Sony Xperia 10 III review: Muddling through the mid-range

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The Sony Xperia 10 III launches into a landscape that’s changed a lot recently. The surging performance of the mid-range has been snapped up by fans, with great performance available at great prices – meaning great experiences from a whole raft of phone-makers.

The Xperia 10 III looks to offers some hallmarks of Sony phones, while bringing in 5G, so you’re not missing out on the fastest connectivity. But given the seriousness of its competition, can Sony truly compete in the refreshed mid-range?

Design and build

Dimensions: 154 x 68 x 8.3mm / Weight: 169gDust and water resistant (IP65/68)Gorilla Glass 6

The design of the Xperia 10 III doesn’t stray too much from previous editions of this phone, carrying on Sony’s distinctive 21:9 design, meaning a narrower phone and taller display ratio than most.

Of note in the Xperia 10 III – and new at this level from Sony – is an IP rating. Its IP65/68 protection means full dust protection and ample water-resistance, joining the likes of the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G in offering this, which stands it aside from some of the cheaper phones in the segment.

That’s great from a smaller phone, as it’s likely to be popular with those enjoying the great outdoors who don’t want a massive flagship phone just to get the waterproofing.

There’s a quality to the build, too, with Gorilla Glass 6 on the front and back and a plastic frame to hold it all together, with a soft curve to make this slim phone comfortable to hold.

As per Sony’s other handsets, there’s a fingerprint scanner on the side below the volume rocker, while Sony has included a Google Assistant button on this model too.

That button is flush to the casing, so you won’t accidentally press it – and if you don’t want it, you’ll find you just forget about it. The fingerprint scanner, thankfully, works really well: some previous Sony phones have struggled to unlock reliably, but not so with the Xperia 10 III. 

There’s also a 3.5mm headphone socket on the top of the phone, expanding the options available on the audio front. Sadly there’s only a mono loudspeaker, running across the bottom of the display, so the sound quality you get here is limited in lacking stereo output. It’s better than some though: it’s a front-facing mono speaker, so less likely to get obscured than those you might cover with your hand when holding the phone.

Display

6-inch OLED panel, 21:9 aspect ratio2520 x 1080 resolution, HDR

Sony likes to pour its display technology into its phones, so it’s no surprise to find that the Xperia 10 III has an OLED panel that offers HDR (high dynamic range). Behind this there’s Sony’s technology that aims to boost the visual performance of video services to give you a great experience.

The 21:9 aspect ratio of this phone certainly makes it a little different to most of the devices on the market. But on the whole we like that: it’s great for watching movies and most games will cope with that aspect too.

Sony has also kept the camera in the bezel of the phone rather than putting it into the display, so there are no notches or punch-holes or anything else to contend with.

However, you’ll find that this display isn’t the brightest and you’ll notice that when you set into bright sunshine it’s a little harder to see what’s on the display. And for an HDR panel that’s perhaps at odds with the label too.

It’s also a 60Hz only display, so those looking for a faster refresh for smoother scrolling or to boost gameplay won’t find it here – and with many rivals offering 90Hz or 120Hz on similar devices at this level, it’s an obvious omission on the spec sheet. While that might not bother many, if you spend most of your time scrolling through Twitter then you’ll see things just aren’t quite as smooth.

Hardware and performance

Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 5G, 6GB RAM128GB storage + microSD expansion4500mAh battery capacity

One glance across the spec sheet and you get a sense of where this phone is positioned. The Snapdragon 690 offers 5G connectivity at a more affordable price point, sitting under the Snapdragon 700 series devices that we saw a lot of in 2020.

Paired with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage – as well as microSD up to 1TB (or dual SIM) – there’s plenty here that could draw you to the Xperia 10 III.

The performance of the Snapdragon 690 is pretty good. Having 5G means that if your network provides that connectivity there’s the potential for faster data and lower latency, which can make everything feel speedier when on the go.

Fast and smooth is how this hardware runs and in day-to-day use; this is an experience that’s not hugely different to more powerful phones. As you skip from your emails to maps and then to your socials, everything works smoothly.

But it’s clearly not as powerful or as fast as those 765G phones of 2020, many of which are the same price or in some cases cheaper than Sony’s offering. Indeed, phones like the OnePlus Nord N10 (which sits on the same hardware) is around a third cheaper, and while there’s some things you won’t get from OnePlus (like the IP rating), it does point to the fact that this Sony phone is just a little costly for the loadout it offers.

For many, as long as the performance holds up that won’t be a problem. The only downside is that playing top tier games will tax this phone a little more than some, especially putting a higher load on the battery. That’s not stopped us winning at Call of Duty Mobile, but it’s not as capable as better specced phones in this regard, both in terms of raw power or speed of touch response.

