Finally, a Sony phone I don’t have to remember if the X or the Z comes first.
Sony’s history with ridiculous product names notwithstanding, their smartphones have always resonated with me in a special way. I pointed this out in my review last year of the Sony Xperia ZX2 Compact, a delightfully small phone that, in spite of its relatively aged look, was an interesting contender for popular 2018 smartphones. “There’s just something about it,” I said.
With the ZX2 Compact, it broke the standard enormous screen we see on most smartphones in favor of a 5-inch screen, something we don’t see too much of from phone manufacturers anymore. Aside from the odd screen size and weirdly chunky body, and a massive chin and forehead, its specs otherwise delivered on a great experience if you’re into smaller phones, for around $600. What drew me to the phone, though, was its screen: 5 inches and HD+ resolution, but in the then standard 2:1 aspect ratio that we had seen in so many smart phones in 2018.
But that was so 2018. New year, new phones, and new phone standards around for Sony to break.
The candidate this time for “weird phone of the year” is the Sony Xperia 10 Plus. Simply named, this phone is not the wannabe-flagship that the ZX2 Compact was (but at less than flagship prices); instead, Sony reduced its cost with a lighter Snapdragon 636 processor, and paired with 4GB RAM it still does a remarkably good job at keeping up with normal tasks.
But that doesn’t make it weird.
The weird comes in the 6.5” FHD+ display that has an aspect ratio of 21:9. We’ve seen a lot of tall phones over the last couple years, but this one towers above them all. For those who don’t know, cinema films like the ones you watch in a movie theater are typically displayed in that same 21:9 aspect ratio. Given my recent love for obtaining *ahem* totally legitimate 21:9 cinema movies and watching them at home, this device had me intrigued.
Looking further into the other specs—64GB storage with microSD card supporting up to 512GB more, Android Pie, a 3000mAh battery and some other fun software goodies—for less than $500…this was a phone I had to get my hands on.
One of my favorite parts of opening a new gadget is the packaging itself, as so many companies put so much money into things that typically get thrown away (not by me, though…I keep every single one of them). Unfortunately, though, the box was damaged in shipping and, while the phone itself was intact, the box was no longer the immaculate container it was when it left the warehouse. After further review, the packaging was seemed cheap and flimsy, so it was no surprise the box had seen better days.
Moving on to the phone itself…it is a sight to be seen for sure. It’s tall, but thin, and the 21:9 screen is bright and colorful. The top of the phone has only a headphone jack, in spite of it losing its ubiquity in the smartphone world as time goes on. The left side of the phone hasn’t a single button or sensor, while the right side of the phone has the power button, fingerprint sensor, and volume buttons. The buttons are very clicky, not really to my liking, but some people are into that I guess. And while the screen is huge, and tall, and pretty, the phone has a smaller, but still noticeable forehead. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though: in 2019, at under $500, it’s got to have some flaws, right? The bezels otherwise are very thin, so that’s a big win.
Around back, the phone sports a dual camera system—the 12MP main shooter and an 8MP secondary shooter that helps with depth processing. The camera is also capable of a 2x optical zoom (eat your heart out, iPhone 7). The unique screen size allows for some fun camera features, like the ability to shoot and film in the same 21:9 aspect ratio that matches the screen (although, unfortunately, there’s no other screen you’ll be able to play your homemade fail videos on in the same way as the Xperia 10 Plus).
Out of the box, the phone is designed for use by a right-handed person: Sony has a few tricks up its sleeve to address the abnormally tall screen, so that one-handed operation is just hard, instead of impossible. Between shrinking the displayed image itself with a simple gesture to reach the upper left of the screen more easily, and using Sony’s Side Sense features, tolerating the phone’s dimensions is made much easier. I did find out, thankfully, that the phone works just fine for lefties too, you just have to go into the menu to switch everything over. (Side note, it would have been cool if the setup UI just asked you what your dominant hand is.)
Some more things about the screen: watching a movie on this thing is great, that’s provided you don’t mind holding it near your face. That sort of thing has always made me wonder—who is actually using a phone to take in all their media, between laptops, tablets and smart TVs, the days of needing to find something to lean your phone against are over. Still, if you’re in that category of viewers, and you find yourself viewing a lot of 21:9 content, this phone is not something to dismiss outright.
Sony also boasts that multitasking is somehow better because you have just a little more space to work with, but I rarely find myself needing two smartphone apps running simultaneously on one screen. That said, this phone easily declares itself the master of social media, as its height allows for more content viewing, and a little less scrolling, while you peruse your favorite social sites. News is great too, and really anything involving longer webpages.
Everything else, though, is kind of weird. 21:9 is unusual, and while many app developers allow for full use of the screen, some apps don’t take full advantage of the extra real estate, or they do it in a weird way.
But if you are watching a movie, and you have a decent pair of headphones connected, the phone can deliver great audio quality thanks to Sony’s Hi-Res audio and LDAC onboard. As always, it’s important the audio source is high quality, but if it is, you’re in good hands. The phone otherwise falls short in the audio department, though, with it’s dual bottom-facing speakers that sound like the kind of speakers you’d get on a sub-$500 smartphone. They’re plenty loud, that’s for sure, but the quality is less than desirable.
Its battery is decent—3000mAh—and in spite of the tremendous screen size, provided you don’t go crazy with brightness, you’ll find this phone lasting you most of the day if not well into day two, as in my case. I’m not a super-heavy phone user, so for me making it a day is never a problem…but I didn’t find myself charging this until halfway through day two of my testing period, and that’s without a full charge out of the box upon delivery.
It’s worth noting that some markets offer versions which are dual-SIM capable…mine wasn’t, and we don’t see a ton of that in the US, but over time we’ll hopefully see more.
The phone comes in black and silver, and the silver looks very similar to last year’s ZX2 silver which I found to look rather cheap and plasticky. My unit was the black one, which looks a lot nicer; the phone itself has a decent weight to it to feel premium enough, but is by no means heavy. The dimensions are weird, and the button placement on the right side seems a bit strange as well. I am, however, a huge fan of the side fingerprint sensor in place of putting one on the back, although I think the sensor could have doubled as a power button so the volume buttons could be shifted upward.
The camera performed surprisingly well, especially in low light, a nice feature for mid-range smartphones. The ability to record video in 21:9 seems a bit gimmicky to me, but I guess it does provide a more immersive experience when you view them on the phone.
The phone performance at large was, well, fine. It’s a mid-range smart phone with a stunted processor, running Android 9 with 4GB RAM and a screen larger than the industry average: I think it’s safe to say it’s not going to be an amazing user experience when it comes to performance. And while that’s a surprise to nobody, for $449 you are getting a reasonably well-equipped smartphone without having to break the bank. You’ll sacrifice in a few areas, namely performance, but you stand to gain in other areas.
If you’re a big consumer of media—Netflix binging, perhaps, and those black bars really get on your nerves…this phone might not be for you. If you depend on high quality audio while you listen to music, take a look. The phone by no means comes off as a $449 smartphone in the looks department: it looks sleek, and polished, and elegant (provided you avoid that silver color).
So in the end—it’s a peculiar thing; the aspect ratio is just weird, and we’ve already seen Motorola release a 21:9 phone, the Motorola One Vision (although LG did it first in 2017). I think that you can probably do better (overall) than this phone for the price—finding similarly equipped phones for less—but 18:9 is so 2018.