Sony's smartphone business is a shadow of what it once was but the company has seized this opportunity to refocus its efforts on building phones for its fans, first and foremost.
2020's Xperia 1 II was Sony's first 5G-capable smartphone and stands as one of only a handful of devices that the company released that year. Like its predecessor, it incorporated a wealth of technological strengths that the brand is known for, as well as folding in expertise from other Sony departments and businesses - like its Alpha camera team.
Little has changed with the new Xperia 1 III, which takes last year's offering as a template and introduces subtle improvements to strengthen key areas, in an effort to appear even more appealing to the same specific subsets of Sony fans that the company has gone after for the past few years: photographers, cinephiles, mobile gamers, cinematographers and audiophiles.
Here's all you need to know about Sony's 2021 Xperia flagship.
When will the Sony Xperia 1 III go on sale?
Despite the spring launch, Sony has taken its time allowing fans to actually buy the 1 III.
The phone launches in the UK and US on 19 August, though other markets get it at different times. It's already on sale in some parts of Asia, and has a staggered launch in Europe - 10 August in Norway and Denmark, but 31 August in Germany, for example.
How much will the Sony Xperia 1 III cost?
The Xperia 1 III is perhaps surprisingly expensive, rivalling the likes of the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
At launch it costs £1,199/$1,299/€1,299 - even more than the Xperia 1 II - though at least pre-orders and early purchases will come with the bonus of a free pair of Sony's over-ear WH-1000XM3 noise-cancelling headphones.
Should the rumoured Xperia 1 III Pro launch at a later date, expect it to be even more expensive.
What features does the Sony Xperia 1 III have?
The Xperia 1 II was a 2020 flagship through and through, placing focus on a superb 4K HDR 21:9 OLED display, top-tier internals and a capable (albeit finicky) trio of 12Mp cameras, backed up by some impressively robust photography and videography smartphone software.
Such traits carry across to its successor, with enhancements to the speed of the camera system's already impressive autofocus, even better low light shooting and an improved Auto shooting experience.
The camera's party piece is undoubtedly its variable telephoto lens. Not only is this the first time we've seen Sony adopt a periscopic telephoto sensor to increase the zoom range but moving lens components within the periscope module allow the phone two achieve two different focal lengths via one sensor - an alternative solution to the likes of Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra, which simply adopted two telephoto sensors fixed to different zoom distances (3x and 10x).
The triple 12Mp setup on the back of the Xperia 1 III consists of a 16mm ultrawide, a 27mm main with OIS (optical image stabilisation) and a 70mm to 105mm variable telephoto with OIS, resulting in 0.7x, 1x, 2.9x and 4.4x levels of zoom respectively.
A '3D iToF' sensor helps grant the phone 'real-time tracking autofocus' capabilities, enhanced by an AI algorithm that's able to track objects, even if they move out of sight momentarily, improving on the already excellent autofocus of its predecessor and tieing the Xperia 1 III's camera experience more closely with Sony's Alpha cameras.
Other camera tweaks include portrait shooting across all lenses - save for the ultrawide, improvements to the Photography Pro app that includes a 'Basic Mode' to bridge the gap between the standard camera experience and the full manual control it offers, as well as a new knurled dedicated camera key, for improved ergonomics.
If you're curious as to what the Xperia 1 III's camera hardware will be capable of, Zackbuks has again come through with alleged camera samples from the phone's triple sensor setup (they included a Google Drive link so you can download the originals yourself).
With no EXIF data present, we can't glean much technical insight from the images but they at least demonstrate how the phone might handle challenging photographic scenarios - like low light and high-contrast scenes - as well as how consistent (or inconsistent) colour science and image quality presents between the phone's various cameras.
Pulling a leaf out of the Xperia Pro's book, the Xperia 1 III also supports UVC (USB Video Class), meaning it can double as a high-quality monitor when connected to a compatible camera (which includes a number of Sony's Alpha cameras).
The other big talking point with this latest Xperia flagship is, as ever, its display. Like last year's model, the phone features a 6.5in, 21:9 'CinemaWide' 4K HDR OLED panel but - as introduced on the Xperia 5 II - a 120Hz high refresh rate is now on-hand (complete with a 240Hz touch response rate); addressing one of the biggest shortcomings on the display of last year's 1 II and serving as a world-first in its own right.
