Monday 30 August 2021

Sony Xperia 1 III vs Motorola Edge+

The Xperia 1, 5 and 10 lines have been the primary concern for Sony over the last two or three years. With each evolution of each of the lines there are improvements and possibly more importantly, retention of the stuff that's good. When I got my hands on the latest of the 1-line, the Mk.III, I was amazed at how similar it felt and looked, in many ways at first glance, to my Edge+ from 2020.

I thought a comparison between the two would be a better starting point than a straight review. Much of the common areas have been covered already by Steve Litchfield and myself on Phones Show Chat, The Phones Show, AAM and this very blog. Here's some links to be going on with for catch-up reading and viewing... Xperia 5 vs 5ii, Xperia 5, Xperia 1iii itself, Xperia 5iiXperia 1ii and Xperia 1ii (by guest reviewer Sethu Pillai).

Before we get to the comparison though, one aspect which is clearly different from the 5ii and 5iii is the size. The 1 range are significantly bigger, as indicated above, moving away from the dinky size of the 5-series which is very pocketable and small enough for plenty of one-handed use. The 1-series is simply bigger, in all directions. I can just about get my finger and thumb to meet around the phone's waist with a TPU in place, though it is much easier without. One advantage of that increased size is the increase in width for keyboard use. Instead of it feeling just a little cramped, as for the 5, the 1 lifts that up to be perfectly usable.

It's a gorgeously designed phone - and preferable to the 5 because of the more 'boxy' approach to the edges. It's a subtle thing, and subjective of course, but I like the more 'industrial' square lines whilst retaining the classy and premium feel. The black version here is subtle in design (as opposed to the flashy colours of many other phones) with a new matt finish on the back and beautifully crafted buttons around the rim. Everything about the finish is top-notch including the reassurance of an IP65/8 rating for dust and water.

That matt back is constructed with Gorilla Glass 6 protection and the front, Victus. The frame is aluminium which houses a volume rocker, capacitive fingerprint scanner/power button, Google Assistant button and shutter button on the right. There's a USB-C port and microphone at the bottom and just that SIM Card Tray on the left (which is a Hybrid Dual tray for 2x5G SIM Cards or one and a microSD Card). I don't like the Sony SIM Card Trays - they feel plasticky and floppy - I'm not even sure about the no-tool thing any longer. Up the top is a 3.5mm audio-out socket and sticking out slightly on the back (hidden by TPU) is the long and thin camera island. The front top and bottom edges house the (now incredibly rare) front-facing stereo speakers, one at each end. The bottom (right channel) is longer than the one up the top but we'll come to sound later.

The screen is an OLED panel and 6.5" with 1644 x 3840 pixels (which most of the time runs at 1096 x 2560). This is of course the now standard Sony 21:9 ratio returning 643ppi and can be thought of as 1080p most of the time lifting to 1440p for certain use-cases. There's a switch in settings to lift the refresh rate from 60Hz to 120Hz for those who need it for their applications/games or those who can genuinely tell the difference and/or don't care about any subsequent battery hit.

As you would expect, much like the 5ii the screen is bright and vibrant, colourful with deep blacks - a gorgeous panel which I had no difficulty using outside even in bright sunshine. This seems to have apparently improved since the 1ii, which many found to be less than useful when ambient light levels were high. There are the same white balance controls, Creator Mode colour gamut and contrast tech which I've covered before (see links above) in settings. Bottom line is that the flat panel seems all-but faultless to me.

Some will not like the fact that there are black bars top and bottom housing the speakers and Selfie camera along with other sensors, but I actually prefer this than the screen going out to all the edges, all the time. It's somewhere to swipe from using Gesture Navigation and with the tall 21:9 aspect it really doesn't matter. It's not going to eat into anything much that you're likely to want to view on the screen, including (obviously) 21:9 cinema releases! The only argument might be that the overall footprint of the phone could have been less tall.

So that's the physical done, I'll now get into my comparison with the Motorola Edge+ as promised. I love my using my Edge+ for many reasons and yes, there's more than a year between these releases, but I found myself comparing them anyway. They are both £1000+ flagships (on release) and, as I said, have a similar 'form'. The Sony, as we'll see, outguns the Moto in most areas technically, but I'm here for a real-world use consideration and intend to see how close or far apart they are - and which I'd rather have as my device of choice.

