Sony’s Xperia 1 lineup entered its 4th generation earlier during the middle of this year, entering the market in the form of the Xperia 1 IV.
It’s no secret that the reception of Sony’s Xperia lineup in its current form has been less than stellar, especially when its put up against other major, powerhouse brands like Samsung and Apple. However, with the Xperia 1 IV, it seems like the Japanese electronics brand is hoping to disrupt the smartphone camera market again by introducing something most of its rivals’ phones don’t have: continuous optical zoom.
The question then is: does that particular digital camera function actually make the Xperia 1 IV worth splurging RM6000 for or is it, like most other devices, just a passing gimmick?
In true Sony fashion, the Xperia 1 IV appears to be rocking the latest hardware in everything, except for the chipset. This is not me saying that the Snapdragon 8 Gen1 SoC is ancient or a slouch, but given that every other smartphone maker and their top-of-the-line smartphones are equipped with the 8+ Gen1 or are preparing to move on to the next best processor by Qualcomm, it almost feels as if the Japanese corporation is doing this because of a cost issue.
At this stage, you’ve probably heard us overuse this phrase but the Xperia 1 IV and its design aren’t groundbreaking, and Sony clearly isn’t hoping to change the landscape with it. At least, not since the days of its Xperia Z and XZ series.
The Xperia 1 IV essentially looks identical to its three predecessors, save for the obvious updates in hardware internally, of course. You’re still looking at the same all-black chassis, and the same 21:9 4K HDR OLED display that in turn, defines the series’ longer-than-average form factor.
I’m going to be drawing some comparisons from another Xperia I review earlier in the year, the Pro-I. With that phone, Sony saw fit to provide some textures around its sides, which gives users a better grip of the phone and therefore preventing any slippage while taking photos with it. With the Xperia 1 IV, you get none of that and instead, it’s smooth all around. The only things that break the edge loop are the usual fare of buttons and crevasses. I am, of course, talking about the volume rocket, side-mounted fingerprint scanner that doubles as its operational button, location of the phone’s mobile antennas, and the 3.5mm headphone jack situated at the top of the phone.
Sidebar on the side-mounted fingerprint scanner cum power button: I like how Sony has made it flush with the side yet still manages to stand out enough for my fingers to disseminate it over the volume rocker. For another matter, the dedicated shutter button also shares that same design factor, but not the ridged texture that was used with the Pro-I. Also, the phone also doesn’t have a dedicated button for video.
Same all-black design, both front and back
Moving on, the Xperia 1 IV’s back sports the same glossy back and despite being all-black, it is still something of a fingerprint magnet. Having said that, the caveat isn’t all that bad and, again, having an all-black motif actually makes these smudges harder to see. To that end, you see the same NFC logo that indicates where the feature function is located, while the Xperia branding can be found nearer to at the bottom. The highlight here is, of course, the triple 12MP Zeiss T* main module, sitting pretty at the top of the phone.
At the base of the Xperia 1 IV, you get the usual USB-C 3.2 port that supports fast charging and transfers. To the left of it, you’ll find the tool-less Hybrid Dual SIM slot. Again, this is, in my opinion, a great application of a mobile feature, as it eliminates the need to carry around a SIM tool and facilitate a smoother change of either two SIMs or a microSD card. Yes, I may be overreacting to this feature, but I have actually witnessed the evolution of its application of this feature throughout the years, and I am actually glad that Sony has finally reached this level. And before you ask: yes, it does support hot swapping (sort of) and has done so for a couple of generations.
If you go to Sony’s official product website for the Xperia 1 IV, the first thing that slaps you in the face is the statement “Speed is everything”. It’s a bold statement and yet, it bears some truth about the phone. Like all flagship-tier smartphones, the phone is bleeding-edge fast, thanks in no small part to the Snapdragon 8 Gen1 SoC and that generous 12GB of RAM.
Fast, snappy, but far from flawless.
Internally and on a software level, the Xperia 1 IV is absolutely and downright responsive, to the touch. Most apps load up the moment I tap on them, and the motion fluidity from swiping between pages is smooth. Not only that, but the phone’s OLED panel really, really makes all colours pop out. Of course, it goes without saying that blacks are deeper and white backgrounds have the tendency to sear your eyeballs, but primary colours like red have a tendency to look so very tasty, truly.
