Sony has long struggled to get its phones noticed in the sea of top-tier Android devices, so at MWC 2019, the company is trying a new strategy to make its phones stand out — literally — by featuring ultra-tall 21:9 displays. That starts with the Xperia 1, its new flagship.
The Xperia 1 is the successor to the Xperia XZ3 that Sony released last fall. But as the name implies, Sony is viewing this as a chance to start fresh with its mobile phone brand, beginning with a new design centered on that very, very tall display.
And make no mistake, the Xperia 1 — along with the more budget-friendly Xperia 10 and 10 Plus, which also will have 21:9 displays — is a tall glass of water. The screen itself is a 4K HDR OLED panel (supposedly the first on a smartphone) that measures in at 6.5 inches. The key thing here is that aspect ratio; sure, there are plenty of screens that are 6.5 inches on the diagonal, but the Xperia 1 is taller than basically all of them.
There’s no notch, although there is a bezel on top. Counting that and the body of the phone, the entire Xperia 1 measures 6.57-inches tall, to the point where the top of the phone actually stuck out of my jeans pocket (for comparison, that’s almost an inch taller than an iPhone XS, which is 5.65 inches tall).
The long display is certainly distinctive, something that hasn’t been true of many of Sony’s forgettable phones. But what does it actually get you, practically speaking?
To that end, Sony has a few answers. The first is simply more stuff. A lot of our phone content tends to be things displayed in vertical lists, like text message threads, emails, Instagram feeds, and so on. A taller screen means you can read and browse more stuff at once.
Sony is also emphasizing multitasking, with the idea that you can have a second app pinned to the top of your screen (like a map), while still using a second app at what would be full-screen size on a smaller phone below it.
Lastly, there’s an emphasis on watching videos and playing games, which sounds great on paper, but is a little less practical in real life. Plenty of movies are filmed in cinematic aspect ratios, which should look great on the tall screen. But the content that people tend to watch on their phones, like YouTube, usually isn’t — which means that you’ll run into plenty of black bars. Sony is also working with partners on versions of games like Fortnite and Asphalt Racing to support the taller screen, but games that aren’t optimized won’t take full advantage.
The Xperia 1 isn’t just a screen, of course, and the rest of the phone is packed with top-of-the-line specs: There’s a triple camera system on the back with a trio of 12 megapixel lenses — a 26mm wide lens (with OIS), a 52mm telephoto lens (also with OIS), and a 16mm superwide lens. There’s also the requisite Snapdragon 855, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and water resistance. Sony also has a side-mounted fingerprint reader, which is disappointing considering that many of its competitors have moved onto readers built into the screen. Although given Sony’s history of offering no fingerprint reader in the US at all for many years, it’s nice to see it here.
As for the mid-range phones, there’s the Xperia 10, and its larger cousin, the Xperia 10 Plus. The Xperia 10 has a smaller 6-inch LCD screen, 3GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a midrange Snapdragon 630 processor. The Xperia 10 Plus is closer in side to the Xperia 1 with a 6.5-inch panel (albeit LCD and lower resolution), along with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage. Both feature the same 21:9 aspect ratio.
While the Xperia 10 models are definitely budget phones, with a far cheaper feel to them than the Xperia 1, I almost prefer the design on the cheaper phones, which feature an almost non-existent chin on the bottom in favor of a larger bezel on top.
Sony wouldn’t let us try out the Xperia 1 past the lock screen (all I can tell you is that the glossy back is an absolute fingerprint magnet, and the wallpaper looks lovely), but we did get some time with the Xperia 10 and 10 Plus. While not as powerful or high-end as the Xperia 1, they did give a good idea of what using a phone this large is like.
The tall screens are definitely the sort of thing that takes some getting used to — I have pretty large hands, and it was a serious stretch for me to reach the top of the display. Sony does support a one-handed mode that shrinks down the entire OS into a corner of the display that’s access by a double tap on the home button, and it felt like an essential function, especially for smaller hands. On the flip side, you really can fit a ton of content on the screen, and it’s easy to see the appeal.
The Xperia 10 and 10 Plus are set to be released on March 18th, while the flagship Xperia 1 will come out sometime in late spring. No prices have been announced yet, but expect to hear more from Sony in the coming days.