Xperia 1 III Hands-on: Sony has finally hit its stride

Xperia 1 III Hands-on: Sony has finally hit its stride

It’s hard to stand out in the Android smartphone space these days, but Sony’s new Xperia 1 III manages to do just that with a couple of tricks: It’s the first phone in the world to sport a 4K, 120Hz OLED panel and a variable Periscope zoom lens with a focal length that can switch between 70mm (2.9x) and 105mm (4.4x).

The Xperia 1 III is, for now, oddly only available in China right now despite the fact that Sony is a Japanese brand. XDA was able to borrow one from Hong Kong importer Trinity Electronics for a few hours for this hands-on.

Sony Xperia 1 IIII in black.

Sony Xperia 1 III Specifications. Tap/click to show.

SpecificationSony Xperia 1 III
Build
  • Colors: black, gray, purple
  • Protection: Corning Gorilla Victus (front), Gorilla Glass 6 (back), IP68 rating for water and dust resistance
Dimensions & Weight165mm x 71mm x 8.2mm, 186g
Display
  • Main
    • 6.5-inch 4K OLED HDR (3840 x 1644)
    • 120Hz refresh rate
    • 240Hz touch sampling rate
    • 100% DCI-P3
    • HDR BT.2020 (Rec.2020)
    • D65 White point
    • 21:9 aspect ratio
SoC
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
    • CPU
      • 1x ARM Cortex-X1 @ 2.84GHz
      • 3x ARM Cortex-A78 @ 2.4GHz
      • 4x ARM Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz
    • GPU: Adreno 660
RAM & Storage
  • 12GB RAM
  • 256GB storage
  • MicroSD card support
Battery & Charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 30W fast wired charging
  • Wireless charging support
Security
  • Side-mounted fingerprint scanner
Rear Cameras
  • Primary: 12MP, f/1.7, 24mm, 1/1.7″, 1.8µm, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF
  • Secondary: 12MP ultra-wide, f/2.2, 16mm, 1/2.6″, Dual Pixel PDAF
  • Tertiary: 12MP periscope, f/2.3-2.8, 70mm-105mm, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF
  • Quaternary: 3D iToF sensor
  • Features:
    • ZEISS optics
    • 20fps AF/AE tracking burst with noise reduction
    • 60fps continuous AF/AE calculations
    • Real-time Eye AF
    • AI super resolution zoom
    • Optical SteadyShot with FlawlessEye
    • Cinema Pro 4K 120fps recording with up to 5x slow motion
Front Camera8MP
Port
  • USB Type-C
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
Audio & Vibration
  • Full range front-firing stereo speakers
  • Dolby Atmos
  • Hi-Res Audio
  • 360 Reality Audio (through speakers)
  • 360 Spatial Sound (over headphones)
Connectivity
  • 5G (Sub-6Hz)
  • Bluetooth 5.x
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual-band WiFi
  • NFC
  • GPS, GLONASS, Galileo
SoftwareAndroid 11

Sony Xperia 1 III Forums

Sony Xperia 1 III: Design

The Xperia 1 III keeps the ongoing design trends from Sony phones, meaning it’s a boxy rectangular slab with an elongated 21:9 aspect ratio. The 6.5-inch 4K, 120Hz OLED display is flat, but the corners are chamfered so they don’t feel as abrupt as, say, an iPhone 12’s panel.

Sony Xperia 1 III upright on a shelf

Like previous Sony Xperia flagships, the Xperia 1 III has a dedicated camera shutter button and a dedicated digital assistant button on the right side of the device (alongside the volume rocker and power button/fingerprint scanner). Because this phone is a China model, the digital assistant button only launches the Baidu digital assistant and can’t be remapped. We assume it’ll default to launching the Google Assistant in global markets.

On the left side of the device is a SIM tray, which like on previous Sony phones, can be pulled out with just a fingernail instead of requiring that pin-like needle SIM ejector tool.

