Sony Xperia 1 III review

GSMArena Team, 05 July 2021.


Sony's design principles have always been rooted in continuity and evolution rather than groundbreaking changes. The Xperia 1 III is, then, a true Sony smartphone. Perhaps some bolder strokes every once in a while wouldn't hurt, but it's not this Xperia that will introduce them, and maybe it doesn't need to.

Sony Xperia 1 III reviewXperia 1 II (left) next to the Xperia 1 III

As you can see, the Xperia 1 III is a familiar, no-nonsense blocky rectangle - a revelation for minimalism-inclined souls. The straight lines and flat surfaces - front, back, and frame - make the 1 III look more like a precision tool than a fashion accessory.

Sony Xperia 1 III review

The 1 III is not entirely unchanged compared to last year's model, of course. You'll note that the glossy mirror-like finish of the rear panel has made way for an antireflective frosted treatment. It's nowhere as accommodating to fingerprints as the old design, and that's a most welcome change, though it still picks up some smudges. The rear panel is made of Gorilla Glass 6 in contrast to the Gorilla Glass Victus on the front.

Sony Xperia 1 III reviewMatte Xperia 1 III (left) next to the glossy Xperia 1 II

The arrangement of bits on the back remains the same. The slightly larger triple-camera island is in the top left corner and sticks out by about 1.3mm. That's enough to make the Xperia wobble on a table - something you'll likely only notice if you type with the phone lying down. A ToF pair is also part of that cluster, while the flash and the light temperature sensor are above it, outside of the raised area.

Sony Xperia 1 III review

The exposed aluminum frame that surrounds the entire handset has undergone a similar change to the one on the back panel - it's now matte instead of shiny. Another new development we're seeing this year across the Sony lineup is the inclusion of a hardware Google Assistant key. The 5 II from 2020 already had that, but it only now makes it to the 1.

The power button is just above the midpoint of the phone, and it houses a capacitive fingerprint sensor. We generally had a positive experience unlocking the Xperia 1 III with either the left index finger (this reviewer is a leftie when it comes to smartphone use) or the right thumb - both in terms of speed and success rate.

Sony Xperia 1 III review

That said, the usual caveats with side-mounted fingerprint readers apply - you're likely to accidentally brush against the sensor with other parts of your hand maxing out the number of unlock attempts allowed, only to find yourself unable to unlock with a fingerprint when you do actually want to. Alternatively, you may slip the phone in your pocket, touching the sensor in the process and unlocking it, ultimately leaving it unlocked. There's no provision in settings to require a press of the button to unlock - the usual way to avoid accidental sensor activation on other phones - so that's definitely a usability issue.

Sony Xperia 1 III review

One feature you won't find on many other phones is the two-stage shutter release button the Xperia 1 III has. A staple of the lineup, it mimics the operation of a shutter release button on a standalone camera. We do tend to prefer touch operation in our smartphone cameras in most cases, and for those situations where mechanical input is preferred (say, when wearing gloves), power or volume button shortcuts typically do the job just fine.

The Xperia's dedicated key doesn't hurt, of course. It's got a knurled texture and is easy to locate by feel, though a slightly fatter size would have helped its usability. Then again, we probably would have complained about a big button that nobody uses, so we'd say it's just right as it is.

Sony Xperia 1 III review

The left side of the Xperia 1 III is home to the card slot, and it takes two nano SIMs or a nano-SIM and a microSD card - a hybrid slot then. Sony card slots are opened by prying out the tray with a fingernail, no pin required, and we're fans of that, particularly since Xperias stopped restarting every time you pull out the tray. The tray has a gasket to keep the elements out, and that's a good moment to point out that the Xperia 1 III has an IP65/IP68 rating for dust and water protection - it's rated for both water jets (the IPx5) and submersion (IPx8).

Pry-out card tray - Sony Xperia 1 III review Hybrid microSD slot - Sony Xperia 1 III review
Pry-out card tray • Hybrid microSD slot

The top and bottom of the phone hold a mic each, and the bottom has the USB-C port, while the top proudly hosts a headphone jack.

USB-C port on the bottom - Sony Xperia 1 III review 3.5mm headphone jack up top - Sony Xperia 1 III review
USB-C port on the bottom • 3.5mm headphone jack up top

Over on the front, there's the 6.5-inch OLED display - it's the same unit, at least physically, as on the last generation. The official specs list the new handset as being smaller by 0.1mm in both the X and Y directions, and that looks just like it sounds - the face that greets you is unchanged.

Sony Xperia 1 III review

There's a reasonably thin black border on the sides of the display while the top and bottom bezels are thicker. The black area above the screen houses a selfie camera, ambient light and proximity sensors, an RGB notification/status LED, and an earpiece that also serves as a second speaker - as bezels go, this one seems pretty warranted, and we don't really mind it.

Sony Xperia 1 III review

A symmetrically sized one below the display hides the bottom speaker, itself also directed towards the front. If you're the type to appreciate a bit more chin on your phone for handling reasons, the Xperia 1 III is just right for you. The symmetry argument for its existence is strong too - top bezels that are thicker than bottom ones look just plain wrong, and Sony should know, it's done a few of those (check out the original Xperia 10).

Sony Xperia 1 III review

The Xperia 1 III handles a lot like the 1 II. It's undeniably a tall phone and reaching the top isn't something you do with one hand. It'll also require relatively deep pockets so that it doesn't stick out - there's no escaping the fact that it's a 6.5-inch phone in a 21:9 aspect. For what it's worth, it's 40+ grams lighter than the Galaxy S21 Ultra or the Mi 11 Ultra, so it's a lightweight phone in this context, odd as it may sound, given its 186/187g weight (depending on the 5G setup).

Sony Xperia 1 III review

Reader comments

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