Sony has been around in the smartphone business for years now, and even if you have not owned one of their devices, their brand is one of the largest in the world and offer some of the best technology there is in many markets.
This is the first Sony phone I have had in for review on the site, and in fact it’s been several years since I covered any Sony product as I was a writer for CoolSmartPhone before going out on my own here.
Thankfully Sony had one of their latest devices available and offered to loan it to me so I could do a full review here and share my thoughts with everyone, this is a full review of the Sony Xperia 1 ii, the flagship 2020 phone going into 2021.
As I mention in all my reviews there was no payment to do the review for Sony and I was not given a device to keep as part of the process, the handset was sent back to the PR team once the review was completed and no one from the company has had access to my thoughts or content before I posted this review.
The big question for many is can a £1000+ phone from Sony compete with the other flagships around the same price point, let’s see in the full review.
Sony don’t seem to shift from their standard design much, and the same of course is true for their flagship Xperia 1 ii with a large box design with an actual bezel up to house the front facing camera, this seems strange when most manufacturers now are using pinhole cameras in the screen to make smaller bezels and a better experience.
The front camera will be covered more in the camera section of the review, but as a quick overview you get a 8 megapixel camera with 1080p recording.
The screen is the main standout feature of this phone with an incredible 6.5 inch OLED panel at a large 21:9 aspect ratio making it not only large, but tall too which will take some getting used too.
The main killer feature though with the display is the 4K resolution it offers you for supported content, yes an actual 4K resolution Sony screen on a smartphone, and let me tell you, when you watch 4K HDR content, the quality is mind blowing how good it is, you really need to see it to appreciate how good it is.
Unfortunately the downside is the standard 60hz refresh rate on offer, no 120hz or even 90hz available at any resolution which for a £1000+ phone is a disappointment to say the least, maybe it was because of the high resolution it was not possible to have both 4K as well as 90/120hz.
The large screen takes up all the front with no physical buttons to be seen, just the large screen which looks great for watching content back on, and this will be repeated a few times because 4K HDR playback really is that good on this display.
Looking over at the left side you get the pull out tray where you will find the Micro SD slot for expanding the memory if you wanted to get more space for those 4K videos you will want to watch back, you also get the Nano SIM slot for your network of choice SIM, no dual SIM though as this is a single SIM phone which may be a deciding factor for a lot of people with Dual SIM phones becoming more popular, even being able to have an eSIM which this also lacks.
Only a small thing to mention but appreciated was the fact you don’t need a pin to take out the sliding holder like on most other phones, there is a small slot you can use your nail and remove quickly which is great for anyone who swaps SIM cards a lot as there is no need to go hunting for the pin to swap over, however what is annoying is the phone restarting any time you swap SIM cards, frustrating when you need to swap and make that quick phone call.
Over on the right hand side you have the volume rocker for up and down controls, also a power button in the middle which has a fingerprint sensor inside so you can use this for unlocking quickly or authorising contactless payments if you use Google Pay.
Speed and reliability of the sensor was very hit and miss, I found in my model, it worked most of the time, just not every time but was still more reliable than a lot of in screen readers.
Finally you have a dedicated camera button which is something Sony have been doing for years on their phones, it gives you a real camera experience by half pressing to focus, then fully pressing to take a photo.
Up at the top you have one of the dual microphones for noise cancellation as well as stereo recording, also nice to see is the 3.5mm headphone jack so you can use your own pair of headphones without needing an adapter which is nice to see, plus you do get a decent pair of in-ear headphones in the box.
Down at the bottom you have the other microphone used in the dual setup, you also have the USB-C port for data transfer or fast charging at 18w which is decent, but is slower than some of the competition such as Oppo and OnePlus, but thankfully you do also have QI Wireless Charging included too which is a first for a Sony.
Turning over to the back you have a full glass panel with the Sony logo slap bang in the middle.
In the top left corner you have the LED flash for use of a flashlight or boosting brightness in poorly lit conditions for photos and videos.
Then you have the triple camera setup consisting of three 12 megapixel lenses and the depth sensor for improving portrait shots.
Normally on phones with three or four cameras they all offer different resolutions, Sony have gone with a wide angle, super wide and a telephoto, all at 12 megapixels to keep the levels of brightness and contrast consistent with each other.
Thankfully Sony have cut back on the amount of customisation they do to Android updates, and this allows faster rollout of newer patches because there is less work involved.
Also thankfully there is less bloatware installed including doubling up on apps for the same task, for so long there was an Album app for photos as well as Google Photos for example, instead there are just a few from Sony to enhance the experience without taking over completely.
During my time with the device it had a rather large update thanks to Android 11 now being available which was nice to see the update coming quite fast considering a lot of phones out there are still running Android 10.
The latest version of Android brings with it the new gesture navigation option if you want to try something new, there is still the normal three button navigation if you like, but the gesture way means you get more content on the screen.
Having such a tall screen also brings some new additions to the software with the ability to be able to multitask with 2 apps at the same time on a 50/50 split, and with the screen being so tall it does not make the content too small to be unusable.
Sony has done a good job on the software front with little bloatware and quick software updates such as to the latest Android 11, and this is a big improvement from the old Sony software experience on older devices.
One setting you will either love or hate pretty quickly is the dynamic vibration mode when watching back video content, the idea is that is enhances the experience with small timed shakes when video content needs it,for example in Jurassic Park when the T-Rex scene makes the water in the cup shake, this is a perfect use, but may be annoying for some people, so Sony let you switch this on or off easily.
