A brilliant phone with some very minor flaws, but at this price you're simply better off looking elsewhere - unless you see it at a sizable discount or on a very attractive contract.
Wonderful screen, fast as lightning, damned fine camera.
4K on a screen this size is silly, too tall to hold comfortably, expensive.
YOU CAN'T FAULT Sony for its optimism. Yes, the company has dipped from shipping 15.3 million units at the end of 2015 to 1.9 million at the end of last year, so there must be a problem, but nothing that can't be fixed.
"Maybe it's pricing?," ventures one junior executive, timidly. "Yes, that's it," cries the board in unison. "They're too cheap." The fix: The Sony Xperia 1 goes for a pretty uncomfortable £849. Christ.
Yes, top iPhones and Samsung handsets can go for over a grand, but you know what those companies also do? Sell smartphones in large numbers. Samsung and Apple phones counted for over 80 per cent of UK sales in 2018.
In other words, Apple and Samsung flagships are expensive because people will pay for them. Will anyone pay £849 for a Sony phone in 2019?
The first thing you'll notice about the Sony Xperia 1 is it's very tall. Tall, and thin, to be precise, like Peter Crouch's spirit handset. The 21:9 dimension is unusual, but there is method to the madness. Like the Xperia 10 and 10 Plus, the aspect ratio is designed to match the way films are made, with Sony pointing out that 69 per cent of Netflix content is available in 21:9. Nice.
That's actually something of a mixed blessing, though. Reaching things on the top of the screen is definitely a two-handed operation despite Sony's best efforts to introduce a one-handed mode by squeezing the sides to bring up popular apps. It's not necessarily bad, but we do urge anybody tempted by the Xperia 1 to give it a try in the shops first. It certainly isn't for everyone, let's put it that way.
Otherwise, it's unmistakably a Sony phone, with the usual calling cards of sharp angles and a very squared-off display. There's virtually no bezel at all, and the fingerprint reader is found on the side of the handset, in a prime location for the thumb. Personally, we're big fans of this location, though it's not the most reliable fingerprint reader we've used, often taking a couple of goes before recognising a digit.
The power button is also in an odd location, just below the fingerprint reader, in the bottom right-hand third. There's no headphone jack, and while we applaud the fact that the SIM tray and microSD cardholder can be removed without a point doohickey, we really wish Sony wouldn't restart the phone every time it's taken out.
Other than being 21:9 and 6.5in in size, the other notable thing about the Xperia 1's screen is that it's 4K. Or more accurately, it can run in 4K, because sensible Sony doesn't display in 4K until there's actually UHD content to show. Otherwise, it's just draining the battery for bragging rights.
This isn't Sony's first phone with a 4K screen, and it's a little less ludicrous than it was on the Z5 Premium, but only slightly. The reason it's less silly than in 2015 is that the Z5 Premium locked 4K to a handful of Sony apps. Netflix and YouTube would be stuck in 1080p no matter what.
That's not the case now, and after updating YouTube, you can indeed watch 4K videos. And yes, this one looked pretty damned stunning. The trouble is that it looked equally stunning in 2K, and not too different in 1080p. There's a certain element of the Emperor's New Clothes going on here: the screen is still too small for 4K. You still don't have magic eyes, and the chances of you being able to tell the difference between 2K and 4K video on a screen of this size are, bluntly, pretty unlikely.
Which isn't to say it's a bad screen. In fact, it's a damned fine one with wonderful vibrant colours, perfect contrast and great viewing angles. We will say its brightness isn't the best I've seen, with it struggling to be readable in the unseasonable hot London weather, but to be fair most handsets would struggle with this kind of sunshine.
Performance and battery life
Make no mistake about it: the Sony Xperia 1 is lightning fast. That should come as no surprise to anybody who has glanced at the price, the specifications or both, but it bears repeating because it's an absolute joy to use, once you've got used to its odd dimensions.
To recap, the Xperia 1 packs Qualcomm's top-end Snapdragon octa-core 8nm 2.84GHz 855 processor, backed by 6GB RAM. 128GB of onboard storage can be expanded by microSD cards of up to 512GB in size should that not be sufficient. And I guess it wouldn't be if you wanted to pack it full of 4K video to show off with.
Sure enough, with these specifications, it absolutely wallops anything our benchmarking software threw at it clean out of the park. In Geekbench 4, it scored 3,444 in single-core tests and 10,952 in multi-core ones. That's a score that's level pegging with the best Android has to offer (unsurprising given that the Snapdragon 855 is used in the vast majority of 2019 flagships.)
