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Best Sony phones 2021: find the right Sony Xperia smartphone for you

Best Sony phones
(Image credit: Sony)

Our ranking of the best Sony phones is easily topped by the Sony Xperia 1 III now. It's very expensive so it won't be for everyone, but that's where the rest of our guide comes in. 

Picking out the other best Sony phones can be tricky because the company's naming system isn't particularly clear when it comes to separating the top-end handsets from the more budget-friendly choices. For instance, Sony launched the Sony Xperia 5 II - a high-end handset with a smaller screen than its previous flagship device, the Sony Xperia 1 II - albeit at a lower price.

It can be confusing but, fortunately, we've helped decipher the confusing naming conventions so that you can learn all about the many quite impressive Sony phones out there. Besides these aforementioned phones, there's also the Sony Xperia 1 and the Sony Xperia ZX3 stoically sticking to the bottom of our list. 

Later in the year we're expecting that the Sony Xperia 5 III may feature somewhere too, but that’s not out just yet so don't worry about it right now. For now, these are the best options when it comes to the best Sony phones.

Each ranking includes a complete rundown of what makes them so good and what they might be lacking. Keep checking back for updates to this list to see what changes in the world of the best Sony phones throughout the rest of 2021.

Best Sony phones 2021 at a glance:

  1. Sony Xperia 1 III
  2. Sony Xperia 5 II
  3. Sony Xperia 1 II
  4. Sony Xperia 5
  5. Sony Xperia 1
  6. Sony Xperia XZ3

Best Sony phones 2021

Sony Xperia 1 III shown from the front and back

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony Xperia 1 III

Sony’s best phone for quite some time

Specifications
Release date: August 2021
Weight: 186g
Dimensions: 165 x 71 x 8.2mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.5-inch
Resolution: 1644 x 3840
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 256GB/512GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP + 0.3MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Great battery life+Incredible display
Reasons to avoid
-Tricky to handle, for some-No in-screen fingerprint sensor

The Sony Xperia 1 III is the top Sony flagship, with the highlight being that it’s the world’s first smartphone with a 4K 120Hz display. That’s arguably overkill, but it’s certainly impressive, with its 6.5-inch OLED display being among the best screens you’ll find on a smartphone.

Other aspects of the Sony Xperia 1 III also impress a lot, particularly its battery life, which in our review we found outperformed most flagships, despite the phone only having a middling 4,500mAh capacity.

This is that rare flagship phone that also has a 3.5mm headphone port, which will be a big selling point for some, and the Sony Xperia 1 III additionally has top-end power, and a capable camera setup, which along with main, ultra-wide and depth sensors also has a 12MP adaptive telephoto camera, which can shift between 2.9x and 4.4x optical zoom.

There’s no in-screen fingerprint scanner, and the long and narrow design won’t suit everyone, but those issues aside this is up there with the best flagships from any brand – and it’s priced accordingly.

Read our in-depth review: Sony Xperia 1 III

Sony Xperia 5 II

(Image credit: Sony)

2. Sony Xperia 5 II

Like an Xperia 1 II, but smaller and cheaper

Specifications
Release date: October 2020
Weight: 163g
Dimensions: 158 x 68 x 8mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2520
CPU: Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 4,000mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Great cameras+120Hz screen looks great
Reasons to avoid
-Still quite a high price-Antiquated unlock button

The Sony Xperia 5 II is basically a smaller, cheaper version of the Xperia 1 II. Sure, there are some differences beyond the screen size to get the price down, but the essence remains intact, and this phone arguably strikes a better balance between price and specs.

It has an excellent 6.1-inch 1080 x 2520 OLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, ensuring it feels smooth to use. Even the Xperia 1 II doesn’t have a refresh rate that high, so in at least one way the Sony Xperia 5 II has the specs edge.

It also has a great triple-lens camera, with 12MP main, ultra-wide and telephoto lenses, plus a high-end Snapdragon 865 chipset, and a decent build – which, thanks to the smaller size, is much easier to hold than the Xperia 1 II.

Read our in-depth review: Sony Xperia 5 II

Sony Xperia 1 II

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony Xperia 1 II

One of the best Sony phones

Specifications
Release date: May 2020
Weight: 181.4g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 71.1 x 7.6 mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.5-inch
Resolution: 1644 x 3840
CPU: Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4,000mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Stunning display+Return of the 3.5mm jack
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult to hold-Very high price

The Sony Xperia 1 II shows the company listens to feedback, as it fixes some of the biggest issues of its predecessors while bringing a lot more to the table.

