Sony Xperia 1 II: A smartphone for professional photo

The Sony Xperia 1 II is said to challenge other flagship phones with its cameras. About time too, as wicked tongues would say. And Sony actually manages to be at the forefront when it comes to photo performance. We’ll find out what else the Xperia 1 II can do in the test.

Sony Xperia 1 II Review: Design – A modern Sony with no frills

With the latest generation of smartphones, Sony has gradually given up the experiment with the curved back. The Xperia XZ2 had the strongest bulge in the series, resembling a bar of soap, and sliding down uneven surfaces just as readily. The Xperia 1 II is again an angular, cuboid, monochrome smartphone with a metal frame and glass back an old school of Sony. The edges are slightly rounded so that nobody cuts themselves on them.

In addition, the Xperia 1 II integrates modern design elements such as a narrow 21: 9 format and a relatively thin display bezel. In contrast to many other manufacturers, Sony still does not accommodate the selfie camera in a hole or notch in the display. That is a matter of taste, some users find the interruptions of the display by holes and notches annoying.

On the back, the Sony logo can be seen in the middle and a rather inconspicuous camera bulge with four sensors on the top left. The “ZEISS” logo is affixed to it, the manufacturer of professional lenses is also responsible for the lenses of the Xperia cameras. The LED flash and an infrared light temperature sensor sit above it.

The capacitive fingerprint sensor is in the frame on the right in the home button. Some may prefer an optical fingerprint sensor in the display, but it is less secure than Sony’s classic solution. On the right below is the physical camera button, above the volume rocker. A headphone jack on the top waits for music fans, which most of the competitors have streamlined. On top of that, the smartphone is waterproof according to IP68, so it should easily cope with heavy rain and involuntary excursions in puddles.

With the Sony Xperia 1 II, the manufacturer has succeeded in designing a modern smartphone in the typical Sony look. Without gimmicks and false compromises.

 

Sony Xperia 1 II Display: 4K Hollywood ready, but should be brighter

The 6.5-inch OLED display has a resolution of 3,840 x 1,644 pixels, which roughly corresponds to UHD resolution in 21: 9 format. The HDR screen therefore offers a higher resolution than the competition. The pixel density is an extreme 643 ppi. That means a much sharper picture than what a 55-inch 8K TV with its 160 ppi can achieve.

If you watch a 4K HDR video up close, the content looks incredibly vivid. It’s almost like reaching into the demo videos and taking out an iguana or flamingo and petting a blue whale. The high contrast images (HDR) certainly also have a part in this. Like the extremely realistic colors in the well-coordinated “Creator Mode“, the DCI-P3 color space for HDR films is completely covered.

For a smartphone, that sounds like an exaggeratedly good performance that outperforms some flagship televisions. However, Sony has a comparatively good reason to equip cell phones with such a brilliant display: The Xperia 1 II is aimed at professional filmmakers and photographers who can view and edit their work on the cell phone in the right resolution and consistent colors.

A fly in the ointment is the low display brightness compared to some other flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and iPhone 11 Pro Max. It’s enough for use in the sun, but we’ve also seen much brighter screens. Also annoying: the display is content with 60 frames per second, while other flagships have reached 90 to 120 Hertz.

At least there is a function for reducing motion blurring that is supposed to compensate for the disadvantage a little. Sony is a pioneer in this area in the TV sector, and I think the display of motion on my XF90 is outstanding but with the Xperia I didn’t notice any difference between activated and deactivated “Motion Blur Reduction“. Higher frame rates such as 120 Hertz would ensure sharper and smoother moving images, for example when scrolling and gaming.

In “Creator Mode”, the OLED display offers realistic colors, a sharp 4K resolution and presents HDR content extremely vividly. However, some competitors use much brighter displays and there is only 60 Hertz.

 

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Sony Xperia 1 II Technology & equipment: everything included, everything on

The Sony Xperia 1 II is a flagship phone with a wide range of features. Only with the display, which is limited to 60 Hertz, the Sony device is left behind, but it has advantages with the headphone connection and IP68 certification. The fast-paced Snapdragon 865 serves as the processor, with which Sony has already left the European model of the Galaxy S20 Ultra behind. The chip is supported by 8 GB of working memory, and data is stored on the 256 GB, high-speed UFS 3.0 memory.

The internal memory can be expanded via a microSD card, which is no longer a matter of course in flagships these days. There’s 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, and wireless charging. You can charge the 4,000 mAh battery via cable with the included 18 watt power adapter. Although there is faster quick charging than with the Galaxy Note 10+ with the optional 45 watt power supply, such solutions are criticized because of the faster wear of the battery. The runtime is sufficient for one day, but the Xperia is unfortunately not a cross-country skier.

There are also faster fingerprint sensors, but the differences are usually within a fraction of a second. The phone is unlocked within about a second, which should be fast enough for most users.

Sony Xperia 1 II performance and equipment are exemplary even for a flagship. However, others are ahead in terms of battery life.

