Sony phones don’t sell in huge volumes, but they have made a name for themselves. More often than not it is their displays that have made them so famous – whether it’s the first 4K displays or just how small they are, we usually have a lot to talk about when a new Sony phone arrives.
We decided to group the phones in three categories: flagship, premium and mini. The Premium models used to be called that for a bit, though we’re counting the Z Ultra here as well. As for the minis, most of them were part of the Compact line and we have included a couple of precursors.
The table itself tells an interesting story and the charts we’ve included makes it easy to visualize. What’s missing is almost as important as what’s there. Look at all the gaps in the Premium segment – those were special occasions. You can read our Flashback post on the Xperia Z Ultra for more details on the first-ever phone with a 4K display.
Should we have moved the Xperia 1 series into the Premium category? We debated it, but then there will be no flagship models. Same for the “minis”, the Xperia 5 series isn’t all that small, but it is the smallest Sony flagship.
The charts make the evolution of Sony’s line-up easy to visualize. For a number of years the flagships settled on a 5.0-5.2 inch screen size and 1080p resolution, while the Compacts went for 4.6” 720p displays.
We think the launch of the Xperia XZ3 was a pivotal moment for Sony. It was its first phone with an OLED display, abandoning the Triluminos LCDs it had pushed for years (they used technology borrowed from Sony’s TV department).
But look closer, the XZ3 also moved away from the standard 16:9 aspect ratio, replacing it with 18:9. Sony phones of the previous years drew criticism for their relatively chunky bezels, the XZ3’s new screen helped it achieve a much better screen-to-body ratio. This phone also pushed past the 1080p barrier, going up to 1,440 x 2,880px resolution.
The following year Sony completely redesigned its smartphone line-up with the introduction of the number series. The aspect ratio was stretched further to 21:9, which is now what the Xperia 1, 5 and 10 are known for.
At the same time, screen sizes increased significantly across the board. The new design helped Sony increase the StB ratio, despite maintaining regular bezels above and below the displays – instead of notches, Sony phones have front-facing stereo speakers. They even have notification LEDs.
It may have cost us the Compact line, but Sony found a unique identity for itself – flat rectangular displays with extra wide aspect ratios are a core part of that.
Before we wrap up, we should talk about the Xperia 1 series. First off, we’ve put an asterisk next to the 4K label for the display resolution. While the display does have 3,840px on one side, its slender aspect ratio means that the other side has only 1,644px instead of the full 2,160px for 4K. Only the Premium phones have true 4K resolution.
Also, that resolution is reserved for multimedia, the interface is rendered at 1080p. Though these insane pixel density numbers push the limits of 20/20 eyesight. Also, we don’t know quite what caused it, but Sony was late to the High Refresh Rate (HRR) party. Its first HRR display was the 120Hz panel on the Xperia 5 II in 2020, then the Xperia 1 models adopted that feature starting the following year.
But as we’ve said many times before, Sony isn’t “late” to adopting a particular feature (be it HRR, OLED or whatever). Instead, the company marches to the beat of its own drummer and sometimes it feels like the HQ at Tokyo isn’t aware of the smartphone market at large.