The Xperia 1 Mark III Could Be Sony's Big Chance for a Major Mobile Comeback

Illustration for article titled The Xperia 1 Mark III Could Be Sony's Big Chance for a Major Mobile Comeback
Photo: Sony

Over the past few years, Sony phones have landed in the U.S. like lead balloons. Its handsets don’t get much support from carriers or room on retail shelves. But with the new Xperia 1 Mark III, Sony could be poised for a big time comeback.

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The Xperia 1 III has Sony’s signature minimalist styling, but comes with the world’s first variable telephoto camera on a phone and also the first 4K HDR OLED mobile display with a 120Hz refresh rate.

The bottom telephoto camera features a periscope-style design with moving elements that can switch between 70mm and 105mm focal lengths.
The bottom telephoto camera features a periscope-style design with moving elements that can switch between 70mm and 105mm focal lengths.
Image: Sony

The Xperia 1 III’s new variable telephoto camera marks a huge step forward for smartphone photography, because instead of using multiple cameras to deliver different focal lengths, Sony is able to provide a 2.9x zoom (70mm) and a 4x zoom (105mm) using a single camera sensor, which relies on moving optical elements to switch between the two zoom ranges at will. Unfortunately, the Xperia 1 III still can’t pick a zoom in between those two focal lengths like you would on a traditional camera with a typical zoom lens, but for people concerned about the increasing size of today’s smartphone camera modules, Sony’s implementation presents a much more elegant and sophisticated way of supporting a wide range of zooms.

On top of that, by borrowing tech from the industry-leading focus-tracking it uses on its Alpha mirrorless cams, Sony now supports real-time Eye AF across all of the Xperia 1 III’s rear cams (12-MP main lens, 12-MP telephoto, 12-MP ultra-wide, and a bonus time-of-flight depth sensor), with burst shooting rates of up to 20 fps.

Illustration for article titled The Xperia 1 Mark III Could Be Sony's Big Chance for a Major Mobile Comeback
Image: Sony

Sony even redesigned its camera app to give users more control over photo settings while also adding new streamlined shooting modes to help prevent people from being overwhelmed when they just want to snap a pic quickly.

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And when you want to check out your photos and videos, the Xperia 1 Mark III’s 6.5-inch OLED display boasts a 120Hz refresh rate, a 4K resolution, and support for HDR, 10-bit color and tuning courtesy of Sony’s Bravia TVs, which should offer a viewing experience right up there with the best Samsung phones. And similar to what Sony did for the Xperia Pro, you can even connect the Xperia 1 III to some cameras using an HDMI to USB-C cable and use the phone as an external monitor.

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Illustration for article titled The Xperia 1 Mark III Could Be Sony's Big Chance for a Major Mobile Comeback
Image: Sony

The Xperia 1 III is packed with premium specs, including a Snapdragon 888 chip, 12GB of RAM, at least 256GB of storage, and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, in addition to features like a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot, the latter of which are things Samsung axed on recent Galaxy S phones. Sony even still includes a handy dedicated shutter button to really drive home the phone’s camera prowess.

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Here’s a size comparison between the Xperia 5 III (front) and the Xperia 1 III (back).
Here’s a size comparison between the Xperia 5 III (front) and the Xperia 1 III (back).
Image: Sony

And while audio is an often-overlooked area on phones, Sony says the Xperia 1 III front-facing stereo speakers are 40% louder than before, while also supporting the new 360 Reality Audio and Spatial Audio designed to deliver a richer, more immersive listening experience. Heck, Sony even included a 4,500 mAh battery (which is big by Sony standards) and faster 30W wired charging, with Qi wireless and reverse wireless charging thrown in for good measure.

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I haven’t had the chance to check out the Xperia 1 III out in person, the more I learn the more I’m excited for Sony’s next flagship mobile device. It ticks almost all the boxes when it comes to what I look for in a high-end phone, and even comes with stuff like a headphone jack that other big names like Samsung, OnePlus, and others have dropped in recent times. And with Sony incorporating even more tech from its other gadget divisions, it really feels like Sony may have finally created a complete, compelling package in the Xperia 1 Mark III. (I would still like to see a little more influence from the PlayStation team though.)

If you like the general design and specs of the Xperia 1 Mark III but would prefer something a bit more compact, Sony is also announcing the Xperia 5 Mark III, which is pretty much the same phone (minus the variable telephoto camera), but with a smaller 6-inch screen.

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Illustration for article titled The Xperia 1 Mark III Could Be Sony's Big Chance for a Major Mobile Comeback
Image: Sony

Right now, my only concern is that even on T-Mobile and Verizon (which is Sony’s preferred carrier in the U.S.), the Xperia 1 III will only have support for sub-6Ghz 5G but not mmWave 5G, even though the Snapdragon 888 technically supports both. And for unlocked models on other U.S. carriers like AT&T, the Xperia 1 III will be limited to 4G LTE only, which could be a major bummer for anyone planning on holding onto the phone for more than a couple years, and will probably hurt general retail availability as well.

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Sadly, Sony has yet to announce specific pricing or availability info for both the Xperia 1 Mark III or the Xperia 5 Mark III, but you can bet I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

DISCUSSION

ive never quite understood why sonys phones werent more popular, ive been using them years and theyre some of the most robust devices out there, i know this both from personal use and from being a technician for many years and id say sony arguably have fewer issues (not caused by user damage) than anything else, even samsung dont get much level 3 work (board level components) but i think ive encountered less than 10 xperia devices that needed L3 in the past 5 years and i process a lot of devices

they also seem to survive drops better than most devices too, i dropped my XZ1 compact literally hundreds of times, even once down a set of metal stairs and yet that phone is still working and in use by a friend now, the only grip i could level at them is that they dont have the sort of audio tech that the likes of LG do, they have the capability so itd be nice to see them really go to town on a phones audio especially since LG just bowed out leaving a (admittedly smallish) hole in the market for audiophile phones