Sony Xperia 1 II review: Sony finally made a phone I’d love to keep in my pocket

The camera system on the Sony Xperia 1 II is far and away one of the most advanced we’ve seen on a smartphone. It may not produce the highest quality images, but Sony was targeting a different metric with this camera system: speed.

The Xperia 1 II features three distinct cameras on the back of the device. There is a wide 12MP camera with a 1/2.6-inch sensor and dual-PD autofocus, a main 12MP camera with a 1/1.7-inch sensor, dual-PD autofocus, and OIS, and a telephoto 12MP camera with a 1/3.4-inch sensor, PD autofocus, and OIS. In making this camera system, Sony wanted to offer two things: the “holy trinity” of zoom lenses, and the same 20fps burst mode of the Sony Alpha A9 mirrorless camera.

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

In photography, the holy trinity of zoom lenses refers to a wide-to-medium zoom, a medium-to-telephoto zoom, and a telephoto-to-super-telephoto zoom. Here, Sony went with a 16-24mm, a 24-70mm, and a 70-200mm lens. This range covers most subjects, unless you’re doing ultra-wide landscape or astrophotography, or if you’re doing super-zoomed wildlife photography.

Of course, these aren’t optical zoom lenses. It’s still just a 16mm, 24mm, and 70mm. But Sony was still very deliberate with these focal lengths, choosing them specifically to try and emulate the holy trinity.

Sony Xperia 1 II 20fps jumping gif

Like I mentioned before, Sony wanted to mirror the 20fps autofocus-capable burst mode it sports in its A9 series of cameras. This is extremely impressive, especially considering the phone will check for focus three times per frame before it decides where the focus will be. So if you take a full second of burst images, the phone will take 20 images, with focus calculated 60 times.

To do this, Sony couldn’t use the biggest or highest-resolution sensor it has available. I would have loved to see the Sony IMX 689 sensor in this device – the same which was used in the Oppo Find X2 Pro and OnePlus 8 Pro. But when I asked Sony why it didn’t use this chip, it said it had to use a slightly smaller, lower-resolution sensor to achieve the 20fps burst mode, and a smaller telephoto sensor helped them achieve the 70mm lens. While I understand Sony’s reasoning here, I think a wider audience would be satisfied with better image quality as a trade-off to a fast burst mode. That being said, Sony is clearly targeting this phone at pro photographers and videographers, as I’ll discuss more later.

The main 24mm lens is by far the best of the bunch, due to its fairly large 1/1.7-inch sensor. It has great color and clarity in good light and does fairly well in low-light circumstances as well. Sony is very subtle with its color processing in the standard camera app, not applying any super aggressive color shifts. Lower-light circumstances do take a couple of seconds to process, but they generally look great once it’s done processing.

The telephoto lens is similar in its great color profile, but it’s certainly softer than the main sensor. I believe this is due to the sensor being fairly small at 1/3.4-inches, which causes the phone to use a higher ISO and therefore more noise reduction. That’s not to say it’s bad though – it’s still better than a crop.

The wide lens is great as well, but it’s a bit more washed-out color-wise than the other lenses. It’s still very sharp though, capturing a good amount of detail, even around the edges, where wide lenses generally get the softest. Either way, the color profiles are fairly consistent over the range – something that can’t be said of many smartphone camera systems.

The selfie camera on this phone is probably the Achilles’ heel of the system. It is extremely soft even in good light and looks terrible in low light. It also tended to capture lens flares, which look pretty bad when the selfie camera is already very soft. This is an 8MP sensor and extremely small at 1/4-inch, so it’s no surprise that it’s pretty bad.

If you want to see these sample photos and more in full resolution, I’ve uploaded them to a Google Drive folder here.

The standard camera app on the Xperia 1 II is okay, but it’s not very intuitive. The button to switch to the selfie camera is on the top, which is pretty difficult to reach on a tall display like this. You can still swipe down to switch to the front camera, but it feels like the button should be where the Mode button is, which has settings for things like portrait selfies and color filters. There is also no HDR in the main app – it can only be found in the Camera Pro app. If anything, the standard app is where HDR should be, since those who don’t care about having full control of their image make particular use of the feature.

The phone also won’t switch to the correct lens when you zoom all the way in on the main app. The only way to switch to the next lens is to tap one of the three lens options at the bottom of the screen. It would make a lot more sense if Sony seamlessly transitioned between the wide, standard, and telephoto lenses as you zoomed.

Sony Xperia 1 II taking a photo outside

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

I initially wanted to title this review “The Alpha phone” because of the “pro” photo and video apps Sony made for this device. One is called Photo Pro, and the other is called Cinema Pro.

Both of these apps are built to work as similarly to a dedicated Sony digital camera as possible. It effectively looks like Sony’s menu system is seated right up against its viewfinder. For people who are new to the Sony menu system, including me, this can be fairly confusing to navigate. But once you get the hang of it, these apps give you an incredible amount of control over the phone’s cameras.

Sony Xperia 1 II camera pro app

The Photo Pro app pushes the concept of the holy trinity of lenses by giving you digital zoom rings for each lens. The 16mm can zoom up to 24mm, the 24mm zooms to 70mm, and the 70mm lens zooms up to 200mm. While I love the style and attention to detail Sony put into this app, it does have some weird quirks. I would like to be able to continue zooming and the phone to automatically switch to the next lens, for example, though I understand that Sony wants people to feel like they’re physically switching lenses. I understand the sentiment, but the fact remains that smartphone cameras aren’t the same as dedicated cameras. If you can seamlessly switch leases, do it. Don’t restrict that just because this is a smartphone.

