Sony Xperia 1 III review
Design and Size
The differences between these two start from the very first look: the Xperia is tall and narrow, while the iPhone is… just gigantic all around. You can easily hold and operate the Xperia with one hand, and it reminds us a lot of a TV remote, while the iPhone feels way too wide and bulky for that. But when it comes to in-pocket comfort, we would say that both are kind of equally uncomfortable, it’s hard to squat and tie your shoes while you have one of these phones in your pocket.
With that difference in size also comes a massive difference in weight: at just around 187g (6.6oz), the Xperia feels refreshingly lightweight for a 6.5-inch phone, while the iPhone is noticeably heavier at more than 220g (8 ounces). Part of that is due to the iPhone using stainless steel for the main frame, while the Xperia uses the lighter aluminum material. Speaking of details, both phones come with a back made of frosted glass that looks good and has the benefit of not catching fingerprint smudges, but while the sides of the Xperia are also matte, the iPhone has glossy sides that are a bit more grippy but also easily catch fingerprint smudges.
And when it comes to the extras, both reassuringly have IP68 water protection rating, and interestingly Sony manages to have that rating with a SIM tray that you can chop off with just your nails, no need for a SIM tool, which is a nice little convenience. Also, in staying true to its commitment to offering all the choice in the world, the Xperia has a headphone jack, which is nowhere to be found on the iPhone.
And then you have physical buttons… a lot of physical buttons. The Xperia has all its keys on the right side of the phone, the power key is recessed and takes some getting used to, but then you have the volume rocker, a dedicate Google Assistant button (sadly, not remappable) and the signature physical 2-way camera shutter, if you are into that.
Also, 120Hz! Yes, the Xperia 1 III is the first Sony flagship to have 120Hz and it all runs great, making scrolling and animations so much smoother. This feature is awesome, and the iPhone definitely feels a bit behind for not having it.
Sony also remains the only company to have a 4K resolution on a phone screen, which we have to say is an overkill at this screen size, but you do have it and once again, it’s about that Sony approach to throw everything but the kitchen sink. At the same time, though, the Xperia doesn’t get nearly as bright: outdoors on a sunny day, you can definitely see how the iPhone max brightness of 832 nits far surpasses the 627 nits of the Xperia, which makes the iPhone much more legible.
Sony is not just about throwing all sorts of specs and features that other phones don’t have, it’s also a bit about tradition, and this is best seen in the side-mounted fingerprint scanner that Xperia phones have had for… an eternity. It’s a fast and accurate fingerprint scanner when you intend to use it, no complaints there, but its position where you commonly hold your phone means that you will often press it unintentionally and it’s extremely annoying to constantly worry if your phone may accidentally dial someone from your pocket.
The iPhone, on the other hand, uses Face ID, which works great except when you are wearing a mask, which can actually be quite often, so it’s not perfect, but we found more peace of mind knowing that at least it won’t accidentally unlock the phone.
A look under the hood, reveals the Apple A14 Bionic chip coupled with 6GB of RAM on the iPhone and the Snapdragon 888 with 12GB of RAM on the Xperia, and both are the best and most powerful chips available in the arsenal for each platform at the moment.
Looking at benchmarks alone, the iPhone and the A14 have the lead, especially in single-core performance, but also in gaming where you get higher frame rates more consistently.
However, we have to talk about the Snapdragon 888 overheating issues and particularly on the Xperia 1 III they are bad. This phone can get hot while doing what seems like the easiest of tasks: watching YouTube videos? Phone gets hot. Browsing social media? Phone gets warm still. Even basic tasks can result in this phone feeling quite hot in the hand, and that is definitely one of the bigger issues. We have reached out to Sony about this, but haven’t received a response yet. We are hopeful this can be fixed in the future, but considering various reports about the Snapdragon 888 overheating in other devices as well, we’re not actually sure.
On the storage side, you get 256GB of the stuff on the Xperia, and that is expandable via microSD cards (you have a hybrid SIM card slot that can either house 2 SIMs or 1 SIM + 1 microSD card). The iPhone, on the other hand, does not support expandable storage, and you can get it in a 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB configuration.
The Xperia 1 III is the first non-Pro Sony phone in the US that comes with support for 5G, but keep in mind that it only supports the low- and mid-band type of 5G, meaning that it is not compatible with those ultra-fast mmWave networks. Sony does not list support for the n260 and n261 mmWave bands required for mmWave, but you do get quite a few other 5G bands: n1, n2, n3, n5, n7, n8, n20, n28, n38, n40, n41, n66, n71, n77, n78.