 

Sony Xperia 1 II Cameras and audio: Finally good cameras

In addition to the 8-megapixel selfie camera, the Xperia 1 II offers three 12-megapixel rear cameras. The main camera and wide-angle lens are optically stabilized, the telephoto camera enables a 3x zoom (70 mm equivalent). On top of that, a 3D sensor is built in, which helps to precisely capture the subject in portrait photos.

A highlight: Continuous shooting is possible with up to 20 images per second with active autofocus and automatic exposure. Basically, this works properly, but the subject does not stay in focus with every shot. I tried object tracking on waddling ducks as well as swimming and flying swans. It worked fine for a short period of time, but after a few seconds the phone lost focus.

These are good results for a smartphone, but even the “professional technology of alpha cameras” (Sony) cannot overcome the limitations of small cell phone technology. I was already impressed by the Zeiss lenses in the Nokia 7 Plus, and they also contribute to clear motifs on the Sony cell phone.

A particular advantage of the Xperia 1 II: The photos look similar with all cameras, whether they were taken with a selfie, main camera, wide angle or telephoto. No smartphone that I have tested so far has been able to say that. And “similar” here means above all: realistic. With exact colors, uniform contrast, comparable brightness.

The photos with the telephoto camera look a little less sharp than the others, otherwise they don’t need to hide. Portraits with the main and selfie cameras look great. Only the contrast range, the difference between light and dark areas, is rather average for photos with the normal camera app. Highlights such as the blazing sun are cropped, the differentiations in shady areas are lost.

Fortunately, this can be counteracted in the Photo Pro app with the “Auto HDR” and “DRO” (D-Range Optimiser) options. DRO optimizes the contrast range with the help of a single photo, Auto HDR combines several images for a better result. DRO is more suitable for moving objects.

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The Photo Pro app gives the user access to all conceivable setting options, including focus, focus area, ISO, white balance and exposure compensation. If you like, you can also snap RAW photos and edit them with Photoshop or similar software. The Cinema Pro app for films goes one step further and creates various lighting moods such as a simulation of the Venice film camera and a warm, cold or monochrome image. That opens up creative possibilities.

The videos look very good, especially in 4K and with HDR. Unfortunately, there are no 4K clips with 60 FPS, and object tracking does not work in 4K resolution. Meanwhile, Full HD at 60 FPS and HD videos don’t create HDR. The suppression of wind noise works properly.

The question of night photos remains, a particular challenge for smartphone photography. The Xperia 1 II does not have a night mode menu item, but detects poor lighting conditions itself and activates a quasi night mode. The user has to hold the cell phone still for a few seconds. The result is excellent for smartphone conditions and even when I could hardly see anything with the naked eye, the Xperia produced handsome photos. By the way: Owners of a camera from Sony’s Alpha series can use the Xperia 1 II as a remote display and control the camera settings via the mobile phone display.

The Xperia outputs good audio quality via the jack connection. As is so often the case with Sony, a higher output power for more demanding headphones would not have done any harm in order to meet the hi-fi standards. The stereo speakers are very spacious and powerful. Even loud metal won’t bring you to your knees. Both speakers point in the direction of the listener, while other manufacturers like to install one of them in the lower side of the case. Only the bass is rather weak; the Galaxy S20 Ultra, for example, can do a little more here.

The cameras of the Xperia 1 II take realistic photos at a high level. Even in poor light conditions. The videos are just as convincing, not least in HDR. The stereo speakers produce a clear, loud sound, and the headphone jack is a welcome bonus for those who love high quality sound.

 

Sony Xperia 1 II Conclusion & alternatives: Sony is back in the lead

Until recently, Sony made the curious decision to sell the best in-house camera sensors to other cell phone manufacturers. Their own smartphones had to be content with a more modest photo quality. With the Xperia 1 II this has finally come to an end. The cameras can keep up with those in other flagships. Otherwise, too, the new Xperia is an all-round competitive high-end mobile phone that impresses with its comprehensive range of features. Only the average runtime and the lack of a 90 or 120 Hertz display will bother some.

The price of 1,200 euros is undoubtedly self-confident, but firstly, other flagships have reached a similar new price and secondly, the Sony model appeals to a special target group with professional mobile photographers and filmers. As an alternative, we can recommend the Samsung Galaxy S20+, which is now much cheaper at around 900 euros. It has a 120 Hertz display and good cameras, but does not achieve the processor performance of the Sony.

For more money there is the Galaxy S20 Ultra, whose cameras are not much better overall according to my test due to focus problems. It has a 120 Hertz display for this. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which also costs around 1,300 euros, first has to prove itself in the test, but has an input pen and the dynamic 120 Hertz display ahead of the Xperia.

Sony Xperia 1 II Pros:

  • + Chic, sophisticated design
  • + Sharp, high-contrast OLED display with accurate colors
  • + Very good equipment including IP68 and headphone connection
  • + Rapid performance
  • + Very good cameras

Sony Xperia 1 II Cons:

  • – Display only with 60 Hertz
  • – Running time should be better

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