Sony’s Xperia phones aren’t like any other, which is a good thing. It has a tall 21:9 aspect ratio with a 4K screen, and Sony also has different priorities with its camera system—it offers up more manual controls so your photos and videos look exactly how you like. The problem? These devices are some of the most expensive around, and the newest Sony Xperia 1 IV (pronounced “One Mark Four”) takes things further to an absurd $1,600 asking price, or £1,299/€1,399 if you’re in the UK and Europe.
For that kind of cash, this phone better be foldable, or at least be metaphysically perfect in every way. But it’s neither. The key changes to the Xperia 1 IV from the previous generation include true optical zoom on a phone camera for the first time, plus standard upgrades like a new Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and a boosted battery capacity. Little else has been modified, which leaves you further scratching your head about the unreasonable price jump.
Sony has stuck with the same design as its past few phones, but it holds up. The Xperia line had flat edges on the sides well before Apple and Samsung returned to the look, and the matte glass rear remains extremely stylish. The slim bezels at the top and bottom date this phone a smidge when compared to other new handsets, but you might prefer that over notches or hole-punch selfie cameras.
Arguably one of the most important features that make this phone stand out is the headphone jack. Yes, it’s sad that this useful 3.5-mm jack is now relegated to budget phones, but this is one of the very few high-end phones that maintains it. The same goes for the microSD card slot. The US variant comes with 512 GB of storage whereas the UK/Europe model starts with 256 GB, but both feature the card slot so you can expand space at a moment’s whim.
The screen is a top treat. It has a 4K resolution, which is certainly overkill on the 6.67-inch AMOLED display, but it still looks wonderful. The colors are extremely true to life, rarely over or undersaturated, and there’s plenty of detail. The 120-Hz screen refresh rate is the cherry on top, ensuring that every animation on the phone looks buttery smooth. Next to the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra’s screen, you’re not getting as punchy colors, but that might be a good thing for color accuracy’s sake. The screen doesn’t get as bright either, but it’s more than enough to see on sunny days.
The unique, tall 21:9 aspect ratio makes watching movies feel rather cinematic, but it does make the phone rather awkward to handle. You need to stretch your fingers quite a bit to reach the top of the screen, though there is a one-handed mode to help with this.
The performance of the Xperia 1 IV, backed up by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, is pretty good. Both the screen and rear of the phone do get uncomfortably warm when you push it with demanding games like Genshin Impact. But you’ll find few woes when browsing day-to-day, beyond Sony’s slightly clunky software and particularly when using features like split-screen mode. Equally clunky is the side-mounted fingerprint scanner. It regularly recorded phantom touches and didn’t always accept a tap to unlock on the first attempt.
Thankfully, battery life makes up for this. Despite a demanding 4K, 120-Hz screen, the 5,000-mAh cell comfortably lasts a full day plus a bit more on a single charge. You can top it up via the USB-C port or wireless charging, but you’ll need to supply your own 30-watt charging adapter and cable because Sony doesn’t include either.
It’s the Optics
The photography know-how you need to get the best out of the Xperia 1 IV’s cameras is beyond the simplicity you might expect from a flagship smartphone. That’s largely the point—Sony expects you’ll want to tinker with the camera settings instead of just pressing the shutter button (which you can still do).
There are three 12-MP cameras here, a main lens with optical image stabilization (OIS), an ultrawide, and a telephoto sensor with OIS and true optical zoom. The latter feature is the big new addition this year. Like zoom lenses made for DSLR and mirrorless cameras, this telephoto lens mechanically moves between 3.5x and 5.2x zoom, meaning in between those zoom levels you’re not getting crappy digital zoom quality like most other phones; you’re still getting a crisp photo. However, it’s such a small window to play with that it might not matter much at all.