Foldable phones? Check. 5G devices? Yep. A five-camera smartphone? Wow. Mobile World Congress 2019 has had an impressive start, with radical innovations to smartphones that make this year stand out from the recent past. Sony isn’t doing any of that, but it is still innovating. Its new phones — the Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus — are incredibly tall, thanks to a 21:9 aspect ratio.
What does that mean? Well, most phones currently have an 18:9 aspect ratio, though for the longest time they used a 16:9 aspect ratio, which meant they were a little wider. Screens are getting narrower and narrower to suit the vertical content we’re so used to on our smartphones but moving to 21:9 also makes sense from a media-consumption perspective, as most movies are filmed with the same 21:9 aspect ratio. That makes Sony’s latest smartphones compelling devices if you’re a Netflix addict.
The Xperia 10 Plus as the name suggests, is bigger than the Xperia 10, and it’s where the difference with the 21:9 aspect ratio is most visible. It’s unusually tall. Both phones are also quite narrow, so holding them feels comfortable as you can wrap your palm around them easily. It is tricky, however, to reach the top of the screen on the Xperia 10 Plus — it’s a two-handed job.
They resemble the remote controller for your TV — they’re that long — but instead of buttons, you get a 6-inch and 6.5-inch screen (protected with Gorilla Glass 5) on the Xperia 10 and 10 Plus, respectively.
Sony is continuing to change its smartphone designs to make them look more modern, and that’s evident on the new Xperia devices. The slim bezels around the sides look contemporary, though there is a large forehead bezel at the top to house the earpiece and an 8-megapixel selfie camera. If you love symmetry, then you’ll hate these phones. The different-sized bezels on the front can be off-putting, but it’s likely easy to get used to the more you use the phone.
Both phones have a Full HD+ resolution, and the LCD screen looks sharp, though colors are a bit muted. It’s not astounding or eye-popping — unlike the higher-end Xperia 1 — but it is satisfactory.
There’s polycarbonate on the back, though there are metallic finishes that help the phones look more high-end. They feel quite substantial in the hand, with good build quality, though the rear design is a bit dull.
There’s a fingerprint scanner on the side of the phone — so no fancy in-display fingerprint sensor tech here — and it’s flanked by the volume rocker and power buttons. A USB-C port is on the bottom, with bottom-firing mono speakers, which we haven’t had a chance to test yet.
Performance and battery
The Xperia 10 and 10 Plus are decidedly midrange phones, and further evidence of this is the use of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 630 and Snapdragon 636 processor, respectively. The Xperia 10 Plus is the slightly more powerful phone here, and it helps that it has 4GB of RAM, as opposed to 3GB RAM on tits sibling. Both have 64GB of internal storage, with a MicroSD card slot in case you want to expand storage up to 512GB.
Sony Xperia 10 Compared To
Using the devices, we didn’t notice any particular issues with performance, which lines up with what we’ve found testing other phones like the BlackBerry Key2 LE (which has the 636). Don’t expect to be able to play all the latest graphically-intensive games without a hitch, but the phones should sufficiently handle most day-to-day tasks, as well as some light gaming.
The Xperia 10 has a 2,870mAh battery, and the Xperia 10 Plus has a slightly bigger 3,000mAh capacity. Expect similar battery life, as the larger screen will draw more power on the 10 Plus, and the phones will likely last only a full day before running out of juice.
Android 9 Pie software
The Xperia 10 and 10 Plus run Android 9 Pie, which is the latest version of Android, and Sony has its own software skin over it. It’s not our favorite user interface, but it’s not terribly frustrating. It just doesn’t look as polished and elegant as the interface on Google’s Pixel phones.
There are some of the same Sony features we’ve seen before, like SIde Sense, which lets you access several apps by tapping on a floating tray on the side of the phone (kind of like Edge Panel on Samsung’s phones). But the best feature we’ve seen is one that has been improved thanks to the 21:9 aspect ratio — split screen in Android.
There are now more ways to jump into split-screen mode from the Android home screen, and you can even ask Google Assistant to open two apps in multi-window so you can start multitasking immediately. The real benefit is the tall screen, which lets you see so much more of both apps at the same time. It makes split screen actually worthwhile to use.
The cameras on both phones are slightly different. The Xperia 10 has a 13-megapixel lens with an f/3.0 aperture, and it’s paired with a 5-megapixel depth-sensing one with a f/4 aperture. The Xperia 10 Plus has a 12-megapixel camera with an f/2.8 aperture rear camera that’s paired with an 8-megapixel lens with an f/4 aperture that offers optical zoom.
In our brief tests, which took place in a relatively dimly lit room, photos looked very noisy. That’s not a promising start, but keep in mind that these are midrange phones, so the bar shouldn’t be set too high, as it’s the primary weakness on most cheaper phones.
Price and availability
The Xperia 10 will cost $ 350, putting it directly in competition with HMD Global’s Nokia 7.1, which is currently one of our favorite phones in this price range. It will come in black, silver, navy, and pink. The Xperia 10 Plus comes in black, silver, navy, and gold, and it will cost a bit more at $ 430. Both phones will be available starting March 18.
What’s most concerning is that the recently announced Moto G7 Plus costs around $ 340 and has the same processor as the Xperia 10 Plus, and the Snapdragon 630 on the Xperia 10 is quite a dated processor. The $ 200 Moto G7 Play has a better processor. So, if you can get better performance for less money, is the 21:9 LCD screen worth paying up for? It’s an answer that will require more testing with the phones. In either case, Sony’s 21:9 phones make a compelling case for using a taller phone.