After a few years of all its phones looking the same, Sony is now throwing designs at the wall to see what sticks. At the start of 2019 it’s betting on people wanting cinema aspect ratio screens.
Alongside the flagship Xperia 1, the mid-range Xperia 10 has a very tall and narrow 21:9 display – turn it on its side and it is a mini cinema in your pocket, the same dimensions that many films are shot in.
But when a phone’s performance is so poor and unremarkable it’s difficult to recommend. For the price (or less) there are much better options on the market.
It’s a shame after the decent Xperia XA2 that the Xperia 10 is decidedly average.
Price and availability
Sony is playing a tough sell even with the price given the quality of the phones in the same price bracket – the Moto G7 is our current favourite mid-range phone while the Pocophone F1 for a tiny amount more has a high-end Snapdragon 845 processor.
There’s also a £349 / $429 Xperia 10 Plus that we will be reviewing soon.
The high and narrow design on the Xperia 10 is off as it means it is at once a one-handed phone but also sometimes necessarily a two-handed one. Its 6in Gorilla Glass 5 screen is 21:9 and sits in a handset that measures an odd 155.7 x 68 x 8.4mm. It’s a good solid weight with the slightest of camera bumps for the dual lenses.
The unusual display is fit into the dimensions by having a large forehead and a very thin chin. With a white screen it looks kind of odd but means when scrolling through all your infinite timelines you’ll be able to see a lot of stuff.
On the right side is the return of Sony’s fingerprint sensor but the company has botched it by not also making it the power button. This was always excellent on phones like the XZ1, but now the power button sits above a static fingerprint sensor that is also less responsive than on older Xperia phones.
Our silver review unit has an attractive understated look about it and is quite utilitarian. As expected there’s a headphone jack (no headphones with our sample though) and a USB-C port.
Sony hopes you’ll snuggle up with your Xperia 10 and take a trip to the movies. The whole play here is that films recorded in 21:9 will display full screen with no letterboxing or notch impeding your view. And that is the case – tons of Netflix films played full screen.
We watched ‘Get Out’ on Netflix on the Xperia 10 and the 1080p display held up surprisingly well with decent brightness and good clarity. And yes, it used every inch of the screen.
If you watch a ton of films on your phone then it could be a reason for you to buy the Xperia 10. Apps also surprisingly played nice with the elongated aspect ratio and we didn’t see any formatting or display issues in our time with the phone.
Unfortunately, we found that using it day to day brought about annoyances that we didn’t find on cheaper phones like the currently peerless Moto G7. The Xperia 10 uses the same Snapdragon 630 that was on the Xperia XA2 from 2018 and on the newer phone it just can’t cope.
With 3GB RAM the Xperia 10 struggles with even basic flipping between apps with dropped frames in animations, lagging in response times after apps are on screen and general sluggish performance in simple tasks like using Google Maps.
Despite our persistence in testing, the phone was a constant annoyance. As said, we are not comparing it to flagship phones – the Honor 10 Lite is slow at times but is still better, while the Moto G7 runs like an absolute dream compared to the Xperia 10.
We’ll show you benchmarks here but they do not tell the whole story. On paper the Xperia 10 should hold its own against phones of similar price and specs, but in use it is noticeably less reliable.
Shot to bits
The Xperia XA2 from 2018 had a single 23Mp sensor but the Xperia 10 changes it up with a dual 13Mp f/2.0 and 5Mp f/2.4 sensor. The second sensor is not a telephoto lens but is there just for bokeh effect portraits. It’s not very good!
The shutter lag on the camera is also insanely slow and should not be this bad on a £300 phone. We missed several shots by moving the camera away even three seconds after we’d pressed the shutter. It’s also a shame that Sony has removed the dedicated physical camera shutter button (though it survives on the Xperia 1).
Results are pretty bad in all but the best outdoor daylight. Detail up close on buildings and people is good but the sky was often blown out, colours murky and as soon as the light drops there’s a lot of noise.
With no optical image stabilisation, the ability to record video in 4K isn’t that attractive as if you’re holding the phone then results are very shaky – but at least you have the option if you invest in a tripod.
A less than stellar camera set up is par for the course with budget and mid-range devices but considering Sony makes phenomenal cameras it still can’t make cameras decent on its smartphones.
You might have to click to view the below gallery:
Audio, Battery life and software
One of the phone’s redeeming features is its above average wired audio options. With the headphone jack, you can plug in a half decent set of headphones and tweak the audio output to your liking with the DSEE HX and ClearAudio+ toggles that upgrade the quality of compressed audio files.
Battery performance on the Xperia 10 is solid with a full day of use no sweat at all, and with light use it’ll go longer. The relatively small 2870mAh cell is managed well by Sony’s software and you get an 18W Quick Charge 3.0 charger in the box which tops up very fast.
Sony’s vision of Android 9 Pie is quite close to stock Android and we enjoy using it. It’s even plainer than what you find on a Pixel 3 so if you like the untouched Android vibe then you’re in luck. A swipe up for an app tray, full gestures (with the option to revert to the three classic navigation buttons) and the Google Feed to the left of the home screen are all here.
Carried over from the XZ3, the Xperia 10 also has side sense, Sony’s software tab that you double tap on to open a shortcut menu of apps and settings. The phone learns which apps you use the most and puts them there, while a slide down on the tab acts as a back button – handy on such a tall phone.
Generally, we found we didn’t use it, and were happy when we set up the phone to be given the option whether or not to install the usual Sony bloatware. We did not.
If the Xperia 10 cost less it’d be easier to recommend. As it stands, it costs more and performs worse than other mid-range phones like the Moto G7 and Honor Play.
With lacklustre performance and a design that you might not be into, the Xperia 10 is a phone you should only consider if you love Sony’s software and want to get a 21:9 ratio phone for watching tons of Netflix films for the lowest possible price.