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Sony Xperia 1 IV review: An uncompromising flagship

Jon Mundy
5 Jul 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,299
inc VAT

The Sony Xperia 1 IV is another uniquely well-equipped flagship with some familiar flaws

Pros 
Movie-centric 21:9 4K screen
Impressive flexible camera zoom system
Uniquely audiophile friendly
Cons 
Even more expensive
Runs hot
Relatively slow charging
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For the past four years, Sony has chartered its Xperia 1 flagship line away from the mainstream mainland and towards a tiny island of enthusiasts. Whether you’re a cinema buff, an audiophile, or an avid photographer, Sony’s top smartphones have always had something unique to offer.

The Sony Xperia 1 IV continues that heritage, with an even brighter 4K display, a familiar industrial design, and one of the most sophisticated camera zoom systems we’ve ever seen in a phone – all at the highest starting price yet.

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Sony Xperia 1 IV review: What you need to know

Sony hasn’t messed with its flagship formula much. Normally that might be grounds for grumbling, but given that this formula is so very distinct from rival brands, we have few complaints.

You’re getting practically the same tall and blocky design, fronted by a familiar 6.5in 4K OLED display. The one major improvement to the latter is a quoted 50% boost to peak brightness, which was the key weakness of the Xperia 1 III’s screen.

By far the most interesting change this year is the Xperia 1 IV’s new telephoto camera. This is the only smartphone in recent memory that has offered the ability to transition between two levels of zoom incrementally, without any digital tricks.

Other improvements are less exciting, but nonetheless welcome. There’s the expected bump in power courtesy of an up to date Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset. You also get a larger 5,000mAh battery which, given the Xperia 1 III’s poor stamina, seems a smart move on Sony’s part.

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Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Price and competition

The Xperia 1 IV landed in shops on 16 June 2022 at a price of £1,299 for the sole 256GB model. That represents a £100 increase over the Sony Xperia 1 III, which we labelled “Very, very expensive” in our mid-2021 review.

More importantly, this makes the Xperia 1 IV £150 more expensive than the equivalent iPhone 13 Pro Max (£1,149) and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (£1,170) models. We get that Sony takes pride in going the extra mile with its flagship line, but you can’t exactly accuse those two cheaper rivals of taking their foot off the pedal either.

It’s also worth mentioning what you can get for significantly less money. The Xiaomi 12 (£849), the Samsung Galaxy S22 (£819), and the iPhone 13 (£729) all provide flagship experiences (albeit without all the bells and whistles) for £400 to £500 less than the Xperia 1 IV. Ouch.

Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Design and key features

Sony hasn’t tinkered with its distinctive design language for the Xperia 1 IV. At 165 x 71 x 8.2mm (HWD), it’s almost identically tall and thin to the Xperia 1 III. It’s similarly light, too, at just 185g.

In general, this approach makes for a phone that’s easy to wield one-handed, at least until you try to stretch a thumb up to one of those distant corners. Sony’s handy Side Sense dock helps with that, bringing up a compact menu of your favoured apps as well as a shortcut to the split-screen multitasking mode. This also allows you to bring the notification shade down from anywhere on the homescreen.

The whole shape and layout of the phone is precision engineered for video content, from the 21:9 aspect ratio of its display to the presence of larger-than-normal top and bottom bezels. The latter point means that Sony can house the selfie camera without interfering with the picture (there’s no notch here), as well as equipping its phone with strong front-firing stereo speakers.

While a number of Android phone manufacturers have started emulating Apple’s return to a blockier, more industrial design language, Sony never left it behind. The Sony Xperia 1 IV is all flat edges, with even the corners refusing to throw in much of a curve.

The rear panel looks and feels premium, though the frosted glass finish isn’t quite as resistant to fingerprints as we would have liked. That’s always an issue with black phones, though, and you can specify the Xperia 1 IV in purple or white if you’d prefer.

As always, Sony goes above and beyond on the water and dust-resistance certification. Not only do you get the expected IP68 rating, but also the IP65 rating. This simply means the Xperia 1 IV has been subjected to more forms of water torture than all of its rivals.

No manufacturer packs the edges of its phones with as many points of interest as Sony, either. That includes a gloriously tactile two-stage camera shutter button on the right-hand edge, situated to the right of a power button/fingerprint sensor.

The latter is very responsive, perhaps overly so. I often found that when I fished the phone out of my trouser pocket, it had tried to authenticate too many times, requiring a manual passcode entry. Whether that was from the heat of my leg or the occasional brush from my fidgety hand, I can’t be sure, but it quickly grew annoying.

Sony has actually slimmed down its button offering from the Xperia 1 III, with no dedicated Google Assistant button this time around. This always felt superfluous, so can be seen as a positive change.

Once again, Sony has equipped its flagship with a high-quality 3.5mm headphone jack. Together with the brand’s perpetual 360 Reality Audio and LDAC support, and a three-month free trial of Tidal, this really is a phone to consider if you’re an audiophile.

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Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Display

The Sony Xperia 1 IV’s 6.5in AMOLED display is one of the best in the business. It’s the pinnacle of the form if you’re someone who watches a lot of high-grade movie or online video content on the go.

Sony’s use of the wider 21:9 aspect ratio helps. This isn’t optimal for regular portrait usage, but it is perfect for widescreen movies, where there won’t be a hint of black bar wastage. Of course, the flip side of this is that more common squarer video content will display extra-chunky black side borders, but them’s the breaks.

