Sony can’t properly name its phones for love nor money. So, let us just take the Xperia 1 II – that’s the “Xperia 1 Mark 2” – for what it hopefully will be, and that’s an excellent smartphone.
On paper, the follow up to 2019’s good but flawed Xperia 1 takes what was wrong with that phone and improves it. It has a bigger battery, improved cameras, wireless charging, and even puts the headphone jack back on a Sony flagship for the first time since 2017’s Xperia XZ1.
The fact the Xperia 1 lacked wireless charging when the Xperia XZ2 and XZ3 before it had it does well to sum up Sony’s blunderbuss approach to hardware decision making.
But as I read up on the Xperia 1 II, all the warm fuzzy feelings I still have about Sony as a brand bubbled to the surface. The phone division of the company has spent the years since its divorce from Ericsson as the nearly-man of smartphone hardware, its declining sales almost unbelievable for the company that so succeeds with PlayStation and TVs.
Sony, yet so far
Sony’s phones have always taken an unfair pasting in reviews in my opinion, but I’ll accept the company does tend to shoot itself in the foot.
For every svelte affordable Xperia Z5 Compact there has been a chonking expensive Xperia XZ2 Premium. Missteps like the Xperia X and the fact Sony’s top phones are superseded every six months don’t help for appealing to the casual smartphone buyer.
Yet the Xperia 1 II has seemingly addressed everything I didn’t like about the Xperia 1. It has put wireless charging back, and a headphone jack. It has refined the slippery curved design to have smarter flat edges, and it has put the fingerprint sensor back in the power button. There’s even a 4000mAh battery up from the 3300mAh which couldn’t keep the Xperia 1 alive as long as its rivals.
It also thankfully keeps the dedicated camera button, a great hardware feature more phones should have.
The new purple hue on the 1 II is so much more sophisticated than the Barney the Dinosaur purple of last year’s phone. It also does a great job of keeping the uninterrupted 21:9 screen – no notch, no cut out, and no motorised cameras mean it’s also IP68 water and dust resistant. All in all, a packed spec sheet that’s only really missing a high refresh rate display. Sony says it has ‘motion blur’ but make no mistake, that is marketing speak to cover up a 60Hz screen when rivals are pushing 90Hz or 120Hz.
And of course, there’s 5G compatibility with sub-6 bands but like every other 5G phone, it’s all hype at the moment.
Show me the money
What most concerns me is the price. Reports suggest it’ll be €1,200, which might equate to a cool £1,000 in the UK, more than the £849 the original Xperia 1 costs. Unfortunately for Sony, that is going to be too high to tempt the SIM-free buyers out there when the Galaxy S20 is only £799 (albeit for the 4G model).
Granted many people buy their phones on contract where the price difference will be less noticeable but if Sony wants to get back into the game properly, it needs to price its top products aggressively.
With high-end features like the Zeiss camera lenses and the imaging smarts it claims are taken from Sony’s premium Alpha cameras, maybe Sony flagships are destined to remain enthusiast devices. Perhaps that’s where the top brass wants it to be, but Sony used to be able to claim its phones were more affordable than the competition.
Because Sony has addressed all the complaints reviewers had about the first Xperia 1, I’m inclined to believe it wants to appeal to the mainstream again. When you’re not selling many smartphones, surely the business goal is to sell more – and that’s why I still think the Xperia 1 II will only have a chance of succeeding if it comes in under £800.
Unfair as it may seem, if the Xperia 1 II costs a grand, it will be seen as an enthusiast’s device. iPhones can cost over £1,000, sure, but also the best iPhone right now is the £729 iPhone 11. Not many people are going to walk into Carphone Warehouse to buy an iPhone and then decide to spend £300 more on a niche, tall Sony phone.
I really like the look of the Xperia 1 II, to the point that I am considering buying one myself. But for Sony’s sake (and my wallet’s), I really hope the price is right, otherwise the world will forget about Xperia again until the Mark 3 rolls around.