Sony Xperia 1 Review - Spencer Pablo

I consider myself a mobile phone power user. I rarely play games; I hardly actually talk on it; I don’t even use it very often for taking pictures. It is also the cornerstone for much of my photography workflow--and that’s without even using the camera built into my phone. It tells me sunset and tide schedules, the moon phases and where the milky way is going to be when I do my astrophotography. But it does more than just prepare me for my photography jobs--it actually is a critical part of my workflow.

Mobile Editing Workflow


If you are reading this article on the alphauniverse.com website, you more than likely already own a camera that does your photographic heavy-lifting. My workflow takes the images that my purpose-built cameras or drones take, does most of the culling and editing away from my desktop computer, and throws it onto my Adobe CC-connected mobile devices (phone or tablet).


A critical thing for using my mobile devices is making sure that my screens are color accurate. Lots of available phones or tablets tend to have a very vivid screen that look great in the store but are horrible for editing photos and videos. It “overcooks” your image during the editing process and when it’s shared, the colors come out wrong or the shadows or highlights don’t reflect the way it was intended.


So when I found out about the existence of the creator-friendly Xperia 1...I was intrigued.

The Screen


Opening up the box, I was greeted with a visually jarring rectangle. The 21:9 aspect ratio reminded me of a wider remote control. It’s narrow, and both large yet manageable. I was drawn to the real estate that the aspect ratio would afford me in Lightroom Mobile CC--more space for sliders while seeing more of my image. But first--I needed to enable that ever-important Creator Mode that gave me the regarded accurate color that I needed. This screen mode gives me the accurate colors (nearly 100% sRGB and over 95% DCI-P3). I trust the display for editing my images and have already used it to fully edit an entire engagement session and a landscape photography trip. The Xperia 1 also gets you so much screen real estate in that aspect ratio with the ability to divide the screen across multiple apps simultaneously. The Xperia 1 is a multitasking beast.


This is what the 21:9 aspect ratio gets you.

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Handling


So color accuracy aside--how does this phone handle? Well, let’s get this out of the way--it’s slippery. For a large phone, it's narrow and light enough that holding it in one hand is easy, especially if you're working on the bottom half of the screen. When it's time to work on the upper half, it's quite a reach. Luckily, Sony knows that and has a convenient double tap on the home navigation button and it shrinks the whole screen to be easily reachable. It’s a beautiful glossy slab, so that means it quickly becomes a fingerprint magnet. You'll want to use a case or a skin to improve grip and cut down on fingerprints on the glass on the back. I used gaffer’s tape for a quick way to give me some type of texture for added grip. Plus, for photographers, gaffer’s tape is always useful to have within an arm’s reach.


Power


Speaking of that glass on the back, it's made with one of the latest iterations of gorilla glass, providing strength and shatter resistance. The glass also allows for wireless charging coils... albeit, on other phones, as Qi charging is notably absent on the Xperia 1. For me, that is a real bummer as I have those handy Qi charging pucks at my desk in the office, at the nightstand next to my bed, in the kitchen, and in my car. I have fully adopted the convenience of being able to simply lay my phone down and expect it to charge at a comfortable rate. For a phone that attempts to push the feature list at a premium price, it's a curious omission.

That single USB-C port is your only option for charging, so let's hope that it is robust enough to keep up with the charging frequency, as this phone has a paltry battery. I've gotten used to phones with medium to big screens to have a proportionally large battery. This phone bucks that trend by including a downright small 3300 mAh battery. You'll want to be miserly with the power strategy and use the included Stamina mode to get you through most of your day. A shame, too, as I find myself using this phone more than my desktop machine for editing my images. I end up trickle-charging throughout the day if I am heavily working on sessions in Lightroom Mobile. Finishing up my discussion on that USB port, it also supports video output, so you can actually use it for presentations or for me--culling my catalog on a big screen. Weird, but it's a feature I totally use. If you don’t have a cable, it also has a shortcut for casting onto a compatible TV or Chromecast.

