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Sony Xperia 10 II review: Sony got it so wrong

Before you say that I’m a salty Sony hater, let me just tell you upfront that I’m not. I love their cameras, over ear headphones and in-ear TWS headphones. They can clearly make amazing products, but this, the Sony Xperia 10 II? This is not one of them.

It has been quite a while since I’ve seen a smartphone this doomed on arrival. Seriously, just look at the first thing everyone compares: the on-paper specs.

At its core, the phone is powered by a Snapdragon 665 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of expandable storage. Sure, the expandable element of it is good, but those specifications just feel way too dated for a 2020 Android smartphone in the premium mid-range category. And at first I thought, OK maybe the phone is more than the sum of its parts, but if we’re talking about performance, that’s definitely not the case. This phone feels slow.

Even with the light stock Android which I adore, I was not able to get over how sluggish the phone felt. Apps take longer than necessary to launch, and if you’re planning on doing any multitasking, you’re not in for a fun time. And it’s not just because this phone has a standard 60Hz display either. In fact, I’d say that the 6” Full HD+ OLED panel is one of the few good things about this smartphone.

It’s crisp, contrast-y and vibrant—all things I like in a smartphone’s screen. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the 21:9 aspect ratio because I think it’s a bit too tall, but the screen itself is nice so I’ll mark it down as a positive.
The build, however, is a different story. Yeah, it uses Gorilla Glass 6 on the front and back, and that’s sweet. But the frame is made from this material that feels like…well, it kinda feels like cheap Myvi plastic.

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Coupled with the low weight this body ends up feeling way cheaper than it probably cost to make. Especially since Sony took the time to give it full IP68 water and dust resistance.

This, by the way, I’ll give them full marks for. At this price point, it’s almost impossible to find a device with an IP68 rating, so I definitely appreciate it. I’m guessing the reason for the phone’s lightness is because it has a pretty tiny battery. It’s only 3,600 mAh, which has become an anomaly in a world full of 4,000+ mAh handsets.

So, I was expecting bad battery life, but I was surprised at how long this phone lasted on a single charge. I got around five hours of screen-on time with over 12 hours of time on battery. That’s not phenomenal or class-leading in any way, but it’s probably good enough for most.

So far, besides the OK battery, good screen, awesome stock Android and IP68 dust and water resistance, I really didn’t find any other redeeming features for this smartphone. I guess it’s nice that there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack. But, the trade-off here seems to be that the speaker, which lives in this tiny slot here, is absolutely atrocious. But, all that being said, the one thing that nearly drove me up the wall with the Xperia 10 II is the camera.

First off, it takes way too long to launch the camera app and get it ready to take a photo. This would have been unacceptable in a RM900 smartphone, so it’s definitely unacceptable in a device that costs twice as much. Then, there’s the AF system which I can only generously describe as “sluggish”. It hunts a lot and takes a long time to acquire focus even in good lighting. And, when the going gets dark, like I wouldn’t even bother.

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Finally, there’s the image quality, and well for the most part it looks like it was taken by some sub-RM1,000 smartphone. That means the shots in daylight are serviceable, though, I’m not particularly impressed with the dynamic range. However, once the going gets dark, everything starts to fall apart.

Daylight

Low-light

Images are very noisy, yet I can also tell that there is a lot of noise reduction going on. Not a lot of detail has been preserved, and the colours in both daylight and night shots are very underwhelming. I guess, I should have figured that the Xperia 10 II wasn’t going to be a big “camera smartphone” for Sony. I mean, they didn’t even put a dedicated camera shutter button on this phone.

By now you’ve heard me reference the price a few times already, but I haven’t actually told you how much it costs. Well, there’s no easy way to say this but it retails for RM1,799. Despite all of the problems, all that lacklustre performance, and the sub-par camera experience—or maybe it’s because of them—this price tag is probably the most egregious thing Sony’s done to the Xperia 10 II.

For RM1,799, there are so many other better options out there. There’s the OnePlus Nord, a discounted Poco F2 Pro, the Poco X3 NFC, and if you’re lucky, a discounted Mi 10! Plus, there’s the Mi 10T series that just launched which also outpaces the Xperia 10 II. The only thing it has up its sleeve that the other phones don’t have is IP68 water resistance, but is that really enough for you to put up with everything else this phone falls short in?

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Not for me. Maybe someone out there can tell me why this phone is worth the frankly absurd price tag, but after spending about a month with this handset, I simply can’t justify recommending it.

Photography by Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.

UPDATE: Added Night Mode on and Night Mode off sample images.