On a somewhat related note, the Xperia UI is still by and far one of the best near-vanilla Android experiences you can get today, and it was no different on the Xperia 1 IV, after OnePlus’ OxygenOS, of course.
But as my text-breaker indicates, the experience isn’t, in the loosest definition of the phrase, smooth sailing. At random times and on occasion, the Xperia 1 IV would suddenly freeze for a good few seconds, and then proceed to reset. As to how this event is triggered, it was because some apps just didn’t play well with the phone, one of the being Netflix. But, once again, this was at random and isn’t always the case. For the most part, there was little or next to no issue with its day-to-day operation.
While using the Xperia 1 IV as my daily driver, I will confess that, just as I did with the Pro-I, a short adjustment period was needed by me, in order to fully acclimate myself to the smartphone. For the record, this isn’t me saying that one cannot simply use the straight out of the box. But given the phone’s slightly longer and thinner body, trying to wield the phone with just one hand is slightly difficult.
Slippery and slightly frustrating, both physically and on a software level.
It also doesn’t help that the glossy nature of the Xperia 1 IV also makes the phone a little difficult to properly grip; in all my years of reviewing phones, this is the first device that has successfully managed to slip out of my hands and get dinged up a little, with abrasions appearing on the edges of the device. The saving grace at this point, I suppose, is that despite the drop, the Gorilla Glass panel at the front really lived up to its name. But I digress.
Circling back around to the Xperia 1 IV’s performance, the driving force and heart of the device is, obviously the Snapdragon 8 Gen1 that resides beneath the hood. To that end, there is little for me to say about Qualcomm’s premium chipset that you haven’t already heard; it’s fast, it’s powerful, and despite those two points, the amount of heat generated from it when put to task, isn’t as hot as I had thought it would be. The only time this became an exception to the rule, however, was when I tried running the Video Pro app on it. More on that later.
In benchmarks such as UL’s 3DMark, you can see that the Xperia 1 IV pretty much just bulldozes through the benchmark. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why there are no other benchmarks, that is due to the fact that not all the benchmark apps that we usually use in the testing methodology played nice. PCMark, another UL benchmark, really, really, didn’t want to run on the phone, no matter how many hoops I tried to jump through with its settings. Nor did AnTuTu and GFX Bench, the latter frequently crashing and shutting down by itself with each failed attempt at running it.
Battery life on the Xperia 1 IV is relatively decent.
Lastly, you cannot review a smartphone and not talk about its battery life. For the Xperia 1 IV, its 5000mAh and endurance weigh fairly heavily in its favour. On average use, I can get between 38 and 40 hours, or just slightly more than a day and a half, and that includes the usual browsing of the internet, streaming videos, messaging people, or using it as a mobile hotspot. Before it falls into single-digit battery life and starts crying for the charging cable and adapter, both of which are no longer bundled with the phone, yet another sign that Sony is going the route of Apple and Samsung.
Using it for continuous streaming on apps like Netflix or YouTube, the Xperia 1 IV is able to last for more than 7 hours on average for both of them. If left idle, it can hold a charge for more than three days.
Let’s talk about what we’re here for: the Xperia 1 IV’s main triple 12MP camera module and its “true” continuous zoom function. Before we begin, I want to pin a note here and state that I won’t be talking at length about the phone’s videography function in this review, simply because it isn’t the highlight here.
The video recording functions of the Xperia 1 IV are pretty much a carry forward from the 3rd generation Xperia 1, and that includes the ability to record 4K video at 120Hz. Of course, it goes without saying that if you’re going to be doing that, expect the phone to achieve stove-top temperatures and then proceed to shut down the app, in order to prevent it from overheating.
With that out of the way, allow me to focus your attention towards the Xperia 1 IV’s piece dé resistancé, the optical zoom. On paper, the sensor and lenses have the capability of going from 16mm to 125mm optically, with anything beyond that length automatically using digital zoom. To make the functions more convenient, the basic functions of the camera label the zoom lengths as 1x, 3.5x, and 5.3x. With the 12MP ultra-wide lens, the continuous zoom length is limited between 24mm and 85mm, while the 12MP telephoto lens goes from 85mm to 125mm.
Once again, like the Pro-I, there is evidence in the Xperia 1 IV’s camera that shows both Sony’s Xperia and Alpha divisions have broken down their compartment walls and worked together. At least to some degree.
