Sony smartphones have such a niche focus on photo and video features that they lose a lot of mainstream appeal. They cost a good deal more than even the top-end iPhone, too. The new Xperia 1 V doesn’t change any of this—it’s $1,399, which is $200 less than its absurdly expensive predecessor, but still pricey. (In the UK and Europe, there’s no price drop and you’ll pay £1,299 and €1,399, respectively.)
There’s a lot to like about the Xperia 1 V, and it has a few features that are rare on high-end phones these days, but it’s not for everyone.
The Xperia 1 V is instantly recognizable as a Sony phone with its signature tall and slim profile. The first thing that struck me when I picked it up was how grippy it felt and how light it was. There’s Gorilla Glass Victus on the back, though it doesn’t feel or look like glass. Mix in the ridged pattern around the aluminum frame, and you have a durable, classy look that never threatens to slip from your grasp. The finish is refreshingly immune to smudges too.
Up top, there’s a 3.5-mm headphone jack, a rarity in today’s flagships. All the buttons are on the right edge, including a power button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor and a crosshatched camera shutter button. At the bottom, you can open a flap to access the SIM tray and—another rarity in today’s top-end phones—a microSD card slot. That lets you expand on the 256 GB of internal storage whenever you want. The Xperia 1 V also scores an IP65/IP68 rating, which means it’ll manage just fine in water submersions and rain.
A common problem with having a side-mounted fingerprint sensor is that it’s too easy to trigger it when slipping the phone in and out of a pocket, which is the case here. It’s a natural place for your thumb to rest when you hold it one-handed, but it didn’t always recognize my print and unlock on the first try. The Xperia 1 V is also tall enough to make pulling down the notification shade with one hand a tricky procedure. Sony’s answer is Side Sense, a customizable overlay menu that lets you get to everything with your thumb.
Photograph: Simon Hill
Star of the show is the 6.5-inch OLED screen, with a 4K resolution, support for HDR10, and a 120-Hz refresh rate. Sony is stubbornly sticking to the 21:9 aspect ratio, and there are slim bezels at the top and bottom that accommodate front-facing stereo speakers and the selfie camera. Put all of this together with Sony’s Creator Mode picture setting, which offers accurate colors “as the directors intended,” and you have perhaps the best smartphone for watching movies.
From Extraction 2 on Netflix, to a variety of 4K HDR wildlife videos on YouTube, to sci-fi flick 65 on Bravia Core, everything I watched looked great on this screen. The latter is Sony’s little-known streaming service, and you get a year free with your Xperia 1 V. The front-facing speakers are impressively balanced and loud with Dolby Atmos support, but you also have the headphone jack and support for 360 Reality Audio for immersive sound.
As great as the display is for movies, there’s a lot of content with black bars on the sides. When I streamed one of the free HD movies (S.W.A.T.) in Sony’s Bravia Core app, it had a big black box all around it. Most games also have black bars flanking the sides. You also might want to turn Creator Mode off when you’re not watching a movie and go with the brighter, more saturated standard mode, or things can feel a little washed out. It’s not the brightest display, but it remained legible in direct sunlight.