The battery life itself is pretty good, though, so it’ll see you through typical days with spare in the tank and not raising too many concerns. However, there’s no wireless charging and the bundled charger is a weak 7.5W unit, which will take an age to charge. The phone will support up to 30W PD charging, so if you have a different charger already then you’ll get faster results – but winning the charging race doesn’t seem to be on Sony’s radar.

Cameras

Triple camera system:Main: 12-megapixel, f/1.8 apertureUltra-wide: 8MP, f/2.2Zoom:  8MP, f/2.4Front: 8MP, f/2.0

There’s a triple camera on the rear of the Xperia 10 III and Sony avoids the temptation of dumping in junk sensors which you’ll find on a great number of rivals. The normal mid-range formula is a high-resolution main sensor and then at least one or two worthless cameras, like a macro or a depth sensor.

But before we hand Sony the crown, we need to look at what is here instead: a 12-megapixel main camera and three additional 8-megapixel sensors used for the ultra-wide, optical zoom, and the front camera. We suspect that all three sensors are the same, just with different lenses.

What this means is that you have proper optical zoom, which isn’t the most common at this price point, but it can provide quality that’s a little better than straight digital zoom found on some rivals.

That’s the theory anyway, but there’s a noticeable difference in colour between the main and zoom lenses, the main camera being more vibrant and the zoom more muted. You then get 10x digital zoom, all coming from that zoom lens, but the results aren’t great once you start using digital zoom beyond the 2x. The colour difference in images is very obvious, as you can see in the collection below:

collection:zoom

The main camera is a fairly average, too, producing results that are a little on the dark side, struggling with HDR scenes, with bright whites often overexposed and totally blown out. Feed it good lighting conditions and it’s perfectly good, but it struggles in low-light conditions, neither doing much to lift darker scenes nor giving good results from the night mode that’s offered.

In dark conditions the ISO sensitivity is bumped up, resulting in plenty of mottled noise coming in. And while the night mode can clear that up a little, the results are so far from those you’ll get from the cheaper Google Pixel 4a, for example, it does make you wonder what sort of performance benchmark Sony is using. The results suggest that the Xperia 10 III isn’t really doing anything to make these photos work – it feels like there’s an absence of the sort of AI (artificial intelligence) that’s making other smartphone cameras sing.

That’s also true of the front camera. It takes a reasonable daylight selfie – as long as it’s not too bright – but the portrait mode struggles with accurate edge detection and the wheels fall off in low-light conditions. Watch out for the face-bending corrections which are turned on by default in portrait selfie mode – you’ll have to turn them all off if you want to look like, well, you.

collection:photos

Sony’s camera app seems to have been stuck in a quagmire for a couple of years, with a nonsensical approach to the features it offers. You can pinch-to-zoom across all three lenses, but tapping on the 1x button then cycles through 1x, 2x, 0.6x – for some people, they’ll miss the fact there’s an ultra-wide camera because it’s not visible.

Then you have the modes. This is where portrait selfie and night mode live, meaning you have to tap on the mode, select a given option, grant a load of permissions for that mode outside of those you’ve already granted to the camera app, before you get to take your picture (OK, so those permissions only happen once, but it points to the fact these aren’t actually all the same app).

It’s just not a great experience. Higher up the Sony Mobile foodchain there’s talk about reflecting the Alpha experience from Sony’s excellent cameras, but there still seems to be camera app experience that’s just not that user friendly.

Sadly, in the case of the Xperia 10 III, while it will give you passable photos and we think that Sony’s lens strategy is in the right place, it’s just not competitive with rivals, many of which are cheaper.

Software

Android 11Opt out bloatware

There was once a time when using a Sony phone meant taking a bite out of the bloatware sandwich. Fortunately this is one area where Sony has progressed, presenting the options for additional apps and services, but letting you avoid pretty much everything. About the only exception is Sony’s music app and some preinstalls – LinkedIn, Facebook – and Sony’s support app.

Otherwise, the experience is left pretty much to run as a typical Android phone, leveraging Google’s apps and services to deliver what you’d expect. Things run perfectly smoothly and as a daily driver the Xperia 10 III is a perfectly capable phone, with ample power to cut through the majority of apps and tasks.

Sony adds in some extras: there’s side sense, where a bar is placed on the edge of the phone to tap and open up a menu with shortcuts to your most commonly used apps; a one-handed mode, reduced in size to make it easier to reach everything; and multi-window, which is Sony’s split-screen offering. For those who think this phone is a bit too tall to reach all areas, some of these options might be useful, although they’re probably more applicable to the Xperia 1 models – which are much larger.

Overall, there’s little to complain about from a software point of view. Sony has even gone as far as making its selection of wallpapers more interesting in this generation of phones – good job!

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