Sony Xperia 10 III review: Underpowered and overpriced

Honestly, it’s a slight surprise – albeit a pleasant one – to be reviewing the Sony Xperia 10 III in 2021. Sony’s performance in the smartphone world has been distinctly underwhelming in terms of market share, and there was always a perpetual fear that the company would go the same way as LG and eventually pull the plug.
 
I’m glad Sony is still here. After all, the company’s cameras are so good that many Android manufacturers use its sensors in their own handsets. Not to mention that Sony can’t keep up with demand when it comes to the PS5, either, so why isn’t Xperia sitting up there with the best of them?

In the past, the answer to that question had something to do with Sony’s somewhat optimistic pricing. So, does the brand-new Sony Xperia 10 III justify its inflated cost?
 

   

Sony Xperia 10 III review: What you need to know

The Xperia 10 III’s silly name simply implies that this is the third generation of the mid-range Xperia 10 lineup, which originally launched in 2019. And, like the other two handsets in Sony’s stable (the Xperia 5 and Xperia 1), the Xperia 10 III is perhaps best known for its long and thin aspect ratio.

 
 
The phone’s unusual 21:9 design is, according to Sony, beneficial for watching TV and movies on the go, with Sony pointing out that 69% of Netflix’s movies are shot in the same aspect ratio.
 
Otherwise, it maintains the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600-series processor of the past two generations – this time the Snapdragon 690 – which is backed by 6GB of RAM and a generous 128GB of internal storage. It also has a 1080p OLED display, 5G connectivity and a triple camera array, which consists of a 12MP main lens and two 8MP sensors: one for ultra-wide shots and another for 2x optical zoom. 

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Price and competition

The Xperia 10 III costs £399 this year, which puts it firmly in the firing line of some of the best mid-range handsets around.
 
From a photography perspective, it’s facing the thoroughly impressive Google Pixel 4a (£349) which uses the same sensor and superb image processing software as the flagship Pixel 5. Likewise, the OnePlus Nord (£379) and Motorola Moto G 5G Plus (£299) have the advantage, since they benefit from the beefier Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chipset.

 
Finally, if you want raw power without breaking the bank, then Xiaomi is the current go-to brand. The Poco F3 has the most powerful processor of the lot – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 – and it comes in at just £330.

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Design

If there’s one thing you can say for Sony, it’s that it likes to keep things unique on the design front. The 21:9 aspect ratio is unheard of elsewhere in the world of smartphones, and if you’re after a phone that will make you stand out from the crowd, well, this is it. 
 
From a practical perspective, it will divide opinion. I use the 5.8in Samsung Galaxy S10e as my own handset, and despite being on the dinky side (in 2021 terms, anyway), the Sony Xperia 10 III is a good centimetre thinner, making it more comfortable to hold. The flip side, however, is that it’s also the same amount taller, which makes single-handed operation considerably more taxing, even for a fat-handed lummox like me.
 
Personally, though, I like the Xperia 10 III’s unique design. I’m also a fan of the squared design that Sony has persisted with over the years: it’s more curved than Sony phones of the recent past, but still pretty angular by modern standards. It’s an interesting design choice in terms of bezels, too, with both a thin forehead and chin at the top and bottom of the screen.

 
The back of the handset is nice and simple, with just the word “Sony” in the middle, and a traffic light-style camera array neatly tucked into the top left-hand corner. It might be plastic, but the Xperia 10 III’s back has a glassy sheen to it that’s very appealing – albeit less so when it’s covered in fingerprints. Speaking of which, authentication is done via a sensor that’s comfortably built into the power button on the right-hand side of the handset.
 
Sony also gets plenty of points for consumer-friendly design choices made along the way. As already mentioned, it supports microSD expansion (or you can use the slot for a second SIM card if you prefer), it has IP68-rated waterproofing and it maintains the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Display

The Xperia 10 III’s 6in 2,520 x 1,080 OLED display is equally impressive. With a total of 457 pixels per inch, it’s impressively sharp and picture quality is top notch.  
 
In testing, our colorimeter found it covered 97.9% of the sRGB gamut with a total volume of 98.8%. In other words, colours look as good as can be, which makes it rather nice to watch films and TV shows on. Being an OLED screen, it’s particularly good at painting inky-looking black levels and offering infinite contrast – something that LCD screens can’t match. 
 
The downside in the case of the Xperia 10 III, however, is that it has a pretty weak maximum brightness: it reached 329cd/m² in our tests, which is fine in most situations, but is the kind of screen that can struggle in sunny weather.

 
The peculiar aspect ratio is a mixed blessing for consuming content. For films shot in 21:9, such as Birdbox on Netflix, it’s a treat, with no black borders at all. However, while films for Netflix may be shot in this aspect ratio, TV series are not, and this involves a different set of black borders on either side of the show you’re watching, which are far thicker than the ones you experience watching 21:9 content on a regular handset.

