Sony Xperia 1 III Review: 4K 120Hz

September 16, 2021

I will start this review by saying that I have been waiting for this phone to come out since Sony officially announced it in April 2021. I pre-ordered the device on July 1st. I finally got the retail unit near the end of August. The chip shortage and COVID-19 have continued to cause delays. Some companies have been affected more than others. Sony is one of them.

Disclaimer: I purchased all devices reviewed in this article. I did not receive any review units from Sony. I am NOT sponsored or affiliated with Sony in any way. I do not accept copy approval from Sony or any other organization. All opinions are mine and mine alone.

Specifications

  • ๐Ÿ“บ 6.5 inches 1644 x 3840 pixel OLED (Gorilla Glass Victus)
  • ๐Ÿง  Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • ๐Ÿ—ƒ๏ธ 12GB RAM 256GB Storage
  • ๐Ÿ“ท Three Rear Cameras (Four focal lengths)
    • ๐Ÿ“ท Wide: 12 MP, f/1.7, 24mm, 1/1.7", 1.8ยตm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
    • ๐Ÿ“ท Telephoto: 12 MP, f/2.3, 70mm, f/2.8, 105mm, 1/2.9", Dual Pixel PDAF, 3x/4.4x optical zoom, OIS
    • ๐Ÿ“ท Ultrawide: 12 MP, f/2.2, 124หš, 16mm, 1/2.6", Dual Pixel PDAF
    • ๐Ÿ“ท Depth: 0.3 MP, TOF 3D
    • ๐Ÿ“ท Selfie: 8 MP, f/2.0, 24mm (wide), 1.12ยตm
  • ๐Ÿ”‹ 4500 mAh
  • ๐Ÿ”Œ 30 Watt Fast Charge, Qi Wireless, Reverse Qi Wireless
  • ๐Ÿ“ 165 x 71 x 8.2 mm
  • ๐ŸŽจ Frosted Black, Frosted Gray, Frosted Purple
  • ๐ŸŽ 3.5mm Headphone Jack, Expandable Storage, 5G
  • ๐Ÿ’ธ $1300 in the US
  • ๐Ÿ“… 2021.08.24

The upgrades from the Sony Xperia 1 II

The improvements from the Xperia 1 II are all moderately minor. The main change is the addition of a variable 70mm/105mm lens. Other minor improvements include a bump in battery capacity from 4000mAh to 4500mAh. The speakers are louder and better sounding. Wired and wireless charging are faster. The 4K screen now supports a 120Hz refresh rate. The newer Snapdragon 888 processor is here as well. A slight bump in RAM is also present.

Aesthetics: Industrial Minimal Design

Xperia 1 III (left) is one mm shorter than the Xperia 1 II (right)

Sony did little to update the design this year. The device still sports a minimalistic industrial design. The most noticeable changes are the matte finish and the larger camera module. Compared with the Sony Xperia 1 II, the Xperia 1 III is also an mm shorter. The top and bottom bezels have shrunk a little due to this. The hole for the front-facing camera is also noticeably smaller. The camera shutter button is now textured and easier to find.

Just like last year, I love Sony's design language here. It is still one of the best-looking smartphones on the market. It is also one of the few devices that stand out in a sea of smartphones.

Screen: Finally 4K 120Hz

The screen supports a 4K resolution at 120Hz. I was slightly disappointed by the screen when I first looked at it. Compared to the Xperia 1 II, the screen has a greener hue. It is not something you will notice until you put your phone next to another. But I preferred the color temperature of the Xperia 1 II. Luckily, Sony does offer intensive support for tweaking your white balance. With some trial and error, I was able to get it to a temperature that I enjoyed.

Xperia 1 III (right) screen has a slightly greener tint compared to the Xperia 1 II (left)

The more significant issue I experience with the screen is the green tint when turning on 120Hz mode. It is hard to notice. You need to be in a gray layout, low brightness, and a dark room to see this behavior. The green tint is a pretty common problem with OLED displays. The degree to which OLED screens have a color tint seems to comes down to the luck of the draw.

Running things at 4K 120Hz does make the UI buttery smooth. But I also noticed that the device gets considerably hotter. The battery also drains much faster. Sony would have benefited from putting an LTPO panel into this phone. Though I don't believe a 4K 120Hz LTPO screen exists at the moment.

Performance: The troublesome Snapdragon 888 processor

The flagship processor Qualcomm produced this year runs hot. Companies have dealt with this issue in different ways. OnePlus has opted to throttle the processor quite significantly. Sony, on the other hand, has gone with adding additional graphene. As a result, the phone cools down quite quickly after heating up on a hot summer day. I did experience overheating warnings once or twice during my use. When it overheats, features like 120Hz get disabled.

I feel like Qualcomm dropped the ball this year. The minor increases in CPU performance are not worth the battery and heat trade-offs. I would have preferred Sony to use the Snapdragon 870 instead. But I am sure having their flagship phone not supporting the flagship CPU would have seemed odd from a marketing standpoint.

Software update version 61.0.A.11.92 does seem to make the phone run a lot cooler. The phone no longer warms up under 60Hz mode and is only slightly warm in 120Hz mode.

