Sony Xperia 1 IV Review : A Beautiful Hot Mess

It’s been a while since I was able to use a Sony phone, so when I got the email asking if I wanted to check out the Xperia 1 IV, I jumped at the chance, the first high-end Sony phone in my review queue since the Xperia Z5 Premium in 2017, but all did not go quite as well as I had hoped it would.

Sony Xperia 1 IV
+ FOR
  • Gorgeous Display
  • Great design
  • Toolless SIM tray
  • Insane haptic motor
  • Moving Zoom lens is nuts
- AGAINST
  • Gets disgustingly hot
  • Abysmal signal quality
  • Terrible fingerprint scanner
  • Camera demands knowledge

Buy on Amazon UK

Disclaimer

Sony UK PR sent me the Xperia 1 IV for review. They have not seen this review before it goes live nor do they have any control over the content in this review. It was used on the Three UK network in the southeast of the UK for 2 weeks, in that time It received a single OTA firmware update.

Sony Xperia 1 IV Review

Quick Links…

Overview

Let’s get this out of the way right here and now, this is a gorgeous phone, it is simple and monolithic sure, but the aluminium frame, and glass front and back just feels sturdy. The 21:9 display is a joy to behold and because it’s taller than it is wide, the 6.5” screen size feels smaller because the phone itself is narrower. Sony didn’t take the same route as everyone else here, yes, the bezels on the sides of the Xperia 1 IV are slim, but the chin and forehead are a little more prominent, and you know what? I don’t care. That allows for bigger and better speakers and the front camera is in the bezel. I don’t personally mind hole punch displays or notches, but if you’ve got the space, why not use it?

Sony Xperia 1 IV Review

This display is a sight to behold, a 6.5” 10 Bit HDR (re.2020) OLED panel with a 4K 21:9 resolution of 3840×1644, it has a refresh rate of 120hz and is beautifully laminated and, most importantly, flat. I cannot sufficiently explain to you how pleasant to use this screen is. One of the most critical aspects of the Xperia 1 IV screens is the brightness, Sony state that the Xperia 1 IV can get 50% brighter than the Xperia 1 III and the Xperia Pro-I with similar screens, and thank god, this screen is usable outdoors, even in the UK’s uncharacteristic bright and hot heatwave, however with about 700 nits, I would have liked it to get a bit brighter if they were able to, or somehow reduce the reflectivity some more. Above and below the screen there are symmetrical 6mm bezels. Usually, this would be cause for uproar in the tech community, however, I found it not an issue, plus the tradeoff for the larger bezels are larger speaker baffles and that is a tradeoff I’m willing to take, it also puts the 12MP selfie camera back up in the bezel, for those of you that hate notches or hole punches.

The speaker slits are not symmetrical, and the earpiece is smaller, though I don’t know if this also means the speakers are different sizes themselves, however, they sound near identical to my ears, which leads me to believe they are the same, usually the earpiece is a much smaller driver that is boosted, and that doesn’t feel like the case here. The glass is a flat sheet of Gorilla Glass Victus, and whilst it is glossy as all hell, the oleophobic coating on my unit is very good, not having an issue with my sweaty hands during the heatwave.

Sony Xperia 1 IV Review

Moving on to the rest of the frame, we have an aluminium chassis, and on the right-hand side, we have all the buttons, with a volume rocker, and a recessed power button/fingerprint scanner. The volume rocker is fine, but I have a big issue with the power button/fingerprint scanner. Not only does a side scanner work better for one group of people than the other (right-handed people) but this is just a bad scanner that is overly sensitive so it constantly locks me out of the phone, I truly detest side scanners as a lefty, but this is worse than most. Then, oddly enough there is a physical 2-stage camera shutter button, I have mixed feelings about the shutter button, it requires too little force for the half-press, and too much force for the full actuation, which has caused many a shaky image.

Moving to the left-hand side there is nothing, which means that if you wanted to, due to the flat edges you can stand the phone up on the edge and use a flat table or shelf as an impromptu tripod or stand.

The top has the 3.5mm headphone jack with enough oomph for some beefy cans, as well as the secondary microphone for the noise cancelling in calls and video recording. Lastly, for the frame, we look at the bottom, with a USB-C charging and data port, the main microphone, and one of the nicest “nice to have” features I’ve used in a while, a properly easy toolless NanoSIM and MicroSD slot. I have SIM tools everywhere, but still, just using my fingernail is quicker, but it does take up more space.