Audio is another major focus for the Xperia 1 line and a number of technologies from last year's model endure, including high-resolution wired (the phone features a 3.5mm headphone jack) and wireless audio, as well as DSEE Ultimate audio enhancement tech. A new chamber design means its stereo speakers offer a 40% improvement over those in the Xperia 1 II and the 360 Reality Audio support that was previously only reserved for headphone usage can now be recreated via those speakers too.
On the software side, the Game Enhancer built into the Android 11-based user experience gains a few extra talents, like a new audio equaliser for tuning game music and sound effects, an optimised voice chat algorithm for microphone usage, high frame rate recording at up to 120fps for sharing clips of your gameplay, Rewind Time Record, which lets you retroactively capture the last 30 seconds of gameplay and an L-y Raiser to brighten the darkest areas of frame to more easily spot adversaries lurking in the shadows.
It was, for a brief time, thought that Sony was going to be dishing out only one major OS update in 1 III's life (according to a statement from Sony Netherlands issued to local publication DroidApp.nl), making the prospect of forking out for a phone with such limited update support all the more challenging.
However, a week later and Sony informed Tech Radar that that wasn't the case (although the company didn't expand on how many OS and security updates 1 III owners can expect), stating, "It is not correct that Xperia 1 III will have only one Android OS update. Sony aims to support Xperia 1 III with the latest Android updates for two years after its launch and we expect to have Android OS updates more than once during that period."
Of course, these granular improvements to come of the key pillars of the Xperia 1 line also come accompanied by more expected upgrades, like a jump to the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor with 12GB RAM, Gorilla Glass Victus on the front of the phone, a larger 4500mAh battery with 30W fast charging and the continuation of IP65/68 dust and water resistance, as well as 5G.
Here's the full spec rundown of everything the Sony Xperia 1 III brings to the table:
- 6.5in 120Hz 21:9 'CinemaWide' 4K HDR OLED display
- 240Hz touch sample rate
- Gorilla Glass Victus front, Gorilla Glass 6 back
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC
- 12GB RAM
- 256GB/512GB storage (availability varies by region)
- Rear cameras:
- 12Mp f/2.2. 16mm ultrawide w/ Dual-PDAF (phase detection autofocus)
- 12Mp f/1.7 24mm main w/ Dual-PDAF & OIS
- 3D iToF sensor
- 12Mp f/2.3 or f/2.8. 70mm or 105mm variable telephoto w/ Dual-PDAF & OIS
- 8Mp front-facing camera
- Stereo speakers
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- Dolby Atmos
- High-Res Audio support (wired & wireless)
- DSEE Ultimate
- 360 Reality Audio (headphones & speakers)
- 360 Spatial Sound
- Knurled dedicated shutter button
- IP65/68 dust/water resistance
- 4500mAh battery w/ 3-years long life promise from Sony
- 30W fast wireless charging
- Wireless charging & reverse wireless charging
- 186 grams
- 165mm x 71mm x 8.2mm
- Colours: Frosted Black, Frosted Purple, Frosted Grey (availability varies by region)
We discussed our hands-on impressions of Xperia 1 III in more detail as part of our weekly podcast, Fast Charge:
Will there be an Xperia 1 III Pro? How different will it be?
Since Sony rebranded and simplified its smartphone range in 2019, we've only seen one Xperia 1 phone launch each year. The Xperia 10 and Xperia 5 lines are designed to cater to more affordable markets, and the Xperia 1 II already retails for more than £1,000/US$1,000.
However, there are signs Sony wants to make phones that are even more premium. The Xperia Pro launched earlier this year, complete with a host of high-end camera features. It was perhaps one of the few phones to truly justify the 'Pro' name, and it looks like Sony is keen to add another Pro device to its portfolio.
Japanese tech site Android Next has unearthed Weibo posts that appear to suggest a Xperia 1 III Pro is in the works. Details are relatively thin on the ground at this stage, but it seems like Sony wants to wait for a successor to the Snapdragon 888 chipset before bringing it to market. That may be known as the Snapdragon 888+, or 888 Pro.
The only other rumoured spec so far is 16GB of RAM, with the Xperia 1 III Pro design expected to be very similar to the regular Xperia 1 III. We'll update this article once more information is revealed.