Sony Xperia 1 II cinema pro app

The Cinema Pro app is similar to the Photo Pro app, but instead of being based on a Sony Alpha camera, it’s based on the Sony FS series of cinema cameras. It offers an incredible amount of control, all the way down to shutter speed, resolution, and even shutter angle. Sony also included many of its picture profiles from the camera line, which are well-known and respected. The Cinema Pro app works in a project format, allowing you to jump back into a project and retain all the same settings.

Both of these apps have one big issue though – they only work in landscape mode. While I’m sure most people won’t be shooting video in portrait orientation through Sony’s Pro app, it would be nice to have it included. Especially on the Photo Pro app, it would be nice to have portrait orientation support.

If the Photo Pro and Cinema Pro apps were the only camera apps on this phone, I would say that they are much, much too complicated for the average user. And they probably are. But Sony offers them as options for those who want extremely fine control of their phone’s camera. And because the default camera app is still a mostly standard smartphone camera app, I applaud it for making these Pro apps, even if I don’t envision many people using them to their full potential.

For more on the Sony Xperia 1 II camera, check out our shootouts with the Huawei P40 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus:

Software: Wonderfully practical

Sony Xperia 1 II bottom display

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

  • Android 10

The Sony Xperia 1 II runs Android 10, and it does something that I wish more OEMs would do: use Google apps as defaults. Immediately when booting up the phone, you’ll see Google Phone, Google Messages, Chrome, and Google Photos on the dock. Sony doesn’t try to make many proprietary apps for things Google can already offer, and that makes for a much nicer experience.

Sony’s skin on top of Android is also incredibly lightweight, and it doesn’t feel like it adds things unnecessarily. This skin is very similar to Pixel UI, and that’s something I can get behind. There’s a Google Search bar at the bottom of the screen and a Google feed when you swipe left.

Sony does have some cool apps that work well with this device, like the PlayStation app which lets you attach a DualShock controller natively. This is great for people that love PS4 Remote Play and want to play on their phones.

Sony Xperia 1 II specs

 Sony Xperia 1 II
Display6.5-inch HDR OLED
3,840 x 1,644 resolution (4K)
Motion blur reduction (90Hz equivalent)
21:9 aspect ratio
Corning Gorilla Glass 6
SoCQualcomm Snapdragon 865
7nm+ process
Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 585 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 585 & 4×1.8 GHz Kryo 585)
GPUAdreno 650
CamerasRear cameras
– Ultra-wide: 12MP sensor, 16mm, f/2.2 aperture, Dual PDAF
– Wide: 12MP sensor, 24mm, f/1.7 aperture, Dual PDAF, OIS
– Telephoto: 12MP sensor, 70mm, f/2.4 aperture, PDAF, OIS
– Depth sensor: 3D iTOF

Front camera: 8MP sensor

AudioHeadphone jack
Dual stereo front speakers
360 Reality Audio
DSEE upscaling
21W USB-PD wired charging
15W wireless charging
IP ratingIP65/68
Connectivity5G, sub-6GHz
SoftwareAndroid 10
Dimensions and weight166 x 72 x 7.9mm
ColorsBlack, Purple

Value and competition

  • Sony Xperia 1 II: 8GB RAM, 256GB Storage — $1,199.99

There’s no doubt that $1,200 is a lot to pay for a smartphone. It’s certainly up there in price, but the Xperia 1 II also sports almost all the specs and features you’d want out of a device. With the latest flagship processor from Qualcomm, ample RAM and storage, IP68 water and dust resistance, expandable storage, and even a headphone jack, it’s got almost everything. A notable exception is 5G, if you live in the US, or other markets where it’s not offered.

At its pricing tier, the Sony Xperia 1 II is effectively in direct competition with phones like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus. Compared to the Galaxy S20 Plus, the Sony Xperia 1 II has more storage, a headphone jack, and a taller, higher resolution display. Its cameras are arguably slightly worse than Samsung’s but they still perform well. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S20 Plus has a higher-refresh 120Hz panel.

If you want to spend a bit less cash, the OnePlus 8 Pro starts at $899. Like the S20 Plus, the OnePlus sports slightly less storage than the Xperia 1 II, but has a slightly better main camera sensor and 120Hz refresh rate display.

Ultimately, I think the Sony Xperia 1 II offers a lot, even at its top-tier price point. While many devices have one big feature they’re missing, the Xperia 1 II does almost everything fairly well. While it might not have the best out-of-the-box camera system on the market, it’s certainly versatile.

Sony Xperia 1 II review: Should you buy it?

Sony Xperia 1 II taking a photo

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

The Sony Xperia 1 II is a great example of what can happen when a mega-company like Sony pulls together all its resources to make a smartphone. With a wildly high-resolution 21:9 OLED display, a versatile camera system, and even a headphone jack, Sony has finally made a phone I’d love to keep in my pocket.

If you’re looking for the best image quality straight out of the camera, you won’t get that here. Sony was focused on making this phone a mobile A9 camera, with 20fps shooting with autofocus. Because of that, it couldn’t include its biggest and best sensor. While I wish it aimed for image quality instead of image speed, I can understand what it was going for.

While the camera system might be frustrating to everyone except the most dedicated photographers, the other parts of the phone make up for it. The display is unique and fantastic, the UI is minimal, and it has all the bells and whistles like wireless charging, expandable storage, and a headphone jack. That makes this a wonderful phone for everyone, regardless of how much you care about the camera.

So should you buy it? I would say yes. Sony has made one of my favorite phones of the year in the Xperia 1 II. And that’s saying something.

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