The starting point is probably the front screen. The Sony of course has a completely flat panel whereas the Moto has the outrageous waterfall edges around left and right. Which do we prefer, is the question. They both have pros and cons, some of which is usability and some look/feel. When the fingers slide over the edges of the Moto, the reaction is one of admiration here. How classy it feels, how premium, smooth as silk. But there's also vulnerability. This unit has already been repaired by Moto for a faulty screen component - with a flat screen you don't have that physical vulnerability, laying aside any manufacturing faults. This is going to be a subjective one, like much of the following. My head tells me that a flat screen is a much more sensible option but then I pick up the Moto and sigh!

Both devices are updated with the latest Android OS, being 11, though I certainly have more confidence going forward that Sony will keep their unit up to date more regularly and sooner than Moto will. Moto have a poor reputation here, which they need to fix. Writing at the end of August 2021, the Sony has August '21 Google Security and the Moto, June '21 - which is reflective of the point. Moto tend to get into this 'quarterly' (if you're lucky) update cycle whereas Sony, for Security updates, tends to update at least before the end of 'current month'. Still, we geeks seem to put too much emphasis on being bang-up-to-date apparently! I also have more confidence that Sony will push out Android 12 long before Moto does - and of course 12 is the end of the line with the Edge+ (when it arrives) for OS updates, whereas Sony are supporting their phones in this respect longer.

Both devices have 256GB of storage and 12GB RAM. Both fly with any task thrown at them. Copying data and switching tasks, leaving stuff open in the background - it's all near-faultless and the two phones get a draw on this. Where the Sony wins however, is that it has a microSD Card option, playing nicely with my 512GB card here. The Edge had a card slot, but not the Edge+ sadly. Still, 256GB is a substantial amount onboard.

Another draw is present between the chipsets, Sony with a Snapdragon 888 5G (5nm) and the Edge+ Snapdragon 865 5G (7nm) on the same basis as the above really. I can't see any difference between them in any action, process or execution. We did run a Geekbench 5 test on the two and the overall results placed the Sony above the Moto, but it really wasn't by much. So yes, both blazingly fast for everyone!

I have been surprised by the speaker output with the Edge+ over the months. I don't know if they've tweaked it in updates, but it sounds even better now than it did on arrival. The test though here is less about volume but more about tone, bass and equalisation. Next to each other, the sound is firing from the front (totally) with the Sony and front/top-bottom with the Moto. But this doesn't seem to make any difference really, beyond fingers blocking grilles. The sound output is fine on both and stereo separation good. No equalisation used, 3rd party Music App used, the Sony is very, very slightly louder than the Moto, but the Moto wins on quality. The Sony sounds just a little bit uncomfortable/stretched at top volume whereas the Moto is very happy.

Playing with equalisation via both phones' built-in tools, 'Audio Effects' for Moto and Dolby for Sony, the sound can be further advanced, but again, the Moto seems more tolerant. Effects can be more usefully added and adjusted at higher volumes overall. This is nit-picking though as the sound from both phones is excellent and my difficulty in criticising here reflects how close they are. One annoyance is how far the Dolby controls are from the user on the Sony. There's no quick-route to it - it takes FOUR screen-taps to get there via Settings. All they need is what the 5ii had - a shortcut in the drop-down status area - but they seem to have taken it away! Bizarre.

The Sony does, however, have Dynamic Vibration to add to the mix if desired. This uses a large vibration motor hooked up to the sound output (via speakers or headphones) to 'pulse' to the music on the beats, intelligently, through the phone's body. It's ahead here because it's a fabulous effect which I use all the time. It may be psychological but it 'feels like' it adds some depth and bass when it's pulsating through the hands in time with the beat or some explosion in a video.