Performance from the Xperia 1ii is right up there with the competition due to it running the Snapdragon 865 processor for chewing through all that data you throw at it including heady video editing.
This is backed up by 8GB of RAM which means smooth multitasking including graphic heavy games, and in my time playing Call of Duty or PUBG I had no issues at all with the performance.
The battery included is 4000mAh which is decent for a smartphone these days, but when you consider the 5G signal uses more power, plus you have that 4K screen, you may want to be careful with background running apps and close non needed, or switch off 5G if you are not in an area with coverage yet to help.
On the networking side the Xperia 1ii is the company’s first 5G phone and means you get access to the latest in mobile network speeds if you are on a plan and coverage area that supports it.
For those not lucky enough to be in 5G just yet you get excellent 4G+ support and in my testing was able to hit over 100Mbps in my area, but again this is network dependent and everyone’s situation will be different.
I would loave loved to test 5G performance on this device, but as we are in a COVID-19 lockdown getting to an area with 5G coverage was not possible which is a shame.
Of course you also get the standard GPS, Bluetooth, NFC and WiFi built in for navigation and communication, WiFi supports the latest standard too for stronger and quicker data speeds if you have the right router.
Performance is one area you won’t have to worry about if you decide to purchase this phone to use yourself.
Maybe it’s just me, but I have failed to be impressed by previous Sony smartphone cameras, especially when it comes to low light shots which are what I love taking more than any other on phones as it really tests how good the camera performance can be in tricky situations.
When it comes to the selfie camera you get 8 megapixels to play with, and unlike other phones that have a cutout for the camera, the Xperia 1ii isn’t afraid to have bezels to house their camera and earpiece.
Quality is decent for what you would normally use a selfie camera for such as apps like Snapchat and video calling, it would have been great considering the amount the phone cost to have a higher resolution at least considering some phones at a lower price have got 32 megapixel selfie shooters these days.
Selfie videos are decent too, but with a lower megapixel count you do lose some of the creative opportunity such as cropping in and keeping the footage really sharp, but for most uses it will do a good job.
The main focus is over in the back where Sony have decided to stay away from the megapixel race that some others out there are aiming to impress with, there are no 108 megapixel sensors here and no crazy 10x periscope cameras to zoom in on objects to get closer.
Instead Sony have gone with a three lens setup plus a ToF sensor, with all cameras at 12 megapixels which includes a telephoto, a main, and a wide angle camera for all conditions. Also the megapixel size all being the same should make for the same colours and contrast no matter what camera you decide to use.
In good lighting the captured photos seem decent enough packing a lot of details and colour which was good to see, it does not have the boosted contrast which Samsung seem to love doing in there photos that make greens really over the top which is a good thing although some people do like that style of photo.
Here are photos taken using each of the three cameras so you can see what quality you can expect to see from these 12 megapixel sensors.
Whilst the cameras do seem to impress in good lighting conditions once again it seems low light performance is lacking against some of the competition these days which is a shame for Sony.
Don’t get me wrong the night photos aren’t bad at all, they just lack the punchy colours you get from Samsung and Huawei for example, and with Apple stepping up their camera game more and more people will be looking for a decent night time camera.
The story of the camera comes in two parts on this phone, for most people the standard point-and-shoot camera which has quite a few different settings you can change will mean you just point at the subjects and hope to take a good shot.
Then comes the other side which is the Camera Pro app and this is more like a manual control camera which has full control over things like ISO, contrast, lighting in all kinds of different conditions for you to play with, I even found it a little confusing but for professionals you’ll be right at home.
If you’re into your photography then it will be the Pro Camera you use for most of the time as you know exactly what settings you’re using to get the best out of all your photos and this is where Sony excels with their imaging background.
Video mode is pretty much the same story with a decent video recording app built into the camera which lets you switch between a few modes and settings for decent point and shoot video content.
However there is also the Video Pro mode app which is a minefield of settings and toggles to play around with to get that perfect video footage that looks as professional as using a proper video recorder, but this time one that fits right in your hands.
One thing that seems to still trouble Sony is their 4K content in which you often get a pop up message about the video needing to stop because the phone is too hot due to consistently recording 4K footage.
This doesn’t seem to impact any other flagship phone from other manufacturers but is also not unique to this device as previous Sony phones have also had this happen to them too.
I had use of the Sony Xperia 1ii for about 5 weeks in total and used it as my main phone for all that time, this allowed me to get the best overall opinion of what Sony has to offer and if it was worth recommending to people to buy.
The biggest issue is the very high price tag right at the start, £1200 for a phone that lacks a 120hz screen, lacks a high megapixel sensor for photos and has a troubled background with Sony smartphones not being in the top selling list means it is an uphill battle right away.
The biggest reason this phone will sell is from diehard Sony fans who only stick to them as their manufacturer of choice, or for those people who want a full on professional photography experience or for video editing where for that the controls you have will make it one of the best phones you can pick.
Unfortunately I think when it comes to the average person on the high street looking for a new phone, the high price tag and lack of high end specs at least in the number category such as a high megapixel camera or high refresh rate screen will mean people look elsewhere to the competition.
Don’t get me wrong I really did enjoy my time using the Xperia 1 ii , and that screen is absolutely fantastic, it’s just a shame that it’s letdown and some other areas and seems to lack some of the killer on paper specs that many people look for when comparing their options in their local phone shop of choice.