GFXBench tests are equally buttery smooth, with each of the benchmarks that actually reflect gaming smartphone use offering at least 30fps, with some of the lighter ones going over 60fps offscreen (on-screen, the refresh rate caps them at 60fps). Some 2K off-screen tests dropped as low as 14fps, but again, this is designed to push smartphones to the limits, rather than offering something that's likely to be tested in the next few years.
In short, you're unlikely to have any issues at all, but there are a couple of minor drawbacks we should highlight. First of all, as we mentioned earlier on, the fingerprint reader is pretty fussy. We put this down to its placement on the side of the device, which, thanks to the thinness of the handset, means that only a sliver of your thumb can be placed on it at a time. In theory, the software compensates for this, asking you to give several impressions of your thumb when you register, but in reality, it usually takes a couple of goes to unlock for us. And often that leads to the dreaded "too many goes" message, forcing you to go back to entering your unlock code like it's the goddamned dark ages.
Secondly: bloatware. Yes, once again Sony can't resist packing the Xperia 1 with a bunch of apps you'll almost certainly never use. When you first boot it up, Sony suggests some apps you might want to preinstall, including AccuWeather, Booking.com, Amazon Shopping and more. You can untick these - and we did - but some still slip through the net. Which is why the Fortnite installer is still sitting on our home screen despite us having absolutely zero intention of ever getting into Fortnite.
Yes, you can uninstall these unwelcome intruders, but that's not really the point. If we're paying £850 for a smartphone, we're not overly keen on having to uninstall apps that Sony has presumably agreed to bundle in order to make a bit more cash. If you want to subsidise the phone, fine, but pass the discount on to consumers.
Finally, and most damagingly, we've found the battery life to be a bit on the patchy side. The Xperia 1 packs a 3,300mAh cell, which is fairly standard, but it tends to drop more than you'd expect over a 24-hour period. We generally found myself making it to the end of the day with enough charge to not be too worried, but one afternoon where we had to make a three-hour train trip pushed that to the wire thanks to watching some downloaded SD videos from Plex. And remember, if you use that 4K screen to its full potential, that'll drop even faster and you may not make it through a full day.
Sony's Xperia brand has never been associated with brilliant picture quality in the same way that Google's Pixel or Samsung's Galaxy S devices have, but the camera on the Xperia 1 is actually the phone's trump card.
Flip the phone over, and you'll see an array of three 12MP cameras. The main one of these is a standard RGB lens with a wide f/1.6 aperture, and this is supported by a wide-angle lens and one for 2x telephoto zoom. The cameras benefit from RAW noise reduction filtering technology and it even throws in eye autofocus tracking: a first for smartphones.
These are just words, of course, but performance is outstanding as you'll hopefully see in the pictures dotted throughout this section. In both great lighting and low-lit conditions, the Xperia 1 produces pictures of outstanding clarity, packed with plenty of detail even when you zoom in.
Video performance is also excellent, but there's an important caveat. While you can shoot in 4K with HDR at 60fps, you can't do all of them at the same time like you can with the iPhone XS, say. So you can have 60fps 1080p footage, or 30fps 4K.
There's no technical reason for this: the OnePlus 7 Pro can film 60fps in 4K, and it has the same processor in it. That gives some hope that Sony will patch the video camera to improve things, but there are simply no guarantees.
If you can get past its strange dimensions - seriously, do try and use one before buying - then the Xperia 1 is a brilliant smartphone. It's lightning-fast, has a wonderful screen and takes fantastic photos. There's very little to dislike.
But once again, this is a victim of Sony's optimistic pricing. The Xperia 1 is £50 more than the Samsung Galaxy S10. It's £200 more than the OnePlus 7 Pro.
Sony could point to the 4K screen pushing up the price, and yes, it probably does, but did anybody actually ask for one? It sounds great in principle, but even if you can spot the miniscule difference on such a small screen, it's certainly not something you'd pay hundreds of pounds for. Or if you would, then you should let someone else handle your finances.
If the Xperia 1 were £100 cheaper, I could gloss over its very minor flaws, but at £850 every one is exaggerated. Why should it come with bloatware if I'm nearly paying a grand? Why can't it shoot in 4K and 60fps at the same time?
If you see a good deal, don't hesitate to buy one. If it's between this and a flagship rival at a cheaper price, you know what to do.
Lightning fast, excellent photos, wonderful screen.
4K is silly on a screen this size, the bloatware is back, can't film in 4K at 60fps.
Sony's optimistic pricing