Again, both phones have a 3.5mm audio-out socket which works perfectly well. I shall have to nit-pick here again when it comes to wired, as I do believe that even though there's no official enhanced audio on the Moto as there is with the Sony (24-bit) they both sound fabulous with wired 'phones. Very slightly louder sound from the Sony, I guess, but both as bass-orientated as each other. Net result again is that they're very close. It is possible that Moto have some sort of enhanced audio through the 3.5mm but just haven't documented it - they do that sometimes, like not mentioning waterproofing! Switching to Bluetooth brings very similar results. Turning the volume as high as my ears can stand, there really isn't much between them. Both stunningly good quality. Moto made a largely unspecified fuss about audio when releasing the Edge+ in 2020 and it really is very good. In top quality company here, it holds its head up high even if we don't know about the components exactly.

There are lots of differences between the camera hard/software here and I'm going to do the usual thing here by pointing you to Steve's review of the Sony in The Phones Show 427 where he shares his conclusions on the performance and results. What I would add to that is that the Sony provides the user with the fabulous two-stage shutter button (fabulous for confirming focus) in hardware and also the Photographer Pro and Cinema Pro apps. I have come from a background of using 'proper' cameras and this is as close as you can get with a phone just now. If I owned the Sony I would spend weeks-into-months getting to know the controls, limitations and capabilities which could be had from this fabulous interface - and only rue that I can't (yet) control the aperture. But I guess we just haven't got there yet in phones! Anyway, deep-dive into Steve's video for more.

The thoughts of Steve and myself on the Edge+ for photography can be read towards the end of my Motorola Edge+ Review but Steve's conclusion was "Having looked through Ted's sample photos, there are no major horrors in terms of image processing. Which is good. The optics don't seem flagship level, as in competing with the Samsung and iPhone flagships, but the whole camera package seems well thought out. The Edge+ is flexible, with 3x optical zoom and [other] options, and with AF on the wide angle, [so] fine for everyday photos of a variety of subjects." So yes, in fairness, probably a bit of a different ballpark in terms of cameras/photography and Sony certainly gets the win here.

Ready For
is Moto's shot at Samsung's DeX. I've written all about that in the aforementioned review but just to note that HDMI-Out (via cable of course) is something that phone manufacturers don't seem to be bothering to include these days, with everything wireless and cloud-based etc. So it was refreshing to see that Sony, even if they don't have a Ready For/DeX type interface and capability going here on the 1iii, they do retain the HDMI-Out. This means that the phone's screen can be mirrored and sent to any TV or monitor with an HDMI-In socket, armed with a cable. It is certainly useful when watching media on a TV, laying aside any fancy software to use the phone's power as a pocket computer projected and connected. So good for Sony, but I guess Moto get the up-vote here for taking it a step further with Ready For.

The side-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner gets Sony this vote as it's faultless. Works every single time, no question. It's quick to set up and well, just perfect! The only argument against it could be, by some, that it's on the side and is a thin target, so might be better on the back. But that's again subjective. What it is, however, is much better as a solution than Moto's under-glass optical version. It's not that it doesn't work - it does. And the hit-rate is very good indeed, but it's not perfect. And the Sony solution all-but, is. More about the Moto's version in my review again. Moto wins back a point here for including Face Unlock, which is simply not present as a security option on the Sony.

The battery in the Edge+ is 5,000mAh and the Sony, 4,500mAh. The longevity is better with the Moto. It lasts and lasts and lasts for days with my average use. This is all based on personal variables of course, so YMMV depending on how you use your phones. But yes, a Moto win. There's not much danger of the Sony not getting through a day (with my average use) but it's nowhere near as good as the Edge+ power. Start playing around with all that high-res video and Pro-level camera/photography stuff and it'll get worse of course. But unlike the 5iii, the 1iii continues the 1-series trend of having Qi Charging - so a draw here again, as both have this (reverse as well) and both do this conveniently and (we think - see Steve's video) the same 15W power/speed. So yes, top-up as you go and no fiddle-farting about with cables! If you do want to use a cable, however, the Sony edges ahead again with 30W over 18W on the Moto.

Connectivity with both phones seems to be faultless, be it cellular at 4G (sorry, can't test 5G), WiFi 6, NFC, Bluetooth or GPS. Signals are strong, locked quickly by apps and held onto. I tested phone calls and data with both phones, much longer-term with the Moto of course, and all parties and/or services reported loud and good interactions.