Sony remains the only phone manufacturer to use a genuine 4K (3,840 x 1,644) resolution for its flagship phone display. Most of the time it outputs at a regular FHD, but downloadable 4K content and 4K YouTube videos will output natively. Annoyingly, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video still won’t stream at 4K here.

All of this was true of the Xperia 1 III, of course. The one criticism we had of that phone, however, was that it didn’t get very bright. Sony has addressed this in the Xperia 1 IV, with a 50% brighter output. I recorded a peak measured luminance of 646cd/m² with autobrightness turned off, which is certainly an improvement but still fails to match the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s retina-searing 815cd/m² brightness.

Conversely, I found that colour accuracy didn’t quite match up to the Xperia 1 III, with a Delta E colour variance of 1.53 in the phone’s Creator display mode, which targets the BT.2020 colour gamut. That’s still very strong, though, as evidenced by an sRGB gamut coverage of 96%, and a gamut volume of 98.7% sRGB.

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Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Performance and battery life

Sony has given the Xperia 1 IV an up-to-date Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip and a capacious 12GB of RAM, which is more than sufficient to drive everything you’d want to achieve with the Xperia 1 IV. General navigation is silky smooth, with Sony’s lightweight Android 12 skin zipping along seamlessly for the most part, while the benchmark scores are broadly competitive with other Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phones.

Genshin Impact runs smoothly at peak graphical settings and frame rates, though I found that the phone did get worryingly toasty during the initial download and installation process, and a little warm after a few minutes of play. Overheating seems to be a consistent issue with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip, but it’s potentially even more problematic in a phone that’s intended to be used extensively for high-end tasks like extended 4K video recording.

One welcome upgrade this time around is the Xperia 1 IV’s 5,000mAh battery, which is a pretty significant step up from the Xperia 1 III’s 4,500mAh cell. In general usage, I found that I was able to get through a fairly intensive day with five hours of screen-on time, and be left with around 15% left in the tank. The Xperia 1 III would hit that mark with around 40 minutes less screen-on time.

A day of more moderate usage, with around three hours of screen on time, would sap less than half a tank, which is a respectable result. However, when running the standard looping Expert Reviews video test, the Xperia 1 IV only lasted a pitiful 11hrs 50mins. The Sony Xperia 1 III lasted 14hrs 43mins, and we commented at the time that this wasn’t a particularly great result compared to other flagships. Could this drop off under sustained load be related to those aforementioned overheating concerns?

It’s also a little strange that Sony hasn’t bolstered its charging speed support beyond the previous 30W. Using a 30W charger from another manufacturer (Sony doesn’t include a charger or cable in the box), a 30 minute charge got me from empty to just under 50%, which isn’t particularly fast.

Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Cameras

Sony has implemented a familiar triple 12MP camera system here. There’s no pixel-binning tricks of its (non-Apple) rivals, either: rather, it leans on photographic staples like a fairly large sensor, solid optics, and the best autofocus system in town.

The main and ultrawide cameras are pretty much identical to what we’ve seen before from the Xperia 1 line, offering natural shots that might not initially appear the most appealing or best exposed, but which capture scenes a lot more faithfully than most of the Xperia 1 IV’s processing-heavy rivals.

This low-intervention approach can come unstuck in challenging lighting situations that cry out for a strong HDR implementation, with elements often lost to excessive shade. It also means that the Xperia 1 IV continues to lack a dedicated Night mode, and can’t perform the same miracles in low light situations as the iPhone 13 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, and Pixel 6 Pro.

However, if you’re willing to work with the phone’s extensive manual control options, and even to jump into your snaps later using photo editing software, then you’ll be able to yield impressively natural results. Less Insta-worthy, perhaps, but more in line with what you might get from a dedicated camera.

Nowhere is that last line more applicable than with the Xperia 1 IV’s improved telephoto offering. While the Xperia 1 III offered two fixed levels of optical zoom, its successor lets you move seamlessly between 70mm and 125mm equivalents. This means that anything you capture within a 3.5x to 5.2x zoom range will be a genuine product of shifting optics rather than computer algorithms.

I would have liked for this key zoom range to be slightly better isolated within the busy camera UI, as it feels too easy to go above 5.2x (and thus into the realm of cropping) in the heat of the moment. But the ultimate result is far more control over the framing of your subjects, and far more consistent results when you opt to get a little closer.

Sony has improved its front camera this time around, from 8MP in the Xperia 1 III to 12MP in the Xperia 1 IV. Selfies are suitably crisp and natural-looking, but the main beneficiary of this is the fresh possibility of 4K video self-recording.

Indeed, videographers will generally find the Xperia 1 IV a more appealing prospect than its predecessor. There’s now the potential to capture 4K 120fps footage across all four of the phone’s cameras, though you won’t be able to capture sound at the same time.

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Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Verdict

You have to admire how stubbornly Sony has stuck to its enthusiast’s brief with the Xperia 1 IV. It’s doubled down on many of the talking points of the Xperia 1 III, including an even more flexible and pro-friendly camera system.

It also stuck with its unique widescreen 4K display, which offers the best canvas for mobile movie-watching, while audiophiles continue to be better catered for here than with any other flagship phone.

However, the Xperia 1 IV’s stamina – while improved in general terms – still suffers a little under load, which could be related to a tendency to run slightly hot. Factor in a casual point-and-shoot camera experience that remains uncompetitive, and an even higher price tag, and this is unlikely to be the year in which Sony attains crossover success with its uncompromising flagship vision.

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