The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has been the Android phone to beat in 2021: with an unparalleled zoom camera, fast performance, improved design and even biometrics, it’s hard to find its weak spot. But if there is a company that could rival the camera on the Galaxy it has got to be Sony, which also happens to make the world’s most popular mirrorless cameras. So can the new Xperia 1 III match the Galaxy S21 Ultra?

Sony scores a world first with the periscope camera on the Xperia 1 III, which uses an innovative variable optical zoom, giving you a clean image at 3X zoom AND at about 4.5X zoom, plus it brings a ton of camera features like face and eye tracking from the Alpha series. Add to that a super smooth 4K 120Hz screen and optimizations for gamers, and this shapes up to be a great competitor.
So… let’s get at it and see who wins it in this fight of Android titans, the Xperia 1 III or the Galaxy S21 Ultra?You might also like:
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Design and Size

The Galaxy is a powerful device but also a big one: it is noticeably thicker than your average phone. The Xperia, on the other hand, looks surprisingly svelte: it has a much narrower profile for easier grip, and it’s thinner and of lighter weight too.

Both phones feel premium in the hand: you get a matte glass finish on both, but you have tapered sides on the Galaxy, while the Xperia has more of a trapezoidal shape on the side. Interestingly, the Xperia also has all its buttons on the right side, and it even has a dedicated camera shutter button that you don’t get on the Galaxy. Plus, it has one big convenience: a headphone jack! Yes, you get back the 3.5mm jack that is missing on the Galaxy, and that’s a welcome feature for many.Both are also water protected with an IP68 rating, which is nice to see.

Display

The Galaxy has the larger screen, but the Xperia — the higher resolution

With the latest AMOLED tech, both the Galaxy and the Xperia have screens that look good. You also get a 120Hz fast refresh rate support on both for buttery smooth scrolling. Plus, both also support HDR. Check, check, check. 

There are slight differences, however, too: the Galaxy has the larger screen size at 6.8″ vs 6.5″ on the Xperia, and the Sony has a flat screen vs a slightly tapered one on the Galaxy.

Then come the differences in resolution. You have 1440p on the Samsung, but the Xperia goes even higher at 4K. Yes, that might be a bit of an overkill for such a small screen, but if you look really up close you will notice how the Xperia is a bit sharper.

It’s also up to you to decide whether you like the extra tall and narrow 21:9 aspect ratio on the Sony: its great for watching Netflix movies as those are usually shot in that format, but the wider 20:9 ratio on the Galaxy is more suitable for reading text and for most other content.

Performance

There is no significant difference in the performance power of these two as both are equipped with the latest and most powerful Snapdragon 888 chip.

Of course, unless you are buying the Galaxy outside of the US where it comes with a Samsung-made Exynos 2100 processor, which is just a bit slower and a bit less power efficient than its Snapdragon counterpart, and if that’s the case, the Xperia does have a slight advantage.

Both come with 12GB of RAM on board which is plenty for keeping a bunch of apps in the background for quick multitasking.

5G Connectivity

The Xperia 1 III is a 5G device, but it only has support for the sub6 kind of 5G, which automatically excludes support for some major US carriers like Verizon, which have build their 5G network around the mmWave technology. The Galaxy, on the other hand, supports both kinds: sub6 and mmWave, and if you happen to live near a mmWave tower, you will only be able to experience those super fast speeds on the Galaxy. We wouldn’t be too concerned about that as mmWave 5G is still available in so few places, but still worth knowing.

Camera

A battle of zoom masters

Sony has always had a reputation for making great camera phones, but it never had those cutting edge features. Well, the Xperia 1 III changes that it with a triple camera system where one of the cameras is really something we have never seen before on a modern flagship: it’s a camera with a variable optical zoom. See, the telephoto camera on the Sony is of the periscope kind, but unlike others it has a physical element that moves inside, so you can switch it between a 70mm (about 3X) zoom and a 105mm (about 4.5X) zoom. To achieve a similar effect, the Galaxy has to use two different zoom cameras, one a 3X zoom lens, and the other a periscope camera with 10X zoom.

Here is a full breakdown of the camera specs on both phones:

Sony has already provided official camera samples and while we cannot yet compare photos directly between these two, it’s obvious that Sony goes for more natural-looking colors, while the Galaxy gives you an image with boosted, vivid colors and contrast out of the gate. So these are two different approaches, and we cannot say which one is better, but if you are after getting more “realistic” photos, well… the Sony has the upper hand.

In terms of video recording, you get up to 8K video on both, but the Xperia shines with 4K120 HDR video that is great for slowing down in post and achieving some incredible looking slo-mos. On the video side, the Xperia also gets real-time eye-tracking auto focus, a feature from Sony’s Alpha mirrorless cameras, and that is a definite advantage.

Battery Life and Charging speeds

  • 4,500mAh battery for Xperia 1 III vs 5,000mAh battery on Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Sony 30W fast charging vs Galaxy 25W fast charge

Finally, these two have different battery sizes, and it’s the Galaxy which stands out with a massive, 5,000mAh battery, larger than the 4,500mAh cell on the Xperia. This works out to more than 10% larger battery capacity, a considerable difference, but again that’s only expected considering how much bulkier the Galaxy is.

We are yet to test the battery on the Xperia in detail, so expect to see this section updated with the results from our battery tests in the near future.

Charging

For charging, these two are definitely not among the very fastest out there: you get about a 50% charge in 30 minutes, and a full charge takes a bit more than an hour. The exact charging speeds are up to 25W on the Galaxy (and you have to buy a charger separately since you don’t get one in the box) versus a 30W speed on the Xperia.

Compare this with phones like the OnePlus 9 Pro that charge fully in 29 minutes, and you will see how these two are behind the curve in that regard.

Both also support wireless charging which is a neat convenience.

Prices

Sony has always been about making premium devices, and even though we don’t have official prices just yet, rumors point to a $1,200 starting price on the Xperia 1 III, on par with the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Here is a price comparison:

  • Sony Xperia 1 III: $1,200 for 256GB
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: $1,200 for 128GB

At those prices, the Xperia will be a tougher sell since it is missing a bit in software features and brand recognition, but if that camera really holds up to the promise, it might just be a justified price.

So… with all this in mind, which one would you go for?

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