Sony Xperia 10 II review: Slightly off the beat

The Sony Xperia 10 II brings an update to the Xperia 10 model, but the MkII model takes big steps in moving up in quality. It slots into the competitive mid-range – which is where many manufacturers are pushing their efforts and making for a much more interesting smartphone category. So just how does the Xperia 10 II fit in?

Premium design

  • Dimensions: 157 x 69 x 8.2mm / Weight: 151g
  • IP65/68 water- and dust-protection
  • Gorilla Glass 6

While the positioning of the second-generation of this phone is similar to the first – it’s a mid-range device after all – it does look better in many areas. The overall design has had a boost, resulting in a better appearance and feel.

The rear of the phone is glass coated too, carrying the style we’ve seen on the flagship Xperia 1 II, with the camera in the top left corner, rather than in the centre (which we thought looked a little like an entry-level phone).

That includes a slight shifting of the display. Whereas the Xperia 10 had a wider bezel at the top, the 10 II moves the visible area upwards, balancing the top and bottom bezels for a better sense of symmetry. That makes the phone look better and, if nothing else, gives you somewhere to grip the phone when holding it in landscape orientation.

The 21:9 aspect ratio display – which was once a little odd – now feels much more familiar, although Sony’s decision to pack the front camera into the bezel at the top, rather than offering a punch-hole or notch solution, seems peculiar to us.

The fingerprint scanner sits on the side of the phone and is reasonable in performance, but it’s unreliable when your thumb is even slightly damp and generally less responsive than traditional rear-mounted fingerprint scanners.

In a move to support those with legacy headphones, there’s a 3.5mm socket, which is good news. If you like playing media out loud, however, then there’s only a single speaker that runs across the bottom of the on the Xperia 10 II’s display. It looks like there’s a stereo pair, but there isn’t. It’s an ok speaker on this level of phone, but it’s not great.

Finally, the whole package carries IP65/68 protection, which is rare on devices at this level. If nothing else, Sony is offering a waterproof phone at more affordable prices.

Display

  • 6-inch OLED display, 21:9 aspect ratio
  • 2520 x 1080 resolution (465ppi)

Sony sticks to the 21:9 aspect ratio – that it’s used on its Xperia 1, 5 and 10 models – which is designed to make the phone standout a little. But with more devices moving to 19:9 and 20:9 (and various fractions thereof), it’s a lot more familiar now than it was 12 months ago. Still, Sony remains one of the tallest displays out there – and that doesn’t always suit the content you might put on it, let alone your stretched thumb trying to reach it.

It works well with some movie content, but older TV content will end up with increasingly large bars down the side, not that that’s the end of the world. Some games feel a little cramped due to the lack of relative vertical height in landscape orientation, but in some ways that’s a reflection of the 6-inch display size rather than the tall aspect. What fans of aspect ratio will gather, however, is that a 6-inch phone with a wider aspect gives you more screen space to play.

Sony uses an OLED panel with a Full HD+ resolution – an impressive 465 pixels per inch – and therefore greater pixel density than a phone such as the iPhone 11. This allows the Sony to produce more fine detail and we’ve certainly no complaints in that department. As is common of Sony phones, however, this Xperia seems reluctant to push up the brightness, so we’re often turning that up; the negative effect this has on late-night Netflix watching is that it crushes shadow detail as it gets too dark, so it’s not doing itself any favours.

Otherwise the display is perfectly befitting of this phone’s positioning and leaves little else to complain about.

Hardware and performance

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 665, 4GB RAM
  • 128GB storage + microSD support
  • 3,600mAh battery capacity
  • Xperia Adaptive Charging

Mid-range phones get mid-range hardware and Sony has moved to the Snapdragon 665 to power this phone. It’s a competent platform that we’ve seen in a number of devices, but this phone is showing the squeeze thanks to the wider emergence of cheaper Snapdragon 700 series devices.

For example, the Google Pixel 4a is only £30 more in the UK, but sits on a higher grade of hardware and offers a more refined experience overall. That makes the Xperia 10 II feel a little overpriced for the performance that you get thanks to the increasing competitiveness of the mid-range.

In reality, the Xperia’s performance is pretty good for a mid-range phone. It has no problem skipping through your daily tasks, playing casual games and consuming media. It’s not a great phone for gaming as the hardware can’t really keep up with games like Call of Duty Mobile – it’s just a little too much to really get the best experience.

