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Xperia 1 II is Sony Mobile’s biggest gamble yet

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You have to hand it to companies like HTC and Sony. Even when their smartphones businesses continue to bleed, they still give it their best shot every year. Best shots, in the case of Sony, who still manages to launch at least two high-end smartphones annually. For 2020, that title goes not to an Xperia 2 as many perhaps expected but to an oddly named Xperia 1 II. Equipped with the compamy’s unique CinemaWide 21:9 screen and the latest smartphone hardware, it is not only Sony’s most premium phone. It is also its boldest, and not exactly in a good way.

As far as core specs are concerned, the Sony Xperia 1 II meets your expectations of a high-end 2020 Android flagship. That translates to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. Here we will already meet the first big catch to this phone. In the US, the Xperia 1 II will have no 5G support, despite the chip having one built-in. Other markets, however, may or may not have a 5G variant, depending on the technology’s penetration there.

Just like last year’s Xperia phones, the Xperia 1 II bears the company’s flashy 21:9 CinemaWide technology, boasting 4K resolution packed in a 6.5-inch panel. It doesn’t come with the touted fast refresh rates of its peers but Sony promises that its Motion Blur Reduction is equivalent to having a 90 Hz screen. While there’s still some debate on the practical benefits of a 21:9 screen in a mostly 16:10 or 16:9 world, the tall or wide display does have one advantage that Sony is now exploiting. You can cram more pro camera controls without sacrificing space for the viewfinder too much.

Of course, that brings us to the real meat of the Xperia 1 II experience, its cameras. Sony likens the phone’s imaging technology to that of its high-end Alpha shooters, which is perhaps a stretch given the gap between the two classes of devices. On paper, there are four cameras on its back:

• 12MP 1/2.6-inch 16mm Dual Photo Diode AF
• 12MP 1/1.7-inch 24mm Dual Photo Diode OIS
• 12MP 1/3.4-inch PDAF OIS
• 3D iToF (time-of-flight)

The phone mashes together Sony’s best Exmor RS sensors for mobile and its BIONZ image processor for mobile to enable features you’d only hear about on its dedicated cameras. Those features include Real-Time Eye AF, 20 fps burst mode with AF/AE tracking, and 4K 60 fps HDR video recording. Sony has also designed its camera app UI to match closely match what pro photographers would see on a Sony Alpha. The app’s video recorder mode, on the other hand, is almost like a video editor interface rather than the basic UI you’d find on most smartphones.

You would think that the Xperia 1 II is Sony’s top-end smartphone if not for the existence of the Xperia PRO. The latter is still a work in progress and may not even be available for consumers but it does show what you might be missing on the Xperia 1 II starting with 5G mmWave support, one that, in fact, is powered by a 4-way antenna that creates a 360-degree omnidirectional connection. The Xperia PRO, however, seems to be geared to a very specific niche of users, ones that will use the phone as a camera monitor via its built-in HDMI output.

What makes the Xperia 1 II a high-risk gamble for Sony is ultimately its price tag. Available in the US starting June for $1,199, it competes on the same tier as the Samsung Galaxy S20+ or even the iPhone 11 Pro. That wouldn’t be too much to ask if Sony’s track record in the mobile market has largely been positive. As it stands, it will be a tough sell for the company, especially if its cameras prove to be underwhelming.

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