rating
smartphone: Sony Xperia 1 III
(Image: © Sony)

Our Verdict

Sony is on a roll and the Xperia 1 III is another brilliant all-rounder that excels at music and video

For

  • Detailed, natural screen
  • Class-leading sound
  • Excellent all-rounder

Against

  • Unique design


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.

Design

smartphone: Sony Xperia 1 III

(Image credit: Sony)

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.

Features

smartphone: Sony Xperia 1 III

(Image credit: Sony)

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.

Sony Xperia 1 III tech specs

smartphone: Sony Xperia 1 III

(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

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.

Sound

smartphone: Sony Xperia 1 III

(Image credit: Sony)

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.

Screen

smartphone: Sony Xperia 1 III

(Image credit: Sony)

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.

Verdict 

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.

SCORES

  • Sound 5
  • Features 5
  • Build 5

MORE:

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

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 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

  • Gray
    Over a grand?
    Not in a million years.

    Next review.
    Reply
  • Friesiansam
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    The Sony Xperia 1 III has a spec sheet like no other smartphone and big shoes to fill
    But, offers nothing that would make me consider switching from my iPhone 12, that I expect to keep for several years. Also, I do not want to go back to Android and Google's surveillance.
    Reply
  • Gray
    Friesiansam said:
    I do not want to go back to Android and Google's surveillance.
    How many people really understand what they're signing up to?.....the amount of personal detail Google scrapes and passes on to third parties of their choice.
    As is often said, "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product".
    Reply
  • 23DSHR
    Friesiansam said:
    But, offers nothing that would make me consider switching from my iPhone 12, that I expect to keep for several years. Also, I do not want to go back to Android and Google's surveillance.
    I mean from a user perspective, the Xperia 1 III offers a lot of things that the iPhone 12 does not, for example a more color accurate screen, as each individual unit is custom calibrated by hand. The display has a much higher resolution (4K) and offers double the refresh rate at 120Hz, as the iPhone 12 only offers 60Hz at 1080p+. Other things include usb-c and a charger in the box (without a usb c to lightning cable that only works on an iPhone 11 charging head, as anyone with older devices is forced to pay more for seperate charging head and generates more "waste"). More than anything, when you buy from a brand, you buy into their values and for apple that seems to be making money (at the cost of removing stuff, lately the charger, and selling a $1000 stand), child labour that they were aware of, and refusing to admit their faults (butter fly keyboards) etc. After ethos and values, the product itself- the Xperia 1 III brings a headphone jack, 3 months of free tidal, front facing true stereo speakers capable of 360 reality audio (apple's equivalent is spatial audio but that does not work out of the iPhone 12 speakers natively), upscaling tech (visually improves content similar to the upscaling in TV's of 720p/ 1080p content to add more detail and improves audio that is lossy to remove noise and add in missing details), an easy to remove sim tray without any tool other than your fingers for convenience, expandable storage via micro sd card upto 1TB extra, free headphones worth over £200 (bringing effective price to about £999) so a cheaper price depending on market I guess. Other more techy features include a separate gaming 'assistant/ app' that can emulate a 240Hz refresh rate, block notifications, record gameplay with selfie video (audio changer, take upto 600 screenshots in 30s, shadowplay like feature of recording something that happened 30s ago but you forgot to record or something), HS Power Control (bypass the battery to directly power the phone via charger to reduce heat generation and not hurt battery health). Aside from gaming features there are some camera features, although it might not use same level of AI smarts as an iPhone (you can still edit the images in something like lightroom to get the same results, but takes extra time to do), it has the fastest AF right now in a smartphone and with object tracking and eye AF for humans and animals can capture sharp images of running kids, dogs, fast moving vehicles like race bikes which would be impossible to do on an iPhone 12 or any other phone- not to speak of 20fps burst photography, 4K 120fps HDR slow motion, integrated LUT's, full on manual controls, wind filter, balance indicator to show if phone is level, audio level indicator, world's first variable zoom telephoto. Then there are other specs like 12GB Ram, Bluetooth 5.2, fingerprint scanner, NFC, etc. In all the Xperia 1 III is quite the package and offers a lot of world's firsts. If you disagree with me, that is completely fine as everyone has their own perspective. Then again if this flipped, there is not a lot that the iPhone 12 does that the Xperia 1 III cannot do in comparison.
    Reply
  • Friesiansam
    Well the higher resolution is of little use on such a small screen, the individual pixels are already effectively invisible on the iPhone 12 and, I don't want a 21x9 screen anyway. The iPhone's screen is smooth enough at 60Hz and I never play fast moving games on the phone, or indeed any other games except solitaire and word games. I use the wireless charger I bought for my previous phone, works perfectly. I don't have any ned of a headphone jack, you can see from my sig what I use for playing music. Ethos and values? Google, like Apple and other huge US tech companies, is very far from perfect and the Sony is useless without Google. I don't care about Tidal as I sometimes use Qobuz. I don't want the free headphones. I never use my phone for streaming video, got a TV and a PC for that, both with much bigger screens. The iPhone camera is more than adequate for my use of it and, I have proper camera for when it is not. Face recognition makes the absence of a fingerprint scanner moot.

    I think that is enough...
    Reply
  • Gray
    Friesiansam said:
    I think that is enough...
    So that's a maybe then for the Sony :LOL:
    Reply
  • PlanarLife
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    The Sony Xperia 1 III has a spec sheet like no other smartphone and big shoes to fill

    Sony Xperia 1 III : Read more

    This phone probably won't pull many iPhone users over to Android. But if you won't give up a headphone jack or expandable storage, how many options are really available? If this can drive ~ 80 ohm headphones, isn't it the last phone standing now that LG is leaving the market?
    Reply
  • Gray
    PlanarLife said:
    This phone probably won't pull many iPhone users over to Android. But if you won't give up a headphone jack or expandable storage, how many options are really available? If this can drive ~ 80 ohm headphones, isn't it the last phone standing now that LG is leaving the market?
    Nokia 3.4 has a 3.5mm jack and expandable storage.
    Bought one to use as a Volumio control, plus a bit of wi-fi internet- haven't even bothered with a SIM.
    Cost me 80 quid, after signing up for a £20 Prime day discount.
    ("You were robbed" say the phone snobs :))

    1000+ quid for a phone?.....STFUp!
    Reply
  • TheVerge
    A negative is the unique design? You gotta be kidding.


    From the review:

    "...16:9 form that is most common."

    Dude... When was the last time an Android flagship had a display with 16:9 aspect ratio? This just reeks of writing something to just reach a minimum word count. Sheesh.
    Reply
  • Xavier2909
    Gray said:
    Over a grand?
    Not in a million years.

    Next review.
    You could buy a quality laptop for a lot less money, I'm in agreement with you.
    Reply