One more thing: while a greater number of mid-range smartphones are embracing screens with 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rates, the Xperia 10 III sticks it out at 60Hz. I personally don’t see this as a deal breaker, given the shortage of high refresh-rate apps and games actually available on the Play Store – not to mention the potential knock-on effect on battery life – but it is notable that Sony hasn’t offered the option in a phone that sits on the upper end of the midrange. 

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Performance

So far, so good, but now we come to the Xperia 10 III’s sternest test: can the Snapdragon 690 really justify the £399 cost of entry? Well, since this is the same chipset that powers the cheaper OnePlus Nord N10, you can probably see where this is going.

 
To be clear, it’s not disastrous by any means. It’s just middling, and that rankles in a phone that comes with a relatively high price tag. As you’ll see from the Geekbench 5 graph below, the Xperia 10 III goes pretty much toe to toe with the Pixel 4a (£350), but it lags behind the OnePlus Nord (£379), Moto G 5G (£299) and, oddly enough, the OnePlus Nord N10 (£329). The Xiaomi Poco F3 (£329), meanwhile, leaves all comers in the dust.

 
The Xperia 10 III is also lagging behind when it comes to gaming. Once again, performance goes up in tiers: it’s roughly level pegging with the Pixel 4a and OnePlus Nord N10, but a bit slower than the OnePlus Nord and Moto G 5G. The Poco F3, once again, offers phenomenal bang for your buck: it breaks the damned chart, in fact.

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Underpowered and overpriced

 
Due to a mix-up, I don’t have the definitive stats for how the Xperia 10 III fared in our standard battery test yet. That will be amended soon, but in the meantime I can tell you that Sony’s promise of all-day battery life is definitely correct, with an early time of over 20 hours. 
 
This review will be updated soon with a chart showing how it compares to its rivals in terms of stamina, but the headline is that you won’t be constantly worrying about finding a power outlet while you’re out and about.

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Camera

As mentioned earlier, the Sony Xperia 10 III has a triple camera array made up of a 12MP (f/1.8) main lens and two 8MP snappers: one for ultrawide shots (f/2.2) and another for 2x optical zoom (f/2.4). 
 
At first glance, I was quietly impressed with the camera. Yes, the colours are a whole lot warmer than the church is in reality, but it’s still a nicely composed shot with plenty of detail.

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Underpowered and overpriced

 
But then I compared it to shots taken on the Poco F3 at the same time and things started to take a turn for the worst.

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Underpowered and overpriced

 
While each handset smooths over the fine detail when you zoom in, both the overall composition and fine detail is better on Xiaomi’s phone, which – without wanting to sound like a broken record – is £70 cheaper.
 
To Sony’s credit, it’s a far closer call in low-light conditions. At night in my garden, I took both handsets out again. Here’s Sony’s attempt at the picture:

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Underpowered and overpriced

 
…and here are the two zoomed in:

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Underpowered and overpriced

 
There’s not much in this at all. Both have a good stab at the fine detail in tricky lighting conditions, and the results aren’t half bad. Notably, though, my impression during the Poco F3 review was that it would be comfortably beaten by the Google Pixel 4a if I had one to hand to test with, so I imagine the same is true for the Xperia 10 III, too.
 
The selfie camera, which is an 8MP (f.2.4) number, is perfectly serviceable. Beautiful selfies are tucked away in a different menu and when you first flick the camera around, you’re greeted with a “warts and all” image. That’s the one on the left-hand side of the gallery below, before I messed around with portrait mode. The middle picture is with default beautification, while the one on the right is maxed out to what I’d call “nightmare fuel” levels.

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Underpowered and overpriced

 

The Sony Xperia 10 III is capable of shooting video in 16:9 or 21:9 aspect ratio in both 4K or 1080p, which is a nice perk. Whichever resolution you choose, the recording is fully stabilised, although only 1080p 16:9 offers a buttery smooth 60fps. The image quality is generally very good, and the stablisation copes rather well. Sudden camera pans and changes of light did give it a little trouble while it catches up, though.

Sony Xperia 10 III review: Verdict

 
A beautifully designed handset with a superb screen, the Xperia 10 III is let down by internals that don’t really justify the inflated price. Unless you really like the idea of a 21:9 screen or love Sony’s aesthetic enough to pay around £70 over the odds, then there’s not much reason to buy the Xperia 10 III.

 
 
In terms of getting the most bang for your buck, then the Poco F3 is still as good as it gets. Alternatively, if photography is what’s most important to you, then the Pixel 4a remains the picture-taking king. Either way, you’ll end up saving £50 to £100 on the Xperia 10 III if you buy one of these handsets instead.