The Xperia 10 II also doesn’t seem to have very strong Wi-Fi reception – as we’ve found it dropping the network fairly quickly in locations we’ve seen good performance from in other devices. This isn’t the first Sony phone on which we’ve experienced this.

When it comes to the battery, the 3,600mAh cell is pretty big given the smaller frame of the phone, and the performance is reasonable. It’s got us through most days, but pumping up the display brightness to get the best performance and running those more intensive apps can stress that hardware and drain the battery quicker.

Sony’s Adaptive Charging is a nice feature that’s been around for some time and allows the phone to detect your normal charging patterns and suggest how to best charge your phone. Plug it in in the evening and it will control the charge up to the point you’d normally disconnect it, as to not age the battery by always charging it as fast as possible. It’s designed to preserve battery health, which is a great thing.

Camera

  • Triple rear camera
    • Main: 12-megapixels, f/2.0 aperture
    • Ultra-wide (120-degree): 8MP, f/2.2
    • Telephoto (2x): 8MP, f/2.4
  • Selfie camera: 8MP, f/2.0

Sony Semicon might pack more sensors into phones than anyone else, but Sony Mobile hasn’t in recent times come up with a cracking phone camera of its own. Positioned in the mid-range, Sony’s approach here is actually less gimmicky than many competitors, with a solid selection of a 12-megapixel main camera, with telephoto and ultra-wide cameras in support.

We like the fact that Sony isn’t doing junk lenses like depth or macro sensors to boost the camera count and that gives a sense of class to the load-out. Our biggest concern about Sony’s camera really comes down to the app and the lack of optimisation that it offers. We’ve criticised the Xperia 1 II for this very point – that the app is slow and disorganised, badly designed and generally offers a poor user experience.

The prime example is the button to switch to the front camera. This is at the opposite end of the app to the on-screen shutter button, which sits closest to where your hand will be. It means switching to the front camera needs a second hand, or some deft reshuffling of the phone to reach it. Try using that when you’re in a situation where you can’t use two hands, like riding a bike or climbing a mountain. It just doesn’t reflect real world usage.

The camera experience is pretty slow on the Xperia 10 II. You press the button and then go into a small void of shutterlag, when you have no idea if the photo has been taken or not, because the preview hasn’t refreshed. Too many times we’ve taken two photos – the main scene and then our feet (by accident) – as we’ve wait to see what’s happened.

Sony’s main camera is pretty good, but it struggles with HDR (high dynamic range) capture and this points to a wider lack of artificial intelligence (AI) skills. There’s the sense that there’s little optimisation happening and with us coming to this phone from the Pixel 4a (with just a single camera), it becomes all to apparent that the Xperia 10 II will often give you flat images that don’t really pop. When you have something bright in the scene – a simple sun-kissed face or white shirt – that’s enough to blow out the highlights and leave you with no detail.

There’s a healthy colour difference between the lenses, with the ultra-wide a lot cooler than the main camera. This wide-angle is a little blurry around the edges, too, but no the whole it’s fine. The 2x zoom is a little darker as the aperture narrows. There’s pinch zooming supported out to 10x – but this all comes from the 2x camera then using digital zoom.

There is a night mode, but it won’t compete with near rivals in low-light conditions. There’s a feeling overall that the Xperia 10 II is average in all areas, and doesn’t really have a strong point.

The front camera lacks low-light skills and doesn’t cope well with movement, so conditions have to be perfect to get a decent shot – although for social sharing on the small screen we can’t complain too much.

Software

  • Android 10

Sony Mobile once had a reputation for duplicating a lot of apps and generally interfering with the experience through its own software skin. That’s been minimised a lot in more recent phones. You can, essentially, avoid many of the apps that Sony might want to impose on you. There’s the PlayStation app, News Suite, and an app to link to Sony’s cameras that you can easily remove.

The only apps you can’t remove are the Support app and Sony’s own music player. Outside of that, it’s now a much more ‘Androidy’ experience than Sony’s phones have been in the past – and that’s a good thing.

On the whole, the performance around the user interface (UI) matches the level of this phone and things are generally smooth, making for a decent experience. As we’ve said elsewhere, however, there are close rivals in price that are a little slicker.

Original Article

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