Daytime photography with the Xperia 1 IV is virtually a no brainer, with final images looking very detailed and natural, and never as punchy as the images captured by the cameras of Samsung’s own flagship devices. That being said, the shutter speed isn’t always consistent; I have a tendency of capturing multiple single shots of the same scene. Most smartphone cameras should be able to pull this off without any lag, yet with the 1 IV, there is a half-second lag that is both seen and felt. That lag, by the way, sometimes blurs my shots, which can be frustrating. So, with that said, a little patience is required.
Moving on, the optical zoom function on the Xperia 1 IV is decent, if not borderline impressive. Pictures captured at 3.5x zoom with the ultrawide still retain a lot of details, but not as much as images captures through the telephoto lens, which has its focal length set at 3.5x by default. On that note, the same precedence can be applied to shots captured at 5.3x length, but it should be noted that noise levels are far more obvious at this stage. On a related note, I realised that the phone is able to pull off shots with really good bokeh effects. Oh, and you’re going to want to make sure that you have really steady hands if you’re planning on taking zoomed shots; even with the built-in OIS function, it’s a daunting task trying to keep my hands still at the maximum optical zoom length.
Night-time photography happens to be a, and I’ve used this term quite liberally in past reviews, a hit-or-miss, and it all depends on how much light is available at the time. In controlled environments such as restaurants, eateries and well-lit public areas, pictures are still very clear, and sharp, and retain a lot of detail. That being said, the image quality of the Xperia 1 IV’s can also swing all the way to the other end of the spectrum, looking blown-out with colours exaggerated, washed-out, and as if someone took their thumb to it on purpose.
To my surprise, the Xperia 1 IV actually does a decent job in keeping the noise levels in pictures shot at night down to an absolute minimum, meaning that some of my pictures are able to project that sense of drama and character that I had intended.
If you’re looking for alternatives to the Sony Xperia 1 IV, you can obviously rest assured that there are flagship-tier options for you to choose from, albeit not with the true continuous optical zoom that Sony is offering.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max is, without a doubt, a no-brainer when it comes to looking at a competitor. Sporting Apple’s latest and most powerful A15 Bionic SoC that comes with a 5-core GPU, the phone also has a large 6.7-inch display with a maximum brightness of 2000 nits. In addition, it also sports a new “Dynamic Island”, which is technically just a new experience to cover up the phone’s selfie camera, as well as a replacement for the notch.
But like the Xperia 1 IV, the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s main feature is its main camera; compared to previous generation iPhones, the camera module now houses a large 48MP f/1.78 quad-pixel main sensor and is flanked by both a 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide and 12MP telephoto lens, capable of 3x optical zoom.
More importantly, it’s also just as expensive as the 1 IV, starting at RM5799 and topping out at RM8299.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra is clearly Samsung’s most current and up-to-date offering from its S Series flagships, and I’m being honest, has the capability of running rings around the Xperia 1 IV. Specs-wise, it runs the same Snapdragon 8 Gen1 SoC as Sony’s flagship, comes with up to 12GB RAM and 512GB internal storage capacity.
Instead of a 3.5mm headphone jack like the Xperia 1 IV, though, you get an integrated S Pen built into the base; a reminder of Samsung’s decision to kill off its Note Series, moving forward. Price-wise, the S22 Ultra starts off at RM5099 for the base model, while the top-tier SKU will set you back RM5899.
I can sum up the Sony Xperia 1 IV in about six words: it’s a year-on-year update. In keeping with its own tradition, it’s the kind of upgrade that you see phone makers install into their next flagship since they were unable to do so with the last one.
The Sony Xperia 1 IV is a steady, incremental upgrade over its predecessor and hopefully, it carries to the next generation.
Unlike most smartphone makers that have the tendency to uproot and overhaul the design and features of their smartphones, I would say that the Xperia 1 IV is a testament to Sony’s discipline and, to a greater degree, dedication in adding meaningful upgrades to their phone. Of course, that is assuming that moving forward, the next generation of Xperia 1s will still retain this true optical zoom feature.
To reiterate the point, I had a lot of fun playing with the Xperia 1 IV’s true continuous optical zoom function and much like the Pro-I, it had me actively seeking out subjects to snap pictures of. So, if you’re looking for something different than what Samsung, OnePlus, or even Oppo is offering, and you don’t mind the exorbitant RM6099 price tag that comes with it, you could always give this phone a shot.
Photography by John Law.