The iPhone, on the other hand, supports all US networks and has both 5G kinds: sub6 and mmWave, and if you happen to live near a mmWave tower, you will only be able to experience those super fast speeds on the iPhone.
Can a Sony camera phone beat the iPhone?
There is one major reason to buy a flagship over a more affordable phone these days and that is the camera. And Sony brings a fresh piece of innovation to the table: a variable zoom lens of the folded, periscope kind where elements inside it move so you get a native 2.9X and 4.4X zoom levels. The iPhone lacks that periscope tech, and instead answers with just a regular, 2.5X zoom camera. As for the rest, you have the main and ultra-wide cameras on both.
We also ought to mention the camera app on the Sony which — just like the rest of the phone — is styled to give you control over absolutely every single think you can imagine, from ISO to white balance, shutter speed, RAW photos, etc. You even have a memory recall function like on expensive cameras, where you can save your preferred camera configuration. Thankfully, there is also the “Basic” mode where you can just point and shoot. And all of this compares to the seemingly blissful simplicity of the iPhone where you get a very simplified camera experience. Game, check, mate, win for the Sony, right? Well, if manual control is all you care about yes, but we have to point out the frustrating controls in the Sony camera: while you can simply slide the rotating wheel on the iPhone to seemlessly zoom in and out, all the way from the ultra-wide to the maximum zoom level, there is no way to do that simple task on the Sony, so when you want to reach the maximum zoom you cannot just pinch to zoom in, you have to first switch to the telephoto camera at the specific 4.4X setting. This gets even worse in video where once you start recording with the main camera, you cannot switch mid-recording to the ultra-wide lens — you have to stop the recording, switch over to the ultra-wide and start again. These are absurd limitations for a phone that aims to deliver the ultimate camera experience.
But enough about that, what about image quality? Disclaimer: we used mostly the automatic settings. The Xperia is a great phone to use manual controls and shoot RAW photos, but we feel that might out of reach for most users and while it is strongly encouraged on the Sony phone, we leave it as part of a separate discussion.
In a direct comparison, the JPEGs out of the Sony look decent during the day, but the iPhone consistently shows the higher dynamic range, especially in the shadows where detail is crushed on the Xperia, plus the iPhone has the more vibrant colors. Detail is also noticeably softer on the Xperia.
In low light, the Xperia shoots photos that are plain disappointing. It cannot capture enough light and you often end up with a photo that is just too dark, while the iPhone consistently shoots great looking shots with both the main and ultra-wide cameras with the automatic Night Mode. Again, the iPhone isn’t perfect, it often has warmer-than-reality white balance at night, but compared to the Xperia it looks miles ahead.
One area where the Xperia has an advantage, though, is that innovative zoom camera. You have to use the 2.9X and 4.4X zoom presets to get the best quality, the in-between points are not as sharp, and considering the overall tendency of the Xperia to capture soft-looking photos, that is important.
Still, at those two levels, the Xperia does give you more versatility than just having one 2.5X zoom on the iPhone.
One of the advantages of having a chin and a bottom bezel as on the Xperia is that you have space to include dual, front-firing stereo speakers, while the iPhone makes do with a bottom firing main speaker and a helper tweeter unit in the earpiece.
Battery Life and Charging speeds
- 4,500mAh battery for Xperia 1 III vs 3,687mAh battery on iPhone 12 Pro Max
- Sony 30W fast charging vs iPhone 20W fast charge
When it comes to battery life, the Xperia comes with a 4,500mAh battery, which is about average for Android phones of this size, while the iPhone sports a nearly, 3,700mAh cell.
We ran a series of battery tests and you can see the results below:
Overall, the Xperia does not impress with battery life. More intense tasks and especially video watching, not only heat up the phone quickly, but also drain the battery very fast and you would need to top up before the end of the day, while the iPhone can easily go the distance and with moderate use can even last two days between charges.
Prices and Conclusions
Sony used to be a household name in the 90s, but its phones have been digging into a niche of enthusiasts in the past couple of years and the Xperia 1 III does little to change that. If you value the unique feature set and are fully bought in with the idea of manual controls over everything, it’s an option to consider. However, the $1,300 starting price, a full $200 over the base iPhone 12 Pro Max makes making that choice very hard. The Xperia is grossly overpriced for what it is, and if you factor in the overheating issue, there is really no excuse for that higher price.
So… with all this in mind, which one would YOU go for?