Best Sony phones in 2023: choose the best Xperia for you

Sony Xperia 5 IV: one of the best Sony phones
(Image credit: Sony)

The best Sony phones offer so many high-end flagship features, but the way that Sony names its phones isn't particularly clear. It can be confusing to decide which Xperia model to buy, but we'll help you choose.

In this article, find out exactly what the various handsets have to offer. To start with, the best Sony phone overall for most people is the Sony Xperia 1 IV (opens in new tab). However, it's also one of the most expensive (but not as expensive as the Xperia Pro-I (opens in new tab), which is designed for professional streaming). Then there's the new Sony Xperia 5 IV (opens in new tab), which has amazing camera features and a compact size. 

Don't want a Sony phone? There are plenty of camera phone options to choose including Google Pixel, Apple's iPhone and Samsung. Once you've settled on a phone, keep it safe with the best phone cases.

Read on to find the best Sony phones and the right Xperia for you.

Best Sony phones in 2023

Why you can trust Digital Camera World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Best Sony phones: Sony Xperia 1 IV

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli / Digital Camera World)
Sony's best-ever smartphone adds handy zoom lens

Specifications

Release date: June 2022
Rear camera: 12MP (24mm f/1.7) + 12MP (70-105mm f/2.4-2.8) + 12MP (16mm f/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP (f/2)
Rear camera aperture: f/1.7 + f/2.3-2.8 + f/2.2
Dimensions: 165 x 71 x 8.2mm
Weight: 186g
Storage: 256GB+ microSD card slot

Reasons to buy

+
Groundbreaking zoom technology
+
Powerful camera apps
+
Excellent design and screen

Reasons to avoid

-
Secondary cameras struggle in low light
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Very expensive

Sony makes phones for photo enthusiasts and the Sony Xperia 1 IV (opens in new tab) delivers more in this regard than any of its predecessors. Camera fans can dive into the detail, and there are three camera apps pre-loaded on the phone. 

The Xperia 1 IV is particularly exciting given its world-first tech. This is the first phone to support 120fps video capture across all its rear 12-megapixel cameras. Most impressive, though, is the inclusion of a true optical zoom (opens in new tab). The phone's periscope camera can take you from 85mm to 125mm continuously, despite the fact the Xperia 1 IV is a slim, fine-looking slab of frosted glass and blasted metal.

The Sony Xperia 1 IV is big (6.6-inch screen) and expensive, but the best choice if you want the ultimate camera and multimedia experience in your Sony phone.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli/Digital Camera World)
Sony's best-ever smartphone adds handy zoom lens

Specifications

Release date: December 2021
Rear camera: 12MP (24mm f/1.7) + 12MP (70-105mm f/2.4-2.8) + 12MP (16mm f/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP (f/2)
Rear camera aperture: f/2 + f/2.4 + f/2.5
Dimensions: 166 x 72 x 8.9mm
Weight: 211g
Storage: 512GB+ microSD card slot

Reasons to buy

+
Big one-inch sensor for main camera
+
Day-long battery life
+
Impressive performance
+
Huge 512GB storage capacity

Reasons to avoid

-
No wireless charging
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No periscope telephoto camera
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No ultra-wide autofocus
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Very expensive

Sony’s pro-grade Xperia Pro-I (opens in new tab) smartphone is the first to feature a 1-inch sensor. This is a long-overdue vindication for Sony fans. It’s the first true example of the Japanese smartphone maker navigating its mobile line with the imaging gravitas it has with its Sony camera (opens in new tab) division.

The original Sony Xperia Pro (opens in new tab) is a very expensive external monitor/smartphone hybrid with an adequate camera setup, but the Pro-I is a less expensive top-spec photography phone. It has three cameras, a 16mm ultra-wide-angle, a 24mm wide (which is backed up by that large Type-1 sensor), and a 50mm portrait lens; all its cameras have 12MP resolution sensors. And it’s also powerful, with top-tier specs – a crisp 4K display, the latest widely available Snapdragon 888 processor, and over half a terabyte of storage.

