While flagships grab all the headlines, this writer quite enjoys reviewing a more modest handset. And with the mid-range Sony Xperia 10, I am doing more than just discovering how the penny-pinching was done and assessing the value-for-money offered by the handset; I am holding an experiment.

Sony Mobile were eager to press home their new naming scheme at MWC 2019 a few weeks ago. Keen to demonstrate how it separates the old from the new and heralds the dawn of a new, slightly longer/wider era.

Sony Xperia 1

Worth Looking At

Sony have produced some attractive devices of late. Latter Sony Xperia X devices like XZ3, XZ2 and XA2 were attractive handsets that gave the Sony Xperia line distinctive aesthetic. The Xperia design team gave Xperia 10 a somewhat familiar look but dialled back on the curvature significantly.

It’s easy to hold and feels good in the hand with its textured aluminium unibody. The device is slim but not awkwardly so at 8.4mm. And at 68mm wide by 155mm tall, it crams a lot of screen in – Xperia 10 has a screen-to-body ratio of just under 80%.

…Many games work perfectly with the aspect ratio; giving players a greater field of view and shunting on-screen controls away from the action area

This writer has seen all four colours in person and they all look excellent. Of the four, I like Pink and Navy the best. This particular shade of pink meets the texture for a surprisingly elegant match. Navy is similarly gorgeous; a mysterious but approachable shade of blue.

What You Came For – Is 21:9 Desirable?

With Sony’s flagship Xperia 1 just around the corner, many of us are looking at Xperia 10 as a dry run for the 21:9 aspect ratio in general. Most of Sony’s marketing of the aspect ratio rests on entertainment – movies, TV and gaming in particular.

Xperia 10
It’s not a handful despite it’s long form-factor

Most TV is still shot in 16:9 and 4:3 was the norm before the HD age. This limits the amount of time that the average user will spend basking in the glory of 21:9

With Sony Xperia 10, the passive media experience certainly lives up to the hype. While not the most high-tech panel on the planet, high quality videos on the 6.0″ IPS LCD are very watchable regardless of the aspect ratio.

The much-touted 21:9 comes into its own for movies on Netflix. 21:9 content has (kind of) been around since ‘talkies’ (1920s). The vast majority of your favourite movies were watched on release in cinemas at 2.39:1. And to save you the maths, 2.39:1 is 21.51:9 so we are very close.

However, TV-style content has been much slower in broadening their content. Most TV is still shot in 16:9 and 4:3 was the norm before the HD age. This limits the amount of time that the average user will spend basking in the glory of 21:9. The opportunity to take in a 90-120 minute film in one take can’t arrive that often outside of a limited subset of globetrotting users.

This writer didn’t find the form factor of Sony Xperia 10 to be unbalanced or difficult to manipulate so the device doesn’t lose anything with its new-fangled shape.

Xperia 10
Superb to watch a movie on but how often will you do so

Sony’s marketers weren’t economical with the truth – the 21:9 aspect ratio is truly a standout feature of Xperia 10. Whether or not an individual user will avail of this feature often enough to warrant it is a different story.

Innards of a Mid-Range Smartphone

While Sony Xperia is an undoubtedly beautiful device with a pretty screen to match, its insides are a little more befitting its price range. The 2.2GHz octa-core CPU isn’t bad at all but 3GB of RAM isn’t much in 2019.

Sony Xperia 10 is not an all-rounder – it’s a Film-lover’s portable budget buddy

Sony lists split-screen multitasking as a selling point for the 21:9 concept but that lack of RAM might undercut this feature a little on Xperia 10. The most important of splitscreen uses – streaming video as you browse email – does work as advertised though. For other everyday uses like social media, streaming and browsing, Sony Xperia 10 is perfectly capable and smooth in operation.

Sony Xperia 10 vs. Sony Xperia L3
The 21:9 display of the Sony Xperia 10 vs. the 18:9 display of the Sony Xperia L3

This particular chipset’s GPU, the Adreno 508, is just about up to the most demanding of 3D games at moderate settings – the aspect ratio is clearly a little extra drain on the GPU. In exchange for that penalty, many games work perfectly with the aspect ratio; giving players a greater field of view and shunting on-screen controls away from the action area.