Using with a Drone


So we've established that the screen is color accurate. It's also fairly readable in the middle of a southern Californian day in direct sunlight at maximum brightness, though it is bested by other phones from Samsung and Apple. Note that I said “reading” though, as content creating in the bright sunlight gets a little strained. Granted, it'll hit that battery pretty hard. Interestingly, my screen is also easily viewable at all rotations with my polarized sunglasses. Not a thing I'm used to experiencing and not really sure how Sony does it. One thing I was concerned about was if this tall phone would still be able to fit within the arms of the DJI remote (Mavic 2 Pro). It does so without straining. It’s a great aspect ratio, too, for the DJI interface, as the controls that flank the interface typically covers the image that you see on other phones. On the Xperia 1, those buttons rest on a black background for the most part. If the screen could be about 50 percent brighter...this would be an excellent drone phone for me.

Pictures and Videos


OK...so I did mention that I use other cameras for taking pictures. I rarely find myself using the camera built-into my phone, but just to see what I was working with, I decided to take pictures with the Xperia 1 alongside my other cameras. I will say this...if you’re used to that full-frame look and natural-looking bokeh--this phone (and pretty much any other phone) will disappoint. If you want to capture something without that tight depth-of-field AND have plenty of light, this phone actually does a pretty decent job. It has eye autofocus--a feature borrowed from the Sony alpha cameras. The colors are less saturated than the other phones I have used before, which might be good for those that like the latitude that a flatter profile gives in processing. Speaking of which, the software that comes with the phone does NOT shoot RAW, leaving JPG as the only option for the pictures. Adobe Lightroom CC Mobile can shoot RAW, but it will only give you access to the middle 26mm lens (leaving the 16mm and 52mm lens access to the built-in Sony camera software). So armed with that knowledge going into the Sony Camera app, along with decent light, you’ll be greeted with sharp image potential that focuses quickly--complete with a half-pressable dedicated shutter button--and a burst mode that gives you up to 10 fps while maintaining focus.


The Xperia 1 also has Cinema Pro, a dedicated video recording app that provides a project-based interface for recording video. You select the resolution, frames per second, and “looks” (similar to what the LUTs are for Davinici Resolve or Adobe Premiere) for the project, and then afterwards, it allows you to change the lens, focusing type, and shooting controls. It records in the cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio and lets you select from a handful of color presets including Venice CS which gives a very filmic look and Strong with its cool tones and punchy contrast. Every one of the looks helps give a moody look to the video...or you can choose to go without any of them. Cinema Pro also allows some 16:9 guidelines so you know what will be in the video frame on the conventional widescreen displays. What I wish this camera included was a stronger video editing feature. There are plenty of apps available in the Google Store, but not too many that can meet the quality of the video this phone records as well as the 21:9 aspect ratio.

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Other Fun Stuff


So here’s one thing that I did not realize the Xperia 1 could do and now that I know it can--I use it all the time. It supports 3D scanning. If you own a 3D printer, it unlocks so much fun. I have 3D rendered every member of my family and even printed several of us. It uses 3D scanning photogrammetry along with leveraging the gyroscopes in the phone to map the objects that it scans. In a very “meta” sort of way, I can 3D scan my face using the Xperia 1, print it, then use the Xperia 1 camera to take a picture of it, using Eye AF. People really need to know about this feature. This is the first time I have ever had this much fun with a phone.


Speaking of fun...games. This phone plays them well and many games actually take advantage of the added real-estate in a way that enhances game play. It has a Game Enhancer that allows gameplay without any notifications interrupting as well as recording the screen during gameplay on supported games. The audio coming out of the speakers is also rich and robust--it has a quality that sounds larger than most phones typically can emanate. To get that extra punch, you'll need to enable Dolby Atmos in the audio settings.


During the hot summer months this year, I found myself poolside with the family. With the Xperia 1 certified for IP65/68, I did not mind writing much of this article on the phone while half of my body was submerged and my daughter splashing around. That certification will also give me peace of mind when I head to the sand dunes for astrophotography. With all the content I am putting together and editing on this phone, I am so glad it supports additional local storage by way of microSD cards, as I will quickly hit that 128GB internal storage capacity.


Verdict


Owning this phone for a while now, it has become a cornerstone component in my workflow. Together with an aftermarket stylus, I find myself culling and editing most of my sessions in Lightroom Mobile CC comfortably on the Xperia 1. For my mobile use case, the Xperia 1 fills a critical gap with its large color accurate screen, fast performance, plenty of storage, multitasking prowess, and ability to take phone calls. It negates my need for a tablet, yet is somehow as portable as my typical smartphone size. My biggest snag lies in the power system, with a small battery and no wireless charging. With a USB-C charging cable nearby, I highly recommend the Sony Xperia 1.

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