The Xperia 1 II - that's 'One Mark Two', as Sony seems to have taken naming inspiration from its Alpha range of cameras - has an impressive 4K display in a 21:9 resolution, three rear cameras that take great photographs, and a long-lasting battery that fixes one of the biggest problems with older Xperia phones.

Sure, the price is definitely on the high side, and the phone is too big for people with small hands (an issue the Xperia 5 II fixes), but if these aren't problems you'll mind, the Sony Xperia 1 II is one of the best Sony phones around.

Read our in-depth review: Sony Xperia 1 II

(Image credit: Sony)

4. Sony Xperia 5

Honey, I shrunk the Xperia 1

Specifications
Release date: October 2019
Weight: 164g
Dimensions: 158 x 68 x 8.2mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2520
CPU: Snapdragon 855
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 3,140mAh
Rear camera: 12MP, 12MP, 12MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Hand-friendly size+Impressive processor performance
Reasons to avoid
-Unreliable fingerprint sensor-Screen is rather dim

The Xperia 1 might be Sony’s true 2019 flagship, but the Sony Xperia 5 is newer and arguably slightly better.

Sure, its screen is smaller and not quite as sharp, but it’s actually a more manageable size for many people, and still fairly large at 6.1 inches. The loss of pixels meanwhile is unlikely to be noticed unless you have the phone pressed against your eyeballs, as at 1080 x 2520 you still get 449 pixels per inch.

And in most other ways the Sony Xperia 5 matches the Xperia 1 – it has the same 21:9 aspect ratio that makes it great for movies, the same high-end Snapdragon 855 chipset paired with 6GB of RAM, the same amount of storage, and the same triple-lens rear camera.

Plus, the battery lasts slightly longer and the price is slightly lower. So if you want a high-end Sony handset and don’t fancy shelling out on a new model, then the Sony Xperia 5 is a top choice.

Read our in-depth review: Sony Xperia 5

(Image credit: Sony)

5. Sony Xperia 1

The Xperia 1 is one of the best Sony phones from 2019

Specifications
Release date: June 2019
Weight: 178g
Dimensions: 167 x 72 x 8.2mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 6.5-inch
Resolution: 1644 x 3840
CPU: Snapdragon 855
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 64/128GB
Battery: 3,330mAh
Rear camera: 12MP, 12MP, 12MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Useful 21:9 aspect ratio+Impressive chipset
Reasons to avoid
-Display max brightness is too dim-Battery life on the short side

It didn't look like 2019 was going to be Sony's year after the poorly-received Xperia 10 and 10 Plus, but the company knocked it out the park with the Xperia 1. It's a true premium smartphone, that utilizes the best parts of previous phones and charges it up with improved specs in loads of areas.

The Xperia 1 has a 21:9 screen, and now there's content to match. It's also got a dedicated film-making app for budding directors, that recreates the experience of using a Sony Alpha camera.

On top of that you've got three powerful cameras, a cutting-edge Snapdragon 855 chipset, and 4K screen. Although it is definitely on the expensive side, it's close to being the best Sony smartphone you can get right now.

Read our in-depth review: Sony Xperia 1

(Image credit: Sony)

6. Sony Xperia XZ3

The last of the Sony Xperia XZ range

Specifications
Release date: October 2018
Weight: 193g
Dimensions: 158 x 73 x 9.9mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 6-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 2880
CPU: Snapdragon 845
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB
Battery: 3,300mAh
Rear camera: 19MP
Front camera: 13MP
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly good screen+4K HDR video is excellent
Reasons to avoid
-Awkward fingerprint scanner-The camera is good, not great

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is getting on a bit but it's still a great Sony phone, offering up a great mix of features that are particularly handy if you're addicted to movies, TV shows and gaming on your phone.

The main feature on the XZ3 is its 6-inch HDR OLED display, with a QHD+ resolution, ensuring video looks great. If you have a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription, the HDR content offered by these services really shines.

There's enough power under the hood, and the camera on the back is a solid snapper, although it won't blow you away. On top of that it's no-where near as pricey as the Xperia 1 or 1 II, so if you're a Sony fan who doesn't want to blow the bank, this is a more viable option.

Read our in-depth review: Sony Xperia XZ3

Tom Bedford

Staff Writer, Phones

Tom's role in the TechRadar team is as a staff writer specializing in phones and tablets, but he also takes on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness trackers and more.