This mainly leaves us with the software experience, UX and UI. Moto keep things very clean and close to Vanilla Android. They add some of their own (hopefully useful) tweaks and gestures, wrapped into a single App pre-installed. There's no bloat, no additionally installed apps, no trials and certainly no huge games! Sorry, Sony, but it's bad form to pre-install Call of Duty and Asphalt 9 and to make matters worse, set to auto-install 5GB of data when the Play Store Updates are invoked. For those who don't know better, this will just go on in the background. There's also a Game Enhancer app, LinkedIn, TIDAL, Facebook and Sony's Music app (I'll let them have that one as it is genuinely useful) and more! I just don't understand why, when paying £1,200 for a phone they need to add these items. If it were a £159 Poco, I get it. No problem. But for shed-loads of cash, I would expect a clean software experience and to add what I want to add! Winning point for Moto here.

Sony call it Side Sense, Moto call it Edge Touch. They both have one and the associated controls to make it customised. It's very much like Samsung's Edge Panel and allows the user to invoke (by various means) a 'panel' of assignable options, apps, quick launches, quick dials, pretty much whatever you like. I've never used these much personally, but yes, I guess it's nice to have an option. Moto's is a bit more useful in that you can assign a button to allow (supported) apps to wrap around the waterfall edge. Sony version is slightly impaired for tapping to invoke by a TPU case for quick access, depending on the case of course. The Edge+ also plays around with Edge Lighting and 'shoulder controls' for gaming, making the best use of those curves. More in my review linked to above on that.

Home screen settings are clean on both, though limited options on both compared to many other phones. But that's good. Again, clean. Moto does add a range of 'styles' for icons, text etc. which Sony used to do but appear to have dropped now. Probably a moot point anyway as it looks like Google might force everyone away from it in Android 12 - we shall see! Google Feed to the left on both, as an option, and Sony offers a Pixel-like Search box option for the homepage via Home settings whereas the Moto does not except via Widgets. Niggles might include a maximum 10 minute screen stay-on time for Sony instead of the 'standard' 30 minutes which the Edge+ allows, stock-Android flavour.

The Always on Display nudges Sony ahead of the Moto again here because as fabulous as the Moto Approach/Peek system is, there is no option to set it for (truly) always-on. You must wave/tap to invoke it. Sony's however does give you that option and it works excellently well, with one caveat. When lifting the phone from the AoD screen, nothing happens. You have to double-tap it. With the Moto (and many others), the nudge/lift gives you the lock-screen with any notifications etc. Laying that aside, I love the way in which the Sony echoes the AlbumArt of last played audio. It really works well and further instils the historic notion of Walkman. Oh, and I forgot to mention that there's a Notification LED on the Sony! Good old-fashioned values indeed.

I'm sure that there are gaps in all the above, but hopefully they are covered by what I have reviewed directly previously and/or covered by Steve in his reviews - all linked to extensively throughout, above.

The question is, which would I use as my main phone, right now, if they both belonged to me. As you can see from the above, it's in many ways a close-call even though technically the Sony's hardware is ahead of Moto's. I do admit to having a large soft-spot for Motorola devices, but those who know me will also tell you the same about Sony! I love Sony gear, always have. It usually feels, looks and behaves in a classy, premium way. There are exceptions of course, like cheap plastic radio units, but generally, there has been a pedestal for Sony gear.

There are pros and cons on both sides. I value very highly the sound produced by speakers which slightly leans me back to the Edge+ but then I'm drawn back to the Sony by the classy way in which the sound arrangements are implemented, especially with Dynamic Vibration. There are little things like the Notification LED, Always on Display and confidence going forward with software updates. Then there's the cleaner version of Android and no clutter from the Edge+ along with that gorgeous, curved screen that I only have to touch and hold to sway me back!

You will have got the message by now that I'm completely torn on the matter. I want both! Price is a factor, of course. The Edge+ can now be found for about £600 if you look around (as it is last year's model and was never officially a UK release) and the Sony is £1,200. That's a lot of money, which is a serious investment. Is the Sony worth twice the cost of the Edge+? No. But maybe it's better to think about that in terms of release-price, being £1,049 back in 2020. So, the verdict - if I had to choose for here and now, I'd go for the Sony. But I'd sure miss the Moto!

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