Samsung Galaxy S10 vs Sony Xperia 1: what’s the difference between the premium smartphones?

Sony’s newest premium handset, the Sony Xperia 1, launched at a whopping $949 / £849 price tag – that’s one of the highest prices of any Sony phone, and it puts it in league with the Samsung Galaxy S10, Samsung’s most recent flagship handset.

Both devices have high-end features like triple-lens rear cameras, novel screen tech, and the newest processors available, but they’re also different in a few ways – you can tell as much from the pictures.

We’ve compared the two premium handsets so you can see what the difference between them is, and work out if one of the devices is the next phone for you.

Samsung Galaxy S10 vs Sony Xperia 1: price and availability 

Both phones are available in most areas, but there are a few exceptions – the Sony Xperia 1 isn’t available in Australia, for example.

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Sony Xperia 1. Image credit: TechRadar

Sony Xperia 1. Image credit: TechRadar

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Samsung Galaxy S10. Image credit: TechRadar

Samsung Galaxy S10. Image credit: TechRadar

If you want your high-end smartphone as cheap as possible, you’re looking at the Samsung Galaxy S10, which costs $899 / £799 / AU$1,349 for its 128GB version – that’s a little more affordable than the Sony Xperia 1, which costs $949 / £849 for the same amount of storage space.

There’s only one version of the Xperia 1, but you can pay a lot more money if you want, as the Galaxy S10 has an option with more storage space. For 512GB you’ll be paying $1,149 / £999 / AU$1,699, and that’s if you decide against splashing out more for the phone’s bigger sibling, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus.

Design and display 

You’re getting an intriguing screen on both the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Sony Xperia 1 – read into that word ‘intriguing’ as you will.

The Samsung Galaxy S10’s display is a 6.1-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel with a 1440 x 3040 resolution and HDR10+, which is a lot of jargon, but the gist of it is that the screen is one of the best we’ve seen on a smartphone. It’s bright with vivid colors, and images are crisp and clear.

The display is broken by only a small ‘punch-hole’ cut out for the front-facing camera, and so it takes up 93.1% of the front of the phone. With the Galaxy S10’s display you’re not getting anything unique, you’re just getting one of the best displays in the industry.

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Samsung Galaxy S10. Image credit: TechRadar

Samsung Galaxy S10. Image credit: TechRadar

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Sony Xperia 1. Image credit: TechRadar

Sony Xperia 1. Image credit: TechRadar

The Sony Xperia 1 does something a little different – instead of maxing out on screen specs, it uses a novel aspect ratio for its display, as the device has a 21:9 ratio instead of the 19:9 that most phones have. Sony’s reasoning is that films are in 21:9, so when you watch them on your handset you won’t have any black bars

The display is a 6.5-inch OLED, with a 1644 x 3840 resolution, which is sharp, but in other ways it’s not quite a Galaxy S10-level of quality, and we found the max brightness on it a little low.

The Xperia’s novel aspect ratio is echoed in its design, as it’s long and thin compared to the Galaxy S10, which has a more traditional design, though they’re both glass-backed and water-resistant. Some major differences include the fact the Xperia 1 has a side-mounted fingerprint sensor whereas the Galaxy S10’s is in-screen, and the latter phone also has a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Camera

Whereas many smartphone manufacturers try to load out their smartphones with high megapixel count cameras, neither the Samsung Galaxy S10 nor the Sony Xperia 1 goes this route.

The Galaxy S10 has two 12MP cameras, one of which is the main snapper while the other is a ‘telephoto’ lens for optical zooming. It also has a 16MP ultra-wide angle lens for wider field of views. The Xperia 1 has similar lenses, but they’re all 12MP.

In general, we found the cameras rather equal at taking pictures – the scene optimization tools of both use AI to recognize what you’re pointing your camera at and tailor the image to it, like highlighting colors or upping the brightness.

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Sony Xperia 1. Image credit: TechRadar

Sony Xperia 1. Image credit: TechRadar

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Samsung Galaxy S10. Image credit: TechRadar

Samsung Galaxy S10. Image credit: TechRadar

With max resolutions of 12MP (aside from that one 16MP lens), neither smartphone will take pictures that you can blow up to billboard size, but they’re fine for social media posts or similar.

On the front of the Galaxy S10 there’s a 10MP selfie camera, which is a slightly higher spec than the 8MP one on the Xperia 1, but they’re generally equal, from the quality of pictures to the abilities of the portrait modes.

Battery life, features and specs 

The Samsung Galaxy S10 and Sony Xperia 1 have similar battery capacities, at 3,400mAh and 3,330mAh respectively, and as such they both last roughly the same amount of time with general use – that is, you’ll comfortably be able to use them for a day, but you might struggle with the battery life if you don’t charge overnight.

Differences begin to show when you watch media though. The TechRadar battery test consists of playing a 90-minute video at full brightness with Wi-Fi on and accounts syncing in the background, and seeing how far the charge drops from 100%. The Galaxy S10 lost 11% power but the Xperia 1 dropped 19%, which is a sizeable difference.

Another big difference between the two is charging – namely, wireless charging, as while the Galaxy S10 supports it, the Xperia 1 is actually a departure from other Sony handsets as the feature is absent.

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Samsung Galaxy S10. Image credit: TechRadar

Samsung Galaxy S10. Image credit: TechRadar

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Sony Xperia 1. Image credit: TechRadar

Sony Xperia 1. Image credit: TechRadar

There are some useful features in the Xperia 1 though, despite its weaker battery performance. It’s a phone designed for movie buffs, so there’s a range of features like RGB optimization and Dynamic Vibration to give as close to a theatrical experience as possible when you’re watching content.

Then there’s the Cinema Pro app, which uses tech from Sony Alpha cameras to let you film in 21:9 as you would do on one of Sony’s high-end video cameras – it’s an app that’s hugely useful for people that love to shoot their own films but can’t afford expensive equipment.

Inside both phones is a Snapdragon 855 chipset (or an Exynos 9820 in the S10’s case outside the US). These chipsets are as cutting-edge as you can get right now, and you can tell, because both phones run high-end games and AI functions snappily, and they’re both generally quick to use. The Galaxy S10 has 8GB RAM instead of 6GB in the Xperia 1, so it’s a tiny bit more powerful in that regard.

Verdict 

The Samsung Galaxy S10 has a range of features that put it above the Sony Xperia 1, like its battery life and superior screen tech, but the Xperia 1 has a saving grace – its movie-making and viewing features.

If you watch a lot of films on your phone, the Xperia 1 is one of the best devices out there for that, especially if you’re a budding film-maker, as you could create your first masterpiece on the device.

For all-round performance, however, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is probably the better handset, as it outperforms the Xperia 1 in a few ways.

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