Flashback: a decade of Sony Xperia displays

Sony phones don’t sell in large volumes, but they have made a name for themselves. More often than not, it’s their displays that make them famous – whether it’s the first 4K displays or how small they are, we usually have something to talk about when a new Sony phone comes out.

We decided to group the phones into three categories: flagship, premium and mini. Premium models used to be called something like that, although we also count the Z Ultra here. As for the minis, most of them were part of the Compact line, and we’ve included a few precursors.

The table itself tells an interesting story, and the graphs we’ve included make it easy to visualize. What’s missing is almost as important as what’s there. Look at all the gaps in the premium segment – these were special opportunities. You can read ours Flashback post on Xperia Z Ultra more details on the first ever phone with a 4K display.

Should we have moved the Xperia 1 range to the Premium category? We debated it, but then there will be no flagship models. As with the “minis”, the Xperia 5 series isn’t that small, but it’s Sony’s smallest flagship.

Thanks to the graphs, the evolution of the Sony series can be easily visualized. For a number of years, flagships settled on 5.0-5.2 inch screen sizes and 1080p resolutions, while compact models went for 4.6” 720p displays.

Flashback: a decade of Sony Xperia displays

We think the launch of the Xperia XZ3 was a pivotal moment for Sony. It was his first phone with an OLED display, abandoning the Triluminos LCDs he had been pushing for years (they used technology borrowed from Sony’s TV division).

But look closer, the XZ3 has also moved away from the standard 16:9 aspect ratio and replaced it with 18:9. Sony phones from previous years have been criticized for their relatively chunky bezels, the XZ3’s new screen helped achieve a much better screen-to-body ratio. This phone also broke the 1080p mark, achieving a resolution of 1,440 x 2,880 pixels.

Flashback: a decade of Sony Xperia displays

The following year, Sony completely revamped its smartphone lineup with the introduction of a number series. The aspect ratio was further stretched to 21:9, which is now what the Xperia 1, 5 and 10 are known for.

Flashback: a decade of Sony Xperia displays

At the same time, screen sizes have increased significantly across the board. The new design helped Sony increase the StB ratio, despite keeping the regular bezels above and below the display – instead of notches, Sony phones have front-facing stereo speakers. They even have notification LEDs.

It may have cost us the Compact range, but Sony has found a unique identity for itself – flat rectangular displays with extra-wide aspect ratios are a staple.

Before we finish, we should talk about the Xperia 1 series. First, we put an asterisk next to the 4K designation for the display resolution. While the display has 3,840 pixels on one side, its slim aspect ratio means the other side only has 1,644 pixels instead of the full 2,160 pixels for 4K. Only premium phones have true 4K resolution.

Also, that resolution is reserved for multimedia, the interface is rendered at 1080p. Although those insane pixel density numbers push the limits of 20/20 vision. We also don’t know exactly what caused it, but Sony was late to the high refresh rate (HRR) party. Its first HRR display was the 120Hz panel on the Xperia 5 II in 2020, with Xperia 1 models adopting the feature from the following year.

But as we’ve said many times before, Sony isn’t “late” in adopting a particular feature (be it HRR, OLED, or whatever). Instead, the company marches to the beat of its own drummer, and sometimes it feels like headquarters in Tokyo don’t know the smartphone market at all.

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