Gaming is one area where there is a trade-off between the extra real estate and the performance. Since not seeing TV in 21:9 isn’t really a drawback but rather, a lack of advantage.

As a taste of what a 21:9 screen can do, Xperia 10 is a great showing

The battery life of the device is below average. Between its modest 2,870mAh battery and the extra pixels to take care of, Sony Xperia 10 will struggle to make bedtime with heavier users. The handsets biggest selling-point, watching movies, will drain every drop of battery in around nine hours.

Needs Headphones and Loves Them Too

The single speaker feels like a missed opportunity. Given the enticing video playback while in landscape orientation, it would have been nice to be able to share. The lack of stereo speakers forces the user into donning a pair of headphones…

Sony Xperia 10 not only keeps the 3.5mm headphone socket but treats it to Hi-Res audio with a 24-bit digital-analogue-convertor. For those of you who have gone wireless, the device sports AptX HD support for similarly regal audio.

It must be said that Xperia 10’s personal audio capabilities are superb for the price, whether one is using wired or wireless headphones.

Capable Camera

For the money you get a decent stills camera. The double wide-angle lens setup with depth sensing technology is used well – daylight and select lighting shots are colourful and clear from the dual-lens camera. The lens and sensor array is designed to capture as much light as possible and it shows in outdoor scenes. A high contrast and wide dynamic range bring further detail and vividness to photos.

The 21:9 aspect ratio has other potential uses but the rest of the specs undermine the handset’s gaming and split-screen potential

Filters like bokeh and Xperia’s suite of AR effects work well. ‘From the pocket’ shots in the right conditions are good for the money. Auto-focus is snappy and accurate.

The selfie-cam is another wide-angle affair to capture all of your friends easily. Although 8 megapixels seems the bare minimum these days, selfies are surprisingly bright and detailed given conditions that the sensor approves of.

Sony Xperia 10 vs. Sony Xperia L3
Sony Xperia 10 front vs. Xperia L3 rear

Sony Xperia’s camera software has some clever design features that add some convenience to the experience. A ‘last mode’ button helps with switching back and forth, the volume key can be used as an AF/capture button and the scene recognition does a decent job at cutting down on time wasted setting up shots.

4K video in 21:9 at this price, even at 30 frames per second, is an excellent addition. While this feature won’t sell the device to a wide audience, pocket directors will enjoy the cinematic aspect ratio. Which brings us back to the aspect ratio question – how often will you be consuming an entire movie on the go in one sitting?

Specifications

  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 630
  • Memory: 64GB On-Board Storage, 3GB RAM; expandable w/MicroSD Card up to 512GBGB
  • Display: Fullscreen 6.0″ 2,520 x 1,080 21:9, IPS LCD
  • Rear Camera: 13 MP, f/2.0, 27mm (wide), 1/3″, 1.12µm, PDAF + 5 MP, f/2.4, 22mm (wide), 1/4″, 1.4µm, depth sensor, HDR
  • Front Camera: 8 MP, f/2.0, 24mm (wide), 1/4″, 1.12µm
  • Video Capture: 4K@30, 1080p60, 1080p30 (EIS)
  • OS Version: Xperia Launcher over Android Pie 9.0
  • Connectivity: LTE (400Mbps download), USB-C, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 5GHz, A-GPS, GLONASS, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0 A2DP+ LE
  • Battery: 2,870 mAh
  • Power Input: 14W Fast Charger
  • Dimensions:  155.7 x 68 x 8.4 mm
  • Colours Available: Navy, Black, Pink, White

Sony Xperia 10 is not an all-rounder – it’s a film-lover’s portable budget buddy. The 21:9 aspect ratio has other potential uses but the rest of the specs undermine the handset’s gaming and split-screen potential.

As a taste of what a 21:9 screen can do, Xperia 10 is a great showing. With more raw power, the magnificence of Sony’s 4K OLED display and a slightly larger screen to work with, this writer is excited for Xperia 1 after his experience in 21:9 on a mid-range device.

Sony Xperia 10 is available now at around €349 sim-free from Sony Mobile Store