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Sony Xperia 1 First Look: Widescreen Experience in a 6.5-Inch Phone

Updated Feb. 26 at 3:02 p.m. CET with hands-on impressions of the Xperia 1 from Mobile World Congress.

BARCELONA — Sony isn’t straying from its signature rectangular design for its 2019 smartphone lineup — sharp edges and all. But the company is finally taking the technology it developed for its film, camera, television and gaming divisions and putting all of it in a flagship device: the Xperia 1.

Sony is known for its cinematic gravitas, and with the Xperia 1, some of that technology is on display. But does the world want a movie screen in a phone? Only one way to find out.

A cinematic experience

The Xperia 1’s 6.5-inch display is the first 4K HDR OLED screen in a smartphone. The 21:9 aspect ratio recreates the ultra-widescreen look of a film screening. The Dolby Atmos audio was engineered by Sony’s movie division. Sony’s X1 mobile processing engine recreates brilliant, accurate color, similar to the technology the company uses in its Bravia line of televisions.

I got a peek at the Xperia 1's brilliant display at Mobile World Congress, where Don Mesa, Sony Mobile's vice president of marketing, showed me a 4K clip of Avengers: Infinity War that took advantage of the 21:9 aspect ratio. Every scene is stunning and immersive at this aspect ratio, because you can see so much more of the action. Sony kept a top bezel for its front-facing camera, which prevents the screen from being (or feeling) truly edge-to-edge, but watching content on the Xperia 1 feels like watching a mini-movie screen in your hand.

Then there are the cameras, which take some of the DNA in Sony’s Alpha lineup with RAW noise reduction. The Xperia 1 offers a triple-lens camera system with 12-megapixel super-wide, 12-MP standard and 12-MP telephoto lens.

The Xperia 1 has automatic eye focus turned on by default, which didn't sound that cool until I see it on action. Sony set up a photography studio at its booth on the MWC show floor and demonstrated how the Xperia 1 could capture a model walking without any blur. It was impressive: The camera locks onto a subject's eyes and uses that to steady and sharpen the entire image. This would be useful if your most common photo subjects are kids or pets who can never sit still.

The Xperia 1, right, focuses on a person's eyes to steady and sharpen a photo.

The Xperia 1, right, focuses on a person's eyes to steady and sharpen a photo.

The camera magic goes a step further with a Cinema Pro mode in the camera’s video settings that offers eight different video tools that do all of the work for you. The Xperia 1 also includes optical image stabilization, a SteadyShot tool and digital image stabilization — the full trifecta for clip creation. A creator mode reproduces the color gamut you would find in a high-end monitor used by a film director.

That all sounds incredible. But unless you want to shoot Oscar-worthy videos on your phone, it could be overkill.

Premium flagship in every way

Sony wants the Xperia 1 to be a worthy Galaxy S10 rival, and on paper, it is. With a triple-lens camera, Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 855 processor and a Game Enhancer mode that lets you record gameplay (and, bonus, find game tips very easily), Sony clearly came to play in the big leagues.

I took my favorite racing game, Asphalt 9, for a spin on the Xperia 1 to see how driving felt on this widescreen phone, and I was impressed. The 21:9 aspect ratio feels like playing a console game on a TV. As I cruised the mountainous course, using nitro boost to shoot past my fellow speed demons, I felt like I was actually driving the snowy terrain. The transparent Game Enhancer icon can be moved around the screen, tucked away or front and center, whichever you prefer.

Outlook

The U.S. hasn’t been very accepting of Sony smartphones. Despite my adoration of the Xperia XZ2 Compact (that size! so cute!), last year’s 5-inch phone never really caught on. The high asking price Sony usually demands for its phones may be one reason why.

And the Xperia 1 feels behind already. Companies like Samsung and Huawei are pushing the boundaries of smartphone technology with foldable displays and 5G. Sony’s ultra-widescreen is beautiful, but quaint.

Stay tuned for more details about Sony’s phone from MWC and a full review of the Xperia 1 when it debuts this spring.

Credits: Tom's Guide