Camera: Fast and Realistic

Macro shot on the Xperia 1 III

Landscape shot on the Xperia 1 III

Sony's camera philosophy for the Xperia line is different from other manufacturers. "I will let you capture what you see. You can take care of the rest" is the best way I can describe it. The photos that the Xperia 1 III is the most true-to-life I have seen on a smartphone. If the sky is gray and smoggy, it will capture that. It won't make night look like day or a mediocre colored landscape look majestic.

Photo of a mountain with the 16mm on the Xperia 1 III

Photo of a mountain with the 24mm on the Xperia 1 III

Photo of a mountain with the 70mm on the Xperia 1 III

Photo of a mountain with the 105mm on the Xperia 1 III

The traditional camera app has merged with the Photo Pro app. You now get a Basic mode in the Photo Pro app. The "Basic mode" works well for quick photos. This mode also has auto HDR that will enable depending on the scene. It also has scene recognition like Sony's point-and-shoot cameras. I was pretty impressed with the quality compared to the Xperia 1 II. There are improvements in the HDR and details front.

Night mode remains more challenging on Sony phones. It does technically have an auto night mode, but not in the way other smartphones handle it. In basic mode, the scene detection will trigger a low light setting and lower the shutter speed to take in more light. The resulting photos aren't as detailed and bright as a Pixel. They end up being more true-to-life.

Just like the Xperia 1 II, Sony has focused on the speed of the camera. The Xperia 1 III is now capable of real-time tracking. Burst mode is as fast as before. There's no need to worry about shutter delays that happen on other smartphones.

Battery: Below average

Battery life on Xperia 1 III with 4K60Hz and Stamina mode at 20%

Battery life on Xperia 1 III with 4K60Hz and Stamina mode at 20%

Battery life on Xperia 1 III with 4K120Hz and Stamina mode at 20%

Battery life on Xperia 1 III with 4K120Hz and Stamina mode at 20%

I used the Xperia 1 III for two weeks before I started benchmarking the battery. From my experience, this phone drains faster than the Xperia 1 II regardless of being on 60Hz or 120Hz. In 60Hz mode, the battery endurance is very close to the Xperia 1 II.

Using the device in my usual pattern, I got around 5 hrs of screen on time with 120Hz turned on. I got around 5 hrs 30 mins with it being on 60Hz. On average I was ranging any where from 3 hrs 30 min to 6 hrs SoT on a charge. These numbers might have been okay a years ago, but they do fall behind other comparable flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and OnePlus 9 Pro.

I did an unscientific test of leaving both the Xperia 1 II and Xperia 1 III idle to see which would drain faster. The Xperia 1 III ended being quite a few percentages ahead despite having the larger battery.

Audio: What impressed me the most

The front-facing speakers on the Xperia 1 III are splendid. Not only did Sony manage to fix the vibration issue (an issue where the chassis of the Xperia 1 II would vibrate under high volumes), they managed to make the speakers even louder. I readily use the phone as a portable speaker. The sound and clarity were often on par or better than my laptop speakers (Razer Blade Stealth from 2019).

The new feature that Sony added here is 360 Spatial Sound. Toggling this feature on does seem to make the speaker quieter (closer to the levels of the Xperia 1 II). You do get better stereo separation as a result.

Software: Clean with additional multitasking features

Sony Xperia 1 III factory default home screen

Sony Xperia 1 III factory default apps

Sony Xperia 1 III pop up window mode

The UI on Sony phones has always been pretty close to stock Android. My US variant came with a couple of pre-installed apps like Facebook, Linkedin, Call of Duty Mobile, TIDAL, Asphalt, and an array of Google apps.

Pop-up window mode

Sony added a new pop-up mode that allows you to run apps in a window. You can now be multitasking with three separate apps running at the same time. This feature was convenient when I was watching a video through the browser.

Cinema Pro is still here

It is still here. I haven't launched it once because I know little about cinematography. I mainly have been using the "Basic mode" in the Photo Pro app to take videos. That works pretty well for me. I know you can take a 4K 120fps video in the Cinema Pro app, but I didn't see a need for it.

Game enhancer

All the features from the Sony Xperia 1 II are here as well. There is a new setting to customize the frame rate, touch response, and touch tracking in games. This feature allows you to run the phone at 60Hz, but only enable 120Hz (or even fake 240Hz) in games. A new display and sound section enables you to adjust the white balance, L-y raiser, picture mode, and audio eq.

Call Screen and Google Pay shortcuts

Google pay shortcuts on Xperia 1 III

Google call screen feature on Xperia 1 III

I was surprised to see some previously Pixel exclusive features on the Xperia 1 III. Both Call Screen and the ability to access Google Pay cards with a long press of the power button are present.

Pricing: $1300 is a lot to ask for

The Xperia 1 III is expensive. At $1300, it is one of the most non-foldable smartphones on the market. The initial pre-order bundle with the WF-1000XM3 does help a little. But it would have been nice for Sony to kept the price of last year.

Recommendations

If you want a flagship device with expandable storage and a 3.5mm headphone jack, the Sony Xperia 1 III is the only phone available this year. Some may call this an enthusiast phone, but I think it isn't as niche as people make it out to be. If you enjoy watching movies and audio on the go, this is the device for you. If you enjoy being in control of your photography or cinematography, you'll also enjoy this phone. If you love Sony products in general (not just their phones), you'll enjoy this phone as well. Just be sure to pack a battery pack. You will most likely need it.

For me? I am looking forward to the Xperia 5 III and the Pixel 6 series.