The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has been the Android phone to beat in 2021: with an unparalleled zoom camera, fast performance, improved design and biometrics, it’s hard to find its weak spot. But if there is a company that could rival the camera on the Galaxy it has got to be Sony, which also happens to make the world’s most popular mirrorless cameras, and it has a new flagship phone in 2021: the Xperia 1 III.
Sony Xperia 1 III Review
Sony Xperia 1 III vs Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
Design and Size
Comparing the two side by side, the Galaxy is clearly the bigger phone: it is both heavier and also noticeably thicker. The Xperia, on the other hand, looks surprisingly svelte: thanks to its tall and narrow dimensions, it is much easier to grip with one hand, and it’s refreshingly lighter too.
The Galaxy has the larger screen, but the Xperia — the higher resolution
You should not be surprised to learn that both the Samsung and the Sony come equipped with the now ubiquitous OLED screen tech, with excellent contrast, deep blacks and great viewing angles. But while these are great screens, there are still some differences you should know about. The major one that we noticed is just in the brightness: the Galaxy reaches a max brightness level of 889 nits, nearly 50% brighter than the peak 627 nits of brightness the Xperia is capable of, and that makes the Galaxy far easier to read outdoors on a sunny day.
Then you have the obvious difference in size: the Galaxy comes with a bigger and wider 6.8-inch display versus a 6.5-inch one on the Xperia. You have a bit of a curvature on the Galaxy, while Sony has gone for a completely flat screen.
You also get a 120Hz fast refresh rate support on both, an expected feature in a 2021 Android flagship, for buttery smooth scrolling (the Galaxy, however, adjusts refresh automatically depending on the content, while the Sony is locked at 120Hz). Plus, both also support HDR.
Then come the differences in resolution. You have 1440p on the Samsung and 4K on the Sony, yet another specs flex. This one, however, is an overkill, as it’s almost impossible to appreciate the benefit of this resolution on such small screens.
It’s also up to you to decide whether you like the extra tall and narrow 21:9 aspect ratio on the Sony: its great for watching Netflix movies as those are usually shot in that format, but the more conventional 20:9 ratio on the Galaxy is more suitable for reading text and for most other content.
There is no significant difference in the performance power of these two as both are equipped with the latest and most powerful Snapdragon 888 chip. Both also come with 12GB of RAM on board which is plenty for keeping a bunch of apps in the background for quick multitasking.
In terms of storage, the Xperia comes with 256GB of the stuff and it has microSD card support. The base model of the Ultra starts at 128GB and it does not support microSD expandable storage, so that is at least some justification for the higher price of the Xperia.
Unlike previous Sony phones, the Xperia 1 III will work on Verizon and T-Mobile’s 5G networks, but it does not support AT&T’s 5G network and it also does not have mmWave antennas on board. The lack of mmWave support is not something that concerns us too much, but keep it in mind if you live in one of the few areas where there is mmWave coverage.
A battle of zoom masters
Sony has always had a reputation for making good camera phones, but it never had the latest, cutting edge features. Well, the Xperia 1 III aims to change that it with a triple camera system where one of the cameras is really something we have never seen before on a modern flagship: it’s a camera with a variable optical zoom. As we explained earlier, this means that you get a periscope lens with moving elements so you get two focal lengths with just one lens: you can switch it between a 70mm (2.9X) zoom and a 105mm (4.4X) zoom levels.
Here is a full breakdown of the camera specs on both phones:
So what about image quality?
In ideal conditions as in the photo above, the differences are not huge. The Xperia tends to have softer detail and crushes detail in the shadows, while the Galaxy stands out with the sharper photo with a slightly better dynamic range.
The issue with the crushed shadows is only amplified when shooting with the ultra-wide lens, and yes, you do indeed get a wider photo with the Galaxy: it has a 0.6X ultra-wide camera compared to a tighter, 0.7X lens on the Xperia.
When it comes to zooming, you get the best quality of the Xperia at exactly 2.9X and 4.4X, which is not such a great difference, while on the Galaxy you can achieve maximum zoom quality at 3X and 10X, and as you can see above, the Galaxy is consistently the sharper phone with more controlled dynamics. We do like the results from the Xperia, but the long-range zoom on the Galaxy is definitely more versatile.
Check out our detailed camera comparison above where we dive in deeper with both photo and video quality in various conditions, including low light.
Battery Life and Charging speeds
- 4,500mAh battery for Xperia 1 III vs 5,000mAh battery on Galaxy S21 Ultra
- Sony 30W fast charging vs Galaxy 25W fast charge
Finally, these two have different battery sizes, and it’s the Galaxy which stands out with a massive, 5,000mAh battery, larger than the 4,500mAh cell on the Xperia. This works out to more than 10% larger battery capacity, a considerable difference, but again that’s only expected considering how much bulkier the Galaxy is.
For charging, these two are definitely not setting any new standards: you get about 50% charge in 30 minutes on both, and a full charge takes a bit more than an hour. The exact charging speeds are up to 25W on the Galaxy (and you have to buy a charger separately since you don’t get one in the box) versus a 30W speed on the Xperia (you at least get the charger in the box with the Sony).
Prices and Conclusion
Sony has always been about making premium devices, but it really outdid itself by pricing the Xperia 1 III at the whopping $1,300. The Galaxy S21 Ultra goes cheaper at $1,200, but it is also often discounted, so you can easily get one for $1,000, and that is just a crazy difference.
The price of the Xperia really doesn’t make sense considering that the Galaxy outperforms it in almost every aspect from the screen to the camera and battery life, while the Xperia only offers that clean interface, and manual controls for various settings, but suffers from overheating issues.