Sony Xperia 5 IV hands onRecommended

(Image credit: Lauren Scott)
Sony's classy camera phone with amazing video

Specifications

Release date: October 2022
Rear camera: 12MP (24mm f/1.7) + 12MP (70-105mm f/2.4-2.8) + 12MP (16mm f/2.2)
Front camera: 12MP f/2
Rear camera: 12MP 24mm f/1.7, 12MP 60mm f/2.4, 12MP 16mm f/2.2
Dimensions: 156 x 67 x 8.2mm
Weight: 172g
Storage: 128GB, microSDXC support up to 1TB

Reasons to buy

+
Wireless charging
+
Amazing manual camera control
+
Compact, pleasing design

Reasons to avoid

-
No optical design
-
Disappointing in low light
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Limited software updates

The Sony Xperia 5 IV (opens in new tab) is a compact version of the Sony Xperia 1 IV (opens in new tab). It shares a lot of the same features but in a smaller, more affordable package. If you’re a videographer, photographer, or content creator who wants advanced camera features and video recording in a smartphone, the Xperia 5 IV won’t disappoint.

With 4K HDR 120fps video recording, full manual camera control and three camera apps, the Sony Xperia 5 IV is arguably worth its price. Not only is it a powerhouse for visuals – photography and videography – but it also features excellent audio, with a headphone jack and front-facing speakers.

Recommended

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli/Digital Camera World)
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Sony's 2021 flagship is still worth considering

Specifications

Release date: August 2021
Rear camera: 12MP (24mm f/1.7) + 12MP (85-125mm f/2.3-2.8) + 12MP (16mm f/2.2)
Front camera: 12MP (f/2)
Rear camera aperture: f/1.7 + f/2.3-2.8 + f/2.2
Dimensions: 165 x 71 x 8.2mm
Weight: 185g
Storage: 256GB

Reasons to buy

+
Brilliant camera phone 
+
Plenty of processing power
+
Lots of storage 
+
Headphone socket

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Zoom could have more reach

The Sony Xperia 1 III is loaded with some class-beating specifications, even several years after release. These include a 6.5-inch 4K 10-bit OLED display, Snapdragon 888 processor and 256GB storage. It also boosts the battery over that of its predecessor, the Xperia 1 II, and features a healthy 12GB RAM as standard across all its variants.

The main camera features a 12MP sensor matched with a 24mm f/1.7 wide lens. Additionally, there is a 12MP periscope zoom camera delivering two focal lengths. At 70mm equivalent, the phone’s first zoom range starts with an f/2.3 aperture, while at 105mm equivalent, the aperture closes to f/2.8. The ultrawide f/2.4 lens offers a 124° view. And the fourth rear camera is used simply to measure depth. 

You get superb telephoto reach, with its variable 2.9-4.4x equivalent optical zoom. And the camera has a great user interface, with an impressive range of manual modes and customizations.

(Image credit: Sony)
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5. Sony Xperia 5 III

A great Sony phone if you don't need 4K

Specifications

Rear camera: 12MP (24mm f/1.7) + 12MP (70mm f/2.3) + 12MP (16mm f/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP (f/2.0)
Rear camera aperture: f/1.7 + f/2.3 + f/2.2
Dimensions: 157 x 68 x 8.2mm
Weight: 168g
Storage: 128/256GB

Reasons to buy

+
Brilliant cameras 
+
Fast processor
+
Great battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Only HD display

Like the look of the Sony Xperia 1 III, number one on our list, but want something a little cheaper and/or more compact? Then the new Sony Xperia 5 III will suit you perfectly. It's both less expensive and slightly smaller, with the screen diameter dropping down from 6.5 to 6.1 inches in diameter. And yet it still packs a similar level of polished performance. 

Both models are powered by the same Snapdragon 888 5G chip and boast a long-lasting 4,500mAh battery. Both have a triple–12MP camera system that can capture 4K HDR slow motion video at 120fps.

There are some compromises to be made, though. Most notably, the Xperia 5 III's resolution is only HD, rather than 4K, and its speakers are less powerful. You get just 8GB of RAM rather than 12GB. And in terms of photography, it lacks the Xperia 1 III cameras' advanced real-time tracking. But overall, this is a very lovely phone, and very much worth considering.

(Image credit: Louise Carey / Digital Camera World)
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The best Sony phone to balance features and affordability

Specifications

Release date: October 2020
Rear camera: 12MP 24mm f/1.7 , 12MP 70mm f/2.4 and 12MP 16mm f/2.2
Front camera: 8MP f/2.0
Dimensions: 158 x 68 x 8mm
Storage: 128/256GB

Reasons to buy

+
Beautiful 120Hz display
+
Great camera technology

Reasons to avoid

-
Confusing button arrangement

If you're looking for a great handset that balances flagship-style features with affordability, you could do worse than the Sony Xperia 5 II (opens in new tab), as this is definitely one of the best Sony phones around. 

