Sony is a veteran of the smartphone era. Its devices have been at the top of our best smartphone lists for years but recently even we have been a tad disheartened at the company’s inability to attract consumers with its wares.
It’s a strange shortcoming, not least because Xperia phones can boast the latest processors and decent cameras, and yet, the company struggles to compete with its biggest rivals in the likes of Apple and Samsung.
Look past Sony’s unconventional naming systems; consisting of Zs, Xs and more recently, Roman numerals, and the chart below should help you better understand the current range, as well as which one will best suit your needs and budget.
We’ve looked at everything from the humble Xperia L4 to the cutting-edge Xperia 1 III flagship, with its 4K 120Hz HDR display and triple 12-megapixel camera setup. Here is our ranking of the best Sony Xperia phones you can buy in 2021.
Best Sony phones 2021
Sony Xperia 1 III – Best overall
Pros: Superb performance | Best-in-class audio | Gorgeous display
Cons: Lacklustre battery life | Difficult to use camera | Expensive
The Xperia 1 III offers up more of what we’ve come to know and love from Sony’s flagship phone line – namely a killer camera setup and an eye-popping 4K display.
The big upgrade this year is the move to 120Hz, which joins a smattering of cutting-edge display technologies; including 4K resolution, an HDR OLED panel and an uncommon 21:9 aspect ratio, that’s brilliant for enjoying movies on the go.
The rear camera setup takes a little work to get the most out of it but offers unprecedented control, especially with regards to video capture; while the pairing of a Snapdragon 888 chip and 12GB of RAM delivers some of the best performance for an Android phone out there.
Battery life and price are the main things holding the 1 III back from true greatness but for some, it’s otherwise an obvious choice.
Read our full Sony Xperia 1 III review
Sony Xperia 1 II – Best for entertainment
Pros: Astounding display | Superb audio abilities | Versatile camera capabilities
Cons: Difficult to use camera | Pricey
Sony’s 2020 flagship doubles down on the unique attributes of the original Xperia 1, with an enhanced 21:9 4K HDR OLED display, a wealth of audio technologies (including a 3.5mm headphone jack) and a Sony Alpha-influenced triple-camera module.
Its augmented but clean take on Android includes meaningful inclusions and despite not looking as competitive on paper as other Android flagships from the same time, its performance and battery longevity prove more than capable in real-world testing.
Read our full Sony Xperia 1 II review
Sony Xperia 5 III – Best compact phone
Pros: Beautiful display | Excellent audio | Small size | Solid performance
Cons: Lacklustre battery life | Difficult to use camera | Heat issues | Expensive
As with Sony’s last two generations of flagship phone, this year’s Xperia 5 is essentially a more compact incarnation of the Xperia 1 III.
As such, it features most of the 1 III’s strengths, as well as the same set of weaknesses. There’s no 4K display to speak of here, instead having access to a (still-excellent) Full HD+ 6.1in 120Hz HDR OLED panel.
Performance is still strong (although can be prone to heat-up) while a consistent and capable set of cameras is primarily held back by a convoluted still/video app setup.
Read our full Sony Xperia 5 III review
Sony Xperia 5 II – Great for gaming
Pros: Nice 120Hz display | Great performance | Compact
Cons: No wireless charging | Difficult to use camera | Pricey
In a world where so many smartphones look similar, you have to admire Sony’s desire to be different. Having a notch-less display and 3.5mm headphone jack is practically unheard of in the current smartphone market, but phones like the Xperia 5 II, remind us that we wish they were on more phones.
Not only does the 5 II feel like a notable upgrade over 2019’s model it beat its sibling – the Xperia 1 II – to the punch with regards to adopting a super-smooth 120Hz refresh rate.
Performance is superb across the board, while the all-too-rare front-facing stereo speakers are a delight.
On the flip side, the cameras flatter to deceive, unless you’re willing to play around in the Photo Pro app, while a surprising amount of bloatware taints an otherwise excellent software experience. There’s also no wireless charging – a major omission at this price point.
Read our full Sony Xperia 5 II review
Sony Xperia 10 III – Unique mid-ranger
Pros: Great battery life | Decent performance | Good software experience
Cons: Patchy cameras | Slow wired charging | Display still only 60Hz
While 2019’s Xperia 1 and 5 flagships are more impressive entries in general, Sony’s inconsistencies with long-term software support mean – as of late 2021 – the more modest but newer Xperia 10 III makes for a more sensible buy.
Performance is good enough for some competitive mobile gaming, battery life is great and Sony’s Android tweaks are both as meaningful and unobtrusive as ever.
Despite its unique attributes for a mid-ranger, however – namely the pairing of an OLED display and IP65/68 dust and water resistance – there are a few too many shortcomings versus competitors outside of the Sony camp to make this an easy recommendation beyond the most die-hard fans of the brand on a budget.
Read our full Sony Xperia 10 III review
Sony Xperia 1 – Great for media
Pros: Industry-first display | Clean software | Decent performance
Cons: Ageing hardware | Lacklustre battery life | Pricey
The Xperia 1 goes for broke on being really, really Sony – and it pays off. By catering to a niche audience, this phone can still please, if you want an amazing display with a cinematic aspect ratio, very capable cameras and excellent build quality.
The tall design still feels different but makes the phone slimmer and so easier to hold in one hand, while a dedicated shutter button and the Cinema Pro manual video recording app are tailor-made for video and film enthusiasts.
Read our full Sony Xperia 1 review
Sony Xperia 5 – Good performance
Pros: Nice display | Great stereo speakers | Decent battery life
Cons: Ageing hardware | Inconsistent fingerprint sensor | Poor value
The Xperia 5 is a scaled-down version of the larger flagship Xperia 1 from 2019 but retains much of what makes the 1 so capable.
A then-flagship Snapdragon chip, the same considerately-customised take on Android and the same trio of rear cameras all marry up with the Xperia 1’s feature set. The 5’s smaller footprint does mean a smaller battery, smaller, lower-resolution display and a lower asking price, though.
Besides the 21:9 aspect ratio, however, this is a tough recommendation, considering what else is out there at the same price and entries that have launched since.
Read our full Sony Xperia 5 review
Sony Xperia L4 – Most affordable
Pros: Decent upgrade | Premium design touches | Great software experience
Cons: Stilted software support | Slow charging | Inconsistent cameras
With no budget entry in Sony’s 2021 lineup, your only option at the lower end of the price spectrum is the previous year’s Xperia L4.
There still aren’t many phones around this phone’s low price point that boast an expansive 21:9 display, making this a unique budget mobile media player.
Look past the mediocre cameras and Sony’s excellent user experience, plus its somewhat premium design will help the L4 stand out from the crowd for some.
Read our full Sony Xperia L4 review
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