Hands-On, MWC 2019, Smartphone

Sony Xperia 10 & Xperia 10 Plus Hands-On: Misplaced Priorities

Sony’s mobile division hasn’t been doing particularly well over the years, and in a bid to revitalise it, the Japanese company is introducing three new smartphones here at MWC 2019. There’s the flagship Sony Xperia 1, as well as the mid-range Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus.

Looking at the naming convention of these phones, it’s likely Sony is looking at this as a “new start” for its mobile business. But after spending some time with the Xperia 10 smartphones at Sony’s booth, I’m starting to think these are Sony’s weakest range of smartphones yet – they’re that unimpressive.

Unfortunately, I only managed to get my hands on the Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus – there are no units of the Xperia 1 on display at all. Nonetheless, all three of these phones do share one common hardware: a 21:9 display.

That’s right, the “cinematic” aspect ratio, which is commonly used for movies. As a result, the Xperia 10 smartphones are ridiculously tall and narrow, giving them a very disproportional-looking design. In fact, I’m absolutely positive the Xperia 10 Plus will stick out of my jeans pocket if I tried to keep it there.

And even if I were to ignore the aesthetics side of things, putting a 21:9 display on a smartphone is ergonomically flawed. I’d love to see someone try to pull down the notification shade on the Xperia 10 Plus with only one hand – that would definitely involve some finger acrobatics.

Okay, enough with the 21:9 display – what are the specifications of the Xperia 10 phones? Out of the two phones, the Xperia 10 Plus is the beefier offering. It has a 6.5-inch 21:9 Full HD+ LCD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chipset paired with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of expandable storage, and a 3,000mAh battery – a modest list of hardware.

As for the Xperia 10, it comes with a 6-inch 21:9 Full HD+ LCD display, a slower Snapdragon 630 SoC paired with 3GB of RAM, 64GB of expandable storage, as well as a 2,870mAh cell. Much like the Xperia 10 Plus, the standard Xperia 10 also features an 8MP f/2.0 front-facing camera.

Hardware wise, the Xperia 10 smartphones are not the most cutting edge or powerful mid-rangers, but there are some redeeming qualities here. For one, both of them come with an all-metal chassis, which looks and feels premium, thanks in part to the matte finish.

On top of that, I also like the small bezel at the bottom of the display, though I’m not particularly fond of the chunky top bezel. But hey, at least there’s no notch or hole-punch cutout here.

Interestingly, Sony is going back to its roots (somewhat) by integrating a fingerprint sensor on the side of the Xperia 10 devices. However, unlike the side-mounted sensor found on, say, the 2016 Sony Xperia XZ, it no longer doubles as the power button. Instead, the power button is placed on top of the sensor, with the volume rocker below it.

Now, while I can reach for these buttons quite easily with my thumb, it would’ve been much more intuitive to have the side-mounted fingerprint sensor double as the power button. It’s something Sony has done in the past anyway, and heck, even other manufacturers like Samsung with the Galaxy S10e did the same.

Nonetheless, let’s get back to the Xperia 10 phones’ tall and narrow 21:9 displays. I may not be a huge fan of this aspect ratio, but Sony did make a few good cases for it. You can, for example, open two apps simultaneously on the top and bottom of the display without feeling too cramped – there’s a lot of vertical screen real estate here.

Besides that, the 21:9 display would be perfect for watching movies on the go; plenty of movies are shot in this cinematic aspect ratio. But the thing is, how many people watch movies on their mobile devices? Chances are, more smartphone users will be watching YouTube on the go, and most content there are shown in 16:9.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Sony if the company didn’t outline this particular benefit of having such a long and narrow display: a more immersive gaming experience. Essentially, you will be getting a much wider field of view in games like Fortnite and Asphalt Racing – these are some of the games Sony is working to support the taller display.

However, there will be a lot more mobile games that won’t support the unconventional screen aspect ratio. In that case, it wouldn’t matter if you have a 21:9 display or 16:9 screen; these games won’t be able to take advantage of the extra screen real estate anyway.

Last but certainly not least is the camera systems of these two phones. The Xperia 10 comes with a 13MP + 5MP dual camera configuration, while the Xperia 10 Plus features a more sophisticated 12MP + 8MP camera setup with 2x optical zoom. So can these two phones capture good-looking shots? Not exactly.

Even by mid-range smartphone standards, the camera performance of the Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus are decidedly average. Not only is there a very noticeable shutter lag in between shots, detail preservation is not great either. You can probably take good-looking shots with either one of these two phones with some effort, but don’t expect them to blow you away.

I find it really hard to recommend the Sony Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus smartphones. I won’t deny there are some benefits to the 21:9 screens of these two phones, but Sony is sacrificing too much in terms of practicality and looks. Okay, the latter is a subjective matter, but Sony is misplacing its priorities here.

Instead of improving the design or camera performance of its smartphones to make them more compelling, Sony is attempting to stand out in the competitive mobile segment by offering something that is unique, but not necessarily…well, practical. It’s a shame, really, considering the amount of success prior Xperia phones enjoyed.

Currently, there are no pricing information yet for these two phones, though they are set to be available sometime in March next month. If you’re in Malaysia, and you’re hoping Sony Malaysia will be bringing in the Xperia 10 phones, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Over the past few months, Sony has been very quiet in the Malaysian market. Although it wasn’t made official (yet), we suspect the company is no longer focusing on its mobile efforts in Malaysia. Of course, there is a chance this will change in 2019, but only time will tell.