The Sony Xperia 1 III (pronounced one mark-three) is - imaginatively titled I know - the third iteration on a phone that was originally released back in 2019, promising a creator-led experience that combined the best of Sony's Alpha camera line and Bravia TV tech into an ultra-portable form factor.
There's no denying that Sony's smartphones are somewhat niche from the offset, but does the Xperia 1 III do enough to finally break through into the mainstream with its new inclusions to make it stand out as one of the best gaming phones or best mobiles that you can buy this year in general?
Sony Xperia 1 III review: price
This is likely to be the most divisive thing about the Xperia 1 III, apart from its 21:9 aspect ratio, and that's in simply how much the handset costs at a staggering $1,299.99/£1,199. Sony's flagship smartphones have always carried a high price tag, but this new version will run you more than the iPhone 12 Pro Max or a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra did at launch.
Personally, I've been an everyday user of the older Xperia 1 II before getting the new iteration in my hands so I knew where that money was going, but it's still one hell of an investment for the majority of people; well worth considering the price if you are thinking about picking the phone up any time soon.
Sony Xperia 1 III review: design
At first glance, little has changed between last year's model and the new Xperia 1 III. Both phones utilize a narrow 21:9 aspect ratio and thin bezels as opposed to the pinhole camera design - or Apple's iPhone notch - found on other smartphones. This decision was made in order to front-load the stereo speakers so that they are clear and loud in the hand without sounding muffled - a trade-off that has traditionally always worked out great.
The Xperia 1 III features returning favorites that are sadly disappearing in flagship phones nowadays such as a 3.5mm headphone jack and expandable storage via Micro SD. If you've missed these things on phones in recent years, Sony has you covered.
The visual biggest difference this time around is the matte finish on the Xperia 1 III as opposed to the all-over Gorilla Glass 6 as found on the previous model, combined with a different texture on some of the buttons as a result. The phone is now easier to hold without a case and feels less slippery in day-to-day use.
There's still the fingerprint sensor/power button on the side that's remained unchanged since the first model, but this time is accompanied by a dedicated Google Assistant button that, I'll be honest, I literally never used. We found that this side-mounted fingerprint scanner was much more effective than some of the in-built screen ones found on other smartphones - our fingers were read with ease and the Sony Xperia 1 III often opened up as soon as we put it in our hands.
On the subject of all things tactile, the shutter button makes a return this time though it's textured far differently from the rest of the device, meaning it's easy to find when you're snapping shots.
Sony Xperia 1 III review: performance
Let's be honest here, any phone in 2021 that's running the Snapdragon 888 5G mobile processor is going to be an absolute beast for browsing applications and multi-tasking with a myriad of software tabs open at any one time. The Xperia 1 III is no exception and - especially thanks to its 120Hz refresh rate and 12GB RAM - genuinely is the fastest, smoothest experience I've ever had on a smartphone.
It didn't really matter what I did on the handset, I never experienced any signs of slowdown or stutter, even with the hundreds of different Chrome tabs open in the background while gaming or streaming 4K movies whilst at home and on the go. If 4K HDR OLED 120Hz panels are to become the standard on smartphones in the years to come, then I never want to go back.
One factor that could be slightly worrying to long-time users of this handset is that the Xperia 1 III is only going to receive two years' worth of security updates, but will receive at least two versions of Android, as confirmed by Sony. It's worth noting that other Android-focused smartphone manufacturers, such as Samsung with its Galaxy line, have a policy in place covering its devices for four years - with Apple iPhones receiving updates for between four to six years total depending on the hardware.
Sony Xperia 1 III review: gaming
Playing games on this device was is an absolute joy - and it gave me an excuse to jump back into Call of Duty: Mobile and play a few games - which quickly devolved into a few continuous hours - with a K/D ratio that I wish I was able to achieve on the PC/console versions. As you may imagine, the game ran flawlessly on its highest graphical settings with the 21:9 aspect ratio allowing for good visibility of the action unfolding in front of me; even with my digits taking up roughly 40% of the available real estate.
Gentler titles were no less impressive on the Xperia 1 III as I found continued pleasure in getting the most out of more simplistic games like Two Dots and Progressbar95 just as well as when trying out the criminally underrated Deus Ex Go and the surprisingly fleshed out Shadowgun: Legends for an eclectic combination that ran like a dream. It's safe to say whatever mobile title you throw its way will be just as silky smooth.
Sony Xperia 1 III review: photography
The proof is in the pictures with this particular phone, and quad-camera setup -
complete with Zeiss optics, Zeiss T* lens coating, and a 0.3MP 3D TOF sensor and HDR - work their collective magic to produce some stellar images and video.
Gone are the two camera apps that came onboard the Xperia 1 II (stock Android and Photo Pro) with a new and improved Photo Pro standalone featuring a 'Basic' mode as a replacement. Now - when you press the shutter button - you're brought into the action without having to contend with the lesser feature-set of stock Android snapping - though some point and shoot immediacy is lost.
If you want to get technical with these sensors, the Sony Xperia 1 III is rocking a Telephoto optical lens at 70mm (f/2.3) and 105mm (f/2.8) as well as a 24mm wide (f/1.7) and 16mm ultrawide (f/2.2) for when you need to get some distance on your subject. The results speak for themselves. Cinema Pro is equally robust, though remains virtually unchanged from how it was with last year's model.
It's the continuous auto-focus and Eye/Face tracking that pushes this camera system above other smartphones on the market, as - in my testing - I was able to focus on my pet degu that was moving around quickly, even getting his eyes captured perfectly.
The ability to shoot in burst modes takes a lot of the guesswork out of trying to capture what would otherwise be extremely challenging - if not impossible - to do manually; one of the Sony Alpha camera's best inclusions and certainly just as good here.
Sony Xperia 1 III review: should you buy it?
The short and simple answer is that if you're a fan of photography, watching movies, and playing games on the go then there's little debate that this is the perfect phone for you. If you're only really interested in something to browse the socials on, then the Sony Xperia 1 III is going to be overkill - not to mention very expensive.
Talking about the price, it's more expensive than equivalent flagships over at Apple and Samsung, and those phones hold much more general appeal to most people. Still, if you want something fast that covers areas of the creative space, then we're more than comfortable wholeheartedly recommending this handset; it does everything it sets out to do excellently, but again - it isn't going to be for everyone.