At the top of the Xperia 1 III is a headphone jack, and this is a welcome sight. Although, you may not use it much, because the phone also packs dual front-facing speakers that sound excellent. Overall, the Xperia 1 III is a comfortable phone to hold due to the 21:9 aspect ratio’s narrower form factor. It helps that the phone is relatively light and thin at 8.2mm and 186g respectively.

That 4K/120Hz OLED panel looks great, especially since the bezels that wrap around it have been drastically shaven (by Sony standards anyway). However, I’m not sure if there many people who can really see the extra pixels on a relatively small smartphone screen. This screen looks great, but it’s just not drastically better than a 2k or even FHD+ panel.

Sony Xperia 1 III: Software

Out of the box, this Xperia 1 III unit did not include Google apps, but they can be easily installed. I downloaded the Google Play Store APK, and within a minute, I was installing apps from Google’s store. Once Google was set up, the phone almost looks and behaves like any other Android phone, except for some additional Sony software like a floating bar (Sony calls it “Side Sense”) that sits at the edge of the screen and a Baidu search bar at the bottom of the homescreen that, frustratingly, cannot be removed. The only other phone with a homescreen search bar that won’t go away are Google’s own Pixel phones.

Sony Xperia 1 III: Cameras

Sony’s recent flagship phones have tried to mimic the experience of using a Sony digital camera. This ranges from the camera shutter sound to the dedicated shutter button that supports a half-press to focus, to the small green boxes that pop up in the camera viewfinder to show focus point.

Sony Xperia 1 III camera module.

Sony also offers two camera apps: a standard one and “Cinema Pro” which offers full-on manual controls for video shooting. Even the standard camera mode offers more granular control over everything from ISO to shutter speed.

This is great if you know what you’re doing — a knowledgeable photographer can easily tweak a few settings to get the exact exposure they want in a shot. But most people are not camera experts and would prefer to point-and-shoot. This was where Sony’s last flagship phone fell short — I found the Xperia 1 II’s auto mode to be consistently lagging behind what Apple and Samsung’s cameras can do.

The good news is the Xperia 1 III improves matters. In most point-and-shoot scenarios, even in challenging lighting conditions such as against harsh backlight, the Sony Xperia 1 III produces good-looking images.

In this set of photos, the Sony Xperia 1 III held up well against the iPhone 12 and Galaxy S21 Ultra. It’s a relatively challenging shot, with strong light coming through the window. The Xperia 1 III’s warm tone represented the room the best in my opinion. If you zoom in and pixel peep, Sony’s shot is also noticeably sharper than the iPhone 12’s.

But its HDR processing still noticeably falls short of the iPhone 12’s. To be fair, Apple’s photo looks a bit unrealistic — my eyes at the time could not see the clouds that clearly as the sunlight was so harsh, but most would agree it’s a more aesthetically pleasing shot.

I only had the phone for a few hours, so this is by no means a review or final analysis of the Xperia 1 III’s cameras. But I think it’s safe to say the Xperia 1 III’s main camera has improved over the last generation but still falls short of the big-name brands.

When it comes to ultra-wide, the Xperia 1 III also produces sharp photos during the day; at night, as usual, details drop off with noticeable noise.

But what let me down was the variable Periscope zoom lens. It does work as advertised, being able to produce sharp 2.9x zoom and 4.4x photos. Dial that zoom up to 10x, however, and the Xperia 1 III’s image falls far short of what the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s zoom lens can do.

Sony Xperia 1 III: Early impressions

The Sony Xperia 1 III is relatively pricey at 8,449 yuan ($1,334) for the 256 GB model and 9,499 yuan ($1,491) for the 512 GB model, but early sales numbers in China have reportedly been impressive, which perhaps isn’t surprising considering how much this phone stands out from the pack with its loud front-facing speakers, a headphone jack, a 4K/120Hz screen (although I can’t see the need for 4K, it’s more appealing on paper), and a dedicated camera shutter button.

The Xperia 1 III.

I didn’t get to use the phone long enough to test battery life, but its 4,500 mAh cell seems a bit small for a 4K/120Hz panel. But only further testing can tell definitively.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.