Sony Xperia 1 IV Review

Last is the rear panel, this is also a pane of Gorilla Glass Victus, however, this is one of those acid etched glass techniques and whilst this gives it a lovely look, it catches fingerprints like crazy, and at least for me, I’m not a huge fan of the feel of it in this application, I would rather it have a definitive texture like the original OnePlus sandstone. The rear panel is pretty barren, with a Sony logo in the middle and the camera setup in the top left like most devices. The camera setup is in a raised pill-shaped cutout with the flash and colour spectrum scanner next to it. This is a clean look that I’m quite fond of, in the world of copying others’ designs and purposefully trying to stand out, Sony’s stoic monolith is somewhat refreshing.

Spec Sheet

  •  6.5” OLED Display
    • 3840×1644
    • 21:9
    • 120Hz
    • HDR10
    • 10 Bit 1bn colours
    • Rec.2020 calibrated
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen1
    • 1x Cortex X2 @ 3.0Ghz
    • 3x Cortex A710 @ 2.4Ghz
    • 4x Cortex A510 @ 1.7Ghz
    • Adreno 730
    • Samsung 4nm
  • 165mm x 71mm x 8.2mm
  • 185g
  • 12GB LPDDR5 RAM
  • 256/512GB UFS3.1 storage
    • MicroSD slot
  • 5000mAh Battery
    • 30w USB-PD
    • “Fast wireless charging”
    • Reverse wireless charging
  • USB-C
    • USB 3.2
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Cameras
    • MAIN – 12MP
      • F1.7
      • 24mm equivalent
      • 1/ 1.7” sensor size
    • ULTRAWIDE – 12MP
      • F2.2 
      • 16mm equivalent
      • 1/ 2.5” sensor size
      • 124-degree field of view
    • TELEPHOTO – 12MP
      • F2.3-F2.8
      • 85mm-125mm equivalent
      • 1/ 3.5” sensor size
      • 3.5-5.2x zoom
    • FRONT – 12MP
      • F2.0
      • 24mm equivalent
      • 1/ 2.9” sensor size
  • Android 12

For a more in-depth look at the specifications on offer here, check out the GSMArena page for the Xperia 1 IV here

Performance & Use

Performance on the Xperia 1 IV is, unpredictably good, it is a top-tier chip from Qualcomm, and the performance was unlikely to be poor, but performance means many things. Application performance is great, but the thermal performance is not, Camera performance can be good, but the signal performance is most certainly not, and let’s check these out one by one.

Application performance here is pretty killer. The Cortex X2 at 3Ghz is a screamer and the Cortex A710s backing it up are no joke either, it chomps through everything that I threw at it, including 4K 120fps video recording, it didn’t skip a beat in the admittedly not challenging “Monument Valley 2” either, but gosh darn that game looked stunning on this screen. I could not make this phone slow down, whether that is because of the 12GB of RAM, the Snapdragon 8 Gen1 I cannot say, but even intentionally trying with over 30 apps open in my recents and swiping through them it didn’t stutter, heck I could listen to streaming music whilst recording video at 4K, which is a notoriously hard thing to do, so kudos.

However, saying this phone gets hot is a gross understatement, this phone has a “you can burn yourself on it” warning when opening the camera, and that is utterly ridiculous. I never burnt myself, but I routinely put the phone down after maybe 5 minutes of use because it would get too hot to comfortably hold. When I was using the Xperia 1 IV to take videos of the Eskuta SX-250 for my review (coming soon) In 2 hours I had the phone shut down because of the heat 5 times. Yes, the UK is hotter this summer than normal, but this is before the heatwave started, it was only about 22c. When it gets too hot it dims the screen as well as disabling other features of the phone and camera systems, this is a poor user experience and honestly a mild safety hazard.