It offers the great camera features found in the Xperia 1 II in a smaller body and a more affordable price. Photography enthusiasts can take advantage of the excellent ZEISS imaging technology found in the triple rear camera. 

Featuring an upgraded chipset and camera from the previous generation, the Sony Xperia 5 II has a Full HD Plus screen (compared with the Xperia 1 II's 4K display) with a 120Hz refresh rate. This makes it good for watching movies, playing games and scrolling through apps.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)
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It might be an older generation, but this is still a great buy

Specifications

Release date: June 2019
Rear camera: 12MP 26mm f/1.6 , 12MP 52mm f/2.4 and 12MP 16mm f/2.4
Front camera: 8MP
Dimensions: 167 x 72 x 8.2m
Storage: 64/128GB

Reasons to buy

+
Great display
+
Manual video recording

Reasons to avoid

-
No video editing tools
-
Battery could be bigger

One of the best ways to get a good deal on a smartphone is to purchase an older generation, assuming there are discounts on offer at the time. While you might not get the latest up-to-date features, you'll usually find that there's not that much difference between the two models. 

The original Sony Xperia 1 features a 4K notch-free HDR 21:9 screen that's good for viewing movies or playing games. It has a triple-12MP rear camera array, although it's missing the ZEISS optical coating that the Xperia 1 II, above, features. So if you're looking for an older flagship for a great price, this is definitely a good investment.

Best Sony phones

(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
The original Xperia 5 is still one of the best Sony phones

Specifications

Release date: October 2019
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 8MP
Dimensions: 158 x 68 x 8.2mm
Storage: 128GB

Reasons to buy

+
Great video features
+
Stunning screen

Reasons to avoid

-
No headphone jack

The original Sony Xperia 5 review is still one of the best Sony phones – especially if you're interested in shooting video and want a camera phone that's compact and capable for a reasonable price.

Featuring a 21L9 OLED display, the Samsung Xperia 5 has the same triple camera unit as the Xperia 1, but it features 4K HDR and the Cinema Pro app, which adds manual cine camera-like controls. There's even an automated pull-focus feature! 

When the Sony Xperia 5 was first launched, its $799/ £699 price tag meant that it wasn't fantastic value for money. However, now that there's a newer generation hogging the spotlight, you should be able to pick up the Xperia 5 at a pretty good price.

(Image credit: Sony)
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A great phone for content creators

Specifications

Release date: January 2021
Rear camera: 12pm (24mm f/1.7) + 12pm (70mm f/2.4) + 12MP (16mm f/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP (f/2)
Rear camera aperture: f/1.7 + f/2.4 + f/2.2
Dimensions: 171 x 75 x 10.4mm
Weight: 225g
Storage: 512GB

Reasons to buy

+
Doubles as a field monitor for videographers
+
512GB storage
+
Live streaming capabilities

Reasons to avoid

-
Eye-watering price
-
No zoom

The photographic credentials of the Sony Xperia Pro (opens in new tab) are essentially borrowed from the Sony Xperia 1 II - so it is not the best camera phone even in Sony's current range. But this is still a phone that is made for serious filmmakers.

The reason being is that this 5G phone is meant to be used as an on-camera monitor (opens in new tab) for vloggers and videographers - offering a 6.5in 21.9 screen that is substantially better than that found on Sony's own mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab). But the phone's real party trick is that the Xperia Pro has been built for those who want to live stream video to YouTube on location. 

It has a 5G signal on four sides, helping ensure it can get a signal however it is mounted, and taking advantage of the high data speeds available on the most recent cellular networks. And you don't have to use the Xperia's cameras - you can plug in your own system camera to get the full creative control of a Sony Alpha camera, or any camera with a clean HDMI output for that matter.

Sony Xperia Pro as a video monitor & streaming tool: your questions answered

How we test camera phones

As a photography website, we pay special attention to the photo and video quality of camera phones. We rate resolution, noise and color rendition  (opens in new tab)in the context of what rival cameras can do, and where there are any special features, such as ‘night modes’ or ‘portrait modes’, we check that these perform as the makers describe. Camera phones are all-around digital assistants too, of course, so we will also check general handling, usability and practicality – such as battery life.

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq (opens in new tab), and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.