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Sony unveils Xperia 1 III — with a world's first for camera phones

Sony Xperia 1 III camera
(Image credit: Sony)

After a pretty substantial leak yesterday, Sony has officially confirmed the Xperia 1 III and Xperia 5 III smartphones today (April 14). The early signs are pretty positive as both models sports solid specs and what Sony says is a world's first for camera phones.

We don’t yet have pricing details (but knowing Sony, they’ll be expensive), and the release date has been set as a nebulous “this summer”. Sony is touting those phones as the “world’s first smartphone with variable telephoto lens paired with a Dual PD sensor” plus the phones offer improvements to the Xperia’s already very strong autofocus system. 

In layman’s terms, these camera improvements give the Xperia 1 III and Xperia 5 III a single periscope camera that is able to switch between 3x and 5x zoom (70mm and 105mm focal length) instead of two separate shooters. This is what Sony is claiming is a first for a commercially available smartphone. 

Sony has historically struggled with camera software and rarely has its devices been capable of matching the photography quality possible on handsets from Apple or Google, but it seems like the Japanese tech giant is very determined to right that reputation here. 

The phones sport three 12.2MP sensors on the rear and both the main and the telephoto lenses support OIS — plus the more premium Xperia 1 III will also have a time-of-flight sensor. The front camera will be 8MP. 

The improvements go beyond the core hardware. Support for shooting in 4K with HDR at 120 fps was expected, but still welcome, but the new Xperia phones will also add real-time autofocus tracking and Sony is (at last) integrating its pro camera app with the basic camera app, making it much quicker to jump between modes. 

Sony Xperia 1 III: More than a camera phone 

Sony Xperia 1 III

(Image credit: Sony)

It’s not just in the camera department where these Xperia smartphones venture into uncharted waters. The 1 III model boasts a 6.5-inch 4K OLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, which we cannot wait to see it in person. This will be the first phone to offer such a screen, and it could be the device’s biggest selling point. 

The Xperia 5 III is downgraded slightly, as it comes with a 6.1-inch screen with a 1080p resolution. This is hardly unexpected as it’s an entry-level model so some caveats need to be made in the name of price, it does contain most of the camera improvements at least.  

The two phones will be powered by a Snapdragon 888 processor, paired with 12GB of RAM, what we might consider at this point the basic specs you’ll see on a flagship Android phone such as the OnePlus 9 Pro. Full 5G support is being offered this time, whereas the last Xperia models were oddly incompatible with 5G networks in the US. Though they’re still not compatible with AT&T’s 5G network. 

Design-wise, the phones are sticking to the distinctive Experia look that has become well established at this point. That means both phones are tall and narrow with curved angles and in this case a slightly larger camera bump. Hopefully, neither has issues displaying everything on the screen at once as the Xperia 10 did. 

The phones will also contain a 4,500 mAh battery, support wireless charging, run Android 11 OS and there’s even a headphone jack, which is far from a guarantee these days. All in all, the Xperia 1 III and Xperia 5 III sound like reasonably attractive devices, especially for those who take their photography seriously. 

The question will be whether Sony can gain a strong foothold in the market compared to the big players like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro. The Xperia line has often struggled from a pricing perspective and the lack of availability through carriers in the past hasn’t helped either. 

We’re certainly looking forward to putting both these Xperia phones through their paces later this summer. Hopefully, these might finally be the devices to take Sony’s smartphone game up a notch. 

Rory is a staff writer at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics including tech news, deals, gaming, streaming and more. When he’s not writing hot takes on the latest gaming hardware and streaming shows, he can be found watching a borderline unhealthy amount of movies and being thoroughly disappointed by his terrible football team.