Mobile Signal was another place that was just utterly abysmal for me. I have used Three UK for over 12 years in this particular area, I know how the network performs in my area and my home, and it is not how it was performing on the Xperia 1 IV, it was constantly cutting out when it did have a signal it was weaker than on other much much cheaper phones. This was confirmed when checking with “NetMonster” a great app you should check out if you’re a bit of a network nerd, side by side with a OnePlus Nord 2, the Honor Magic 4 Pro and an iPhone 13 Pro the Xperia 1 IV performed horrifically with speeds slower than all of the others and much weaker signal strength

One area I want to praise Sony on however is the haptic motor. I know this seems trivial, but a bad haptic motor can ruin a smartphone, at least for me, but the haptic motor in the Xperia 1 IV is iPhone level in my opinion, which is truly saying something, typing feels like clicking little buttons and Sony has this neat mode where it’ll buzz the motor in sync with a song to give you added depth and almost tricking you into thinking there is stronger bass than there is, it is a very fun feature that I enjoyed.

Overall, using the Xperia 1 IV is a mixed bag, because you love to look at it and hold it, and you love to see and use the screen, but when that results in you playing hot potato with the phone, is it worth it?. Why would I want to pick up and use a phone where the fingerprint reader isn’t oriented for me and just kinda sucks?

Camera & Samples

The Camera system is why most people are probably excited about the Xperia 1 IV. it uses a quad array of 12MP sensors. Sadly, they’re not all the same sensor, though that would be very nice and easy on my part. There is a 12MP main camera, a 12MP Ultrawide, a special 12MP telephoto and a 12MP front-facing camera. There is also a 3D Time of Flight sensor thrown in there somewhere, but it really isn’t worth the extra line I’m about to write about it, so I’m just going to move on. 

The main camera is a 12MP sensor with an F1.7 lens over a 1/ 1.72 sensor, what does that mean? it is a large sensor with large pixels that gathers a lot of light, which is good, most cameras have large pixel counts and “bin” them down to a smaller number, I.E a 64MP came would bin it down to 16MP you quarter the resolution by effectively giving the “smaller” resolution quadruple the information. Sony didn’t do that, it just has a large sensor with large pixels to gather all the damn light. This doesn’t work too poorly for them in “default” camera mode, but wow, this camera is picky.

Sony Xperia 1 IV Review

In the main camera, in decent light it is kinda killer, but whilst the autofocus is truly insane, I struggled with auto exposure and auto white balance. Sony wants you to be a pro photographer with this phone and shows you the modes to make you that, and if you open the camera pro app instead of hitting the shutter button you get the pro app, surprise surprise. However, most people, even those semi- in the know like me don’t always know what to do here, and often just get a crap image. When you either use full auto or know what you are doing, you can get some truly great images like these, and whilst Sony might not be proud of them I sure am, I learnt more than I expected about Cameras whilst reviewing this phone.

Moving on to the Utrawide, we have another 12MP sensor here which is smaller with a slower aperture, however, Sony has managed to match the scenes better than most other phones do, I wonder if this is Sony genuinely trying to make a good device or just a happy coincidence that their “raw” mode, which isn’t RAW looks pretty well matched between all three lenses.

Next is the cool one, the telephoto. I know telephotos cameras aren’t that cool in 2022, but this one is. The telephoto has a moving lens. A physically moving lens, like a real camera, so on this phone,3.5x-5.2x zoon is optical zoom. Is it a lot? No, is it going to be noticeable to most people? Probably not, but as someone who has said for years that 5x telephoto zooms are too much, and 3x zoons aren’t enough, having a phone that can switch between those optically is a big deal. I wish it was a bigger range, but I don’t see why on the Xperia 1 V Sony can’t do a 2x-5.5x zoom lens, and then I’d be very excited.

Lastly for photos is the front camera and this is, actually pretty decent. With the crushing Instagram, Twitter and TikTok do to these images you can only do so well without intervention, but the Xperia 1 IV snaps some pretty nice front-facing snaps. I’m not sure if the front camera is finally autofocus, I saw some conflicting results in my testing, but that just means that if it doesn’t, it is a much better camera than I gave it credit for, and I’m looking forward to seeing future updates.

Video on the other hand is much harder to be positive about. Sony has multiple modes for the camera, there is the automatic mode that you get from launching the camera with the shutter button and pressing the video button ( and having almost no control over the video) then there is video pro, and lastly cinema pro. I tried all three and I suffered through all three and I can easily say Sony should not have done this. No one should have to choose through three applications to take a video, maybe you see a daughter swimming for the first time, the time you’d spend getting the Sony to the camera, switched to the video mode, in focus and then recording, that child has already taken their first few strokes. It’s not a top feature anymore.

