Sony’s range-topping Xperia 1 II Android smartphone offers a curious mix of cutting-edge and old-school tech. The highlights include camera technology from Sony’s industry-leading Alpha and CineAlta products, a 4K OLED display with industry-leading pixel density, and a standard audio jack, to name a few. The last bit is especially noteworthy — because these days, it’s next-to-impossible to encounter one on a high-end phone.
I spent a couple of weeks with a Sony Xperia 1 II as a daily driver and enjoyed its design, craftsmanship, hardware performance, and stock Android experience. I believe that even though it’s steeply priced and far from perfect, the smartphone is a noteworthy alternative to today’s high-end offerings from Samsung and OnePlus, especially for photography and audio enthusiasts. Here’s why:
• Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
• 6.-inch 4K OLED display HDR compatibility
• Triple camera with 12 MP main, 12 MP telephoto with 3-times magnification optical zoom, 12 MP ultra wide, phase-detection autofocus; 8 MP selfie camera
• 8 GB of RAM, up to 256 GB of expandable storage
• 4,000 mAh, fast wired and wireless charging
• Built-in stereo speakers, standard audio jack with bundled wired earbuds, waterproof body with IP68 rating
• No 5G network connectivity
A Feature-Packed Camera Experience
Developed in collaboration with the team behind Sony’s outstanding Alpha mirrorless cameras, the triple camera of the Xperia 1 II is packed with next-level tech and features. In addition to a massive image sensor, the setup includes a phase-detection autofocus with mind-boggling speed (as little as 0.03 seconds), as well as the ability to track the eyes of humans and animals.
The camera’s ZEISS optics are just as remarkable. I tip my hat to Sony for giving the main and the zoom cameras lenses with focal lengths of 24 and 70 millimeters respectively, matching those of a legendary G-Master lens for full-frame Alpha cameras. The ultra wide camera, on the other hand, has a 16-millimeter focal length that’s also popular among photography enthusiasts.
Sony’s camera interface is just as impressive as the hardware. Alongside an app with a standard layout for casual users, Sony has included a Photo Pro mode with layout and features inspired by Alpha cameras. Avid photographers can manually adjust a plethora of settings, including the shutter speed, the ISO, and the focus.
And then there’s the camera’s hardware shutter button that’s conveniently located at the device’s top right corner in landscape mode. You can choose between launching the camera app or directly snapping a photo by long-pressing it. There’s also an option to lock focus by tapping on the button, just like you would on a Sony point-and-shoot or mirrorless snapper.
There’s a feature-packed Cinema Pro app for capturing video, too. Its tools and interface are similar to Sony’s luxury CineAlta professional camcorders. You can channel your inner director by fine-tuning a multitude of recording parameters, including the resolution and the frame rate. You can even give your clips a cinematic look by choosing from a variety of presets.
The Sony Xperia 1 II can capture detail-rich still images or crisp 4K video. I profoundly enjoyed the process of using the device’s camera — it brought back fond memories from years spent covering tech launches and snapping product photos with a Sony Alpha a6000 mirrorless camera.
The standard audio jack is not the only exciting audio feature of the Xperia 1 II. The smartphone is an incredible audio player, thanks to input from Sony Music experts during its development.
You can play Hi-Res Audio content both in both wired and wireless mode. I experienced the feature by streaming my favorite playlists from Qobuz — a streaming service with an excellent selection of Hi-Res Audio music — and it was glorious.
Like Sony’s excellent MP3 players, the Xperia 1 II can upscale the content you play to an even higher quality that’s close to Hi-Res Audio. The AI-powered feature works not only with local music files, but also streaming services.
The smartphone's stereo speakers deliver a crisp and powerful sound. There’s a neat feature that can further enhance the sonic experience by syncing vibrations with the speaker’s sound. It’s called Dynamic Vibration and it has adjustable intensity. I found it to be particularly awesome for gaming sessions.
Last but not least, the Xperia 1 II comes bundled with a pair of solid wired earbuds by Sony.
A Stunningly Sharp Display
The 6.5-inch 4K OLED display of the Sony Xperia 1 II is vibrant, sharp and, thanks to a cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio and HDR support, incredibly immersive. I found plenty of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video content that supports ultra wide viewing and enjoyed it a lot on the device’s screen.
Because of its unusual aspect ratio, the screen is very long, making seemingly mundane tasks like scrolling through web pages more effortless. It’s also narrower than a typical mobile display with the same diagonal, and easier to type on with one hand. Sony has added a convenient one-handed mode you can access by tapping on the sides of the phone, just in case.
Equipped with a powerful Qualcomm chipset, plenty of RAM, and ultra fast storage, the Sony Xperia 1 II performs just as you’d expect from a $1,000-plus Android phone. Apps and games opened instantly on the phone, and switching between a multitude of them was a breeze.
During my testing, the phone easily made it through a full day of use between battery charges. It supports both fast wired and wireless charging, so replenishing its battery is as seamless as it gets.
Shortcomings You Need to Know About
Lack of 5G connectivity is among the biggest shortcomings of the Sony Xperia 1 II. The futureproof feature is standard on high-end phones from Samsung, LG, and OnePlus, so skipping it is an odd move by Sony. Thankfully, the device has Wi-Fi 6 connectivity.
A display with a high refresh rate is another notable omission. For comparison, the feature is available in the Samsung Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note20, the OnePlus 8, and even the already discontinued Google Pixel 4. Curiously, even Sony is rumored to have a phone with the functionality on the way.
I also found the smartphone to be incredibly slippery, so buying a protective case is mandatory. Because the device can’t quite match the Samsung Galaxy popularity, there aren’t many great options to choose from — Sony should have bundled a case with the phone like OnePlus does. Still, I managed to find a clear cover and a rugged case worth buying.
Sony has priced the Xperia 1 II at $1,200, which is on par with the excellent Samsung Galaxy S20+, and only slightly less than the incredible Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra. However, because of Sony’s track record when it comes to making amazing cameras and headphones, sound and photography aficionados should consider the smartphone — its audio jack and camera experience are worth it.
It’s important to note that, for the time being, Sony is offering a free pair of WF-1000XM3 completely wireless earbuds with the purchase of the new Xperia 1 II. The noise-canceling buds are among the best of their kind and worth $230 on their own. A bundle this sweet will help many who are on the fence about buying the phone.
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