The Leica Leitz Phone 1 is a gorgeous niche phone for fans of the iconic German brand
After several years of licensing its branding (and, apparently, image processing know-how) to Huawei’s top phones, iconic German camera maker Leica has decided to release its own phone. Sort of, anyway. The Leica Leitz Phone 1 is really just a rebranded Sharp Aquos R6, but it does feature a brand-new body designed by Leica that looks quite striking.
Otherwise, the internals of the Leitz Phone 1 are exactly the same as the Aquos R6, and the software is mostly identical too, save for two small additions. The phone is only sold in Japan right now, but we managed to borrow one from Hong Kong importer Trinity Electronics.
Leica Leitz Phone 1: Specifications. Tap/click to show.
Leica Leitz Phone 1: Specifications
|Specification||Leica Leitz Phone 1|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Security||Qualcomm 3D Sonic Max under-display fingerprint sensor|
Leica Leitz Phone 1: Unboxing, hardware and design
The Leica Leitz Phone 1 comes with an understated and simple packaging. The box is all black with minimal markings — just a Leica logo in the middle on the top of the box, with the phone’s name on the sides, and basic regulation markings on the back.
Open up the top and you’re greeted by the phone right away, face up. Take the phone out and the first thing that grabs your eye will surely be the aluminum lens cap that’s covering the camera module.
The lens cap sticks to the module magnetically and can be removed with just a pull.
Underneath the phone and the cardboard holder is a secondary paper box holding a SIM ejector tool, a data transfer dongle, an instruction booklet, and a rubber case that wraps around the entire back and sides of the phone snugly.
Notably, the packaging does not include a charging brick or charging cable. Considering the phone is priced at the Japanese yen equivalent of $1,700 — this is disappointing.
I personally think the phone looks gorgeous and is comfortable to hold. I am not a fan, however, of the coating used on the back glass panel, which makes the back feel grippy, but in that plasticky, rubbery way. But the aluminum chassis that wraps around the phone feels premium and sturdy, and I love that the top and bottom of the phone are flat so the Leitz Phone 1 can stand on its own.
On the right side of the chassis are volume rockers and a power button, along with a dedicated Google Assistant button that cannot be remapped.
The camera module does protrude out of the phone slightly, but not as much as Xiaomi’s or Samsung’s Ultra phones. However, the lens cap, when placed over camera, does stick out a lot.
I’ll elaborate on the cameras more a couple section down, let’s talk about the screen first. The 6.67-inch display here is an IGZO OLED panel with a variable refresh rate that can go as low as 1Hz or as high as 240Hz. As I already said when I tested the Sharp Aquos R6, the screen looks great, and animations are indeed, very smooth. However, I can’t say I notice any superior fluidity to an already fast panel like the 120Hz screen of a Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Another noteworthy piece of new hardware is the in-display fingerprint scanner, which uses Qualcomm’s 3D Sonic Max solution. It’s essentially an improved version of the tech used in Samsung’s flagship slab phones the past three years. The scanning area is larger and faster. In particular, the phone supports two finger authentication, meaning two different prints are needed to unlock the phone for additional security.
Under the hood is a Snapdragon 888, with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage (there’s only one configuration), and a 5,000 mAh battery. The Leitz Phone 1 is IP68 rated for water resistance. Overall, all premium flagship components, except it lacks wireless charging.
Leica Leitz Phone 1: Software
The Leitz Phone 1 runs Android 11 with an unnamed software skin on top. It is essentially the same skin running in the Sharp Aquos R6, meaning it has a mostly clean stock Android look, with some minor software additions, like the ability to set refresh rate (Sharp/Leica calls it “high speed display”) by individual app, or launch an app when long-pressing the power button.
All of these software features were already seen in the Sharp Aquos R6, so the Leica Leitz Phone 1 really brings just two features of its own. The first is a Leica widget on the homescreen that cycles through a selection of curated photos taken by professionals with Leica cameras, and the second is a black and white shooting mode in the camera app, which I’ll explain in the next section.
Leica Leitz Phone 1: Camera and performance
The Leitz Phone 1’s main selling point is its main camera, a 20MP, f/1.9 camera with a 1-inch sensor. Having such a larger image sensor means a shallower depth-of-field, so photos with an object or subject in frame will usually have more depth separation from the background in the form of bokeh.
You don’t even have to use portrait mode; just point the camera at something or someone and shoot, and there will usually be an aesthetically pleasing blur around the thing or person.
The extra depth in photos is really noticeable if you compare against a phone with a relatively small sensor, like the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
However, as I noted in the Sharp Aquos R6 hands-on, Sharp/Leica’s camera hardware may be top notch, but the company (companies?) lacks the software processing prowess of Apple, or any other mainstream Android brand. For example, Apple or Xiaomi will use computational photography tech like HDR to handle tough shooting conditions like against harsh backlight. Sharp/Leica’s software doesn’t quite adjust as well. Colors tend to pop more on photos captured by the iPhone 12 Pro Max or Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, while they look a bit muted on the Leica Leitz Phone 1 — because Apple/Samsung use software smarts to process a photo to make it look more dynamic (sometimes at the expense of realism).
This photo below is perhaps the best example. Here’s a shot from the Sharp Aquos R6 (not the Leica Leitz Phone 1, but both phones have identical hardware and software so they are pretty much interchangeable).
And here’s the same shot from an iPhone 12 Pro. Apple’s shot looks more dynamic; it has livelier colors and better balance across various exposures, but it does look heavily processed.
Another good example is in the set below. I shot against harsh backlight: Xiaomi’s software “fixed” the lighting and produced an evenly balanced HDR shot, while Leica’s image has the shadowed areas completely drenched in darkness. I think I still prefer the Leitz Phone 1’s shot because it kept the mood and atmosphere of the scene at the time.
In a nutshell, that’s the Leica Leitz Phone 1’s camera. It doesn’t handle difficult shooting conditions as well as mainstream phones, but it has more of a natural, organic vibe to it — natural bokeh and more realistic colors.
This is where that aforementioned new software addition comes in, too. The Leitz Phone 1 has a new shooting mode in the camera app named “Leitz Looks,” and it is basically a black-and-white filter. This sounds generic enough, but Leica’s engineers know how to invoke nostalgia, and the shots I grabbed using “Leitz Looks” do have their own distinct character.
Leica Leitz Phone 1: Conclusion
The Leica Leitz Phone 1 packs some cutting-edge hardware and a beautiful design, but its $1,700 price tag is going to be too high for people comparing an iPhone 12 Pro Max with a Galaxy S21 Ultra or Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, all of which cost less and have more capable cameras overall. However, I think the Leitz Phone 1 has a lot of appeal to Leica fans or to those who want to try something new. Even more so than the Sharp Aquos R6, the Leitz Phone 1 is a phone that oozes character.