Here is a video sample selection of all the video samples that I can, in the base form as possible.

 

I have to preface this with a normal video because the default video sample isn’t always nothing. The Cinema pro app, for example, defaults to the “Venice” colour profile, which might look good on a full-frame camera which a colour grader who knows what they’re doing, however, this is a smartphone with someone who just wants a cool phone to capture what they see. Even when I properly adjusted the exposure and ISO when shooting my Eskuta SX-250 review, due to the Venice LUT that was applied by default I didn’t realise it still looks like this overall.

The Video Pro app is meant to be more of an in-between, not quite as intense as Cinema Pro, but nowhere near as barren as the simple video mode, and this is a nicer experience but still kind of overwhelming for a lot of people, this app doesn’t have selectable LUTs like the Cinema Pro app, which is, in my opinion, a good thing, one less thing for the user to have to think about on a phone that would likely overheat whilst you were changing the settings without even recording

Software

The software experience of the Xperia 1 IV is pretty stellar. It’s Android 12, with the June 1st security patch, and a mostly clean build of Android. There is no OneUI, MagicUI,  MIUI or ColorOS here, this is Android 12 with material you as Google intended, and I dig it!

Sony Xperia 1 IV Review

Sony has added some perks to the software, like the Stamina mode for battery life and battery care, they also have their side sense feature that is a small 1 handed app launcher from the side, something I instantly turned off, but I know some that love the feature, including my brother in law. They also have a “smart backlight control” which uses the front camera to check if you’re looking at the screen and keeps the screen on whilst you’re looking at it, even if you’re not touching it, very neat.

But Sony does not have the greatest track record with software updates, when will this get Android 13? I don’t know, will it be stable? I know even less, I want to hope Sony can keep it up to date, especially with how much this phone costs, but I’ve been burnt before giving companies benefit of the doubt, and Sony has been clinging on to life in the smartphone realm for so long, If they don’t keep software updates up, they’re going to run out of people that want their cameras or screens.

Battery

The Battery on the Xperia 1 IV is both better and worse than expected, let me explain. In normal use, the 5000mAh cell in the Xperia 1 IV lasts about a day and a half, and then the 30w USB-C charger that you supply (the box contains just the phone, no cable and no plug) juices it up relatively snappily. However, remember how I said that this gets hot real fast? And that it gets real hot real fast? Yeah, that’s detrimental to the battery, you can watch the battery percentage go down if you’re watching a youtube video, and good luck if you’re recording a video.

The battery is helped a little by the fact that the screen defaults to a 1080p mode most of the time, and my particular unit shipped in 60Hz mode, however, you don’t buy a phone with a 4K 120Hz screen to run it at 1080p 60Hz. The big issue here is the heat, if Sony could manage the heat effectively it wouldn’t be able to drain its battery in 5 hours, which yes is something that happened to me.

The charging speed is 30w, which I’m okay with, 30w for a 5000mAh battery is genuinely fine, what becomes a slight problem is the lack of a charger in the box and not just the plug, but the cable too. What you get in this box are the phone and the documentation, and that’s a bit thin. I have a metric butt load of cables and USB-C Chargers, sure you can use your old one, but what’s the likelihood that someone is going to have a 30w USB-C charger just sitting around? And anything less than that is going to take an age to refill a 5000mAh battery, bad Sony, cheap Sony.

Final Thoughts

So now we come to the end, and I hope you get my title now. I love this phone in so many ways, but much like a model whose parents got them into acting or modelling too young, this thing is a hot mess. It is beautiful, with a screen to rival the best of them. it is performance stands toe to toe with Samsung and Apple, but it fumbles when it comes to needing any kind of substance. What good is that beautiful screen when, when you use it after 5 minutes the phone becomes too hot to use and your battery has tanked? What good is an optical telephoto zoom when, if you try to use it the way Sony wants, hets the phone up so much it restarts ruining your capture?

The Xperia 1 IV is beautiful, and it is a hot mess., but this is peak Sony. this is a lovely phone with one or two catastrophic deal breakers, the same as last year and the year before. As much as I hope, I think some of this is just systemic, and that the current Sony mobile team just cannot produce an all-around good device, sadly. Despite all this, Sony still has the gall to charge £1299 for this, an unbelievably high price for a phone that ships with burn warnings in the software if you use the camera too long, utterly insane.

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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