The Xperia 1 II from Sony Mobile Communications is due to go on sale at the end of May on NTT docomo and au. With its 20fps burst shooting, the new Photography Pro app, wireless charging, and bringing back the headphone jack, it feels like Sony is trying to correct the missteps they made with the original.
To learn more about the development of this phone we conducted an online interview with Hiroaki Watanabe and Shoko Otani from Sony Mobile Communications who were in charge of product planning for the Xperia 1 II, Yuki Ikeda from the System Design Department within the Product Design Division and Keita Hibi, the Sony Brand Design Platform Creative Center Art Director.
The display is equipped with a 90Hz equivalent motion blur reduction technology which is always on when enabled
── Can you tell us why you included the 90Hz equivalent motion blur reduction technology?
Watanabe: The Xperia 1 II has a screen with a 60Hz refresh rate, but the motion blur reduction technology equivalent to a 90Hz display will increase the voltage in time with the activation of the OLED pixels when displaying an image. In this way we are able to switch between images more quickly.
Up until now even if you send the instruction to activate a pixel it takes some time to switch from black to white, which can result in the pixel looking grey. That’s why we equipped the Xperia 1 II with motion blur reduction technology equivalent to a 90Hz display.
── When will this 90Hz equivalent technology be active?
Watanabe: We’ve added a new “Motion Blur Reduction Settings” option in the settings, and if you enable it then the 90Hz equivalent motion blur reduction technology will be active in all situations. For example, it will even be active when watching a movie or scrolling through a website.
The iconic 21:9 4K OLED display
── You’ve stuck with the 21:9 display. Does this mean that you received positive feedback about this aspect ratio from Xperia 1 users?
Watanabe: That’s right. The Xperia 1 released in 2019 was the first time we used a CinemaWide display, and it seems that was a big reason why some users decided to buy it. We also heard from a lot of users that the 21:9 ratio was one of the top three reasons why they bought the phone, so it seems people are becoming more aware of the display technology when choosing their next smartphone. 70-80% of users reported that they were satisfied with the display performance after purchasing the phone.
Besides the responses from our users, we also took into account the ease of viewing content displayed on the screen, as well as the comfort of the grip, and in the end we decided to continue using this ratio. However, there are black bars on either side of the display when showing content not optimized for the 21:9 ratio.
── I recall that when the Xperia 1 was released there weren’t many apps that were optimized for the 21:9 aspect ratio.
Watanabe: We understand that many people are now starting to try out 21:9 content, but we can’t disclose specific numbers from Sony Mobile. However we can confirm that over 50% of cinema content from apps like Netflix is now optimized for the 21:9 ratio.
── Have more games been optimized for the 21:9 aspect ratio?
Watanabe: Of course. Games like the new action shooter “Call of Duty Mobile” and the drift racing game “QQ Speed M” are optimized to be displayed on a 21:9 screen.
It would be impossible to list all compatible apps here, but I can say that there are definitely more than there were in 2019 (when the original Xperia 1 was released).
── You’ve kept the 4K OLED display from the Xperia 1. Can we assume then that this also went down well with users of the original?
Watanabe: The amount of 4K content out there in the world in places like YouTube is increasing. Additionally, we decided to keep the 4K OLED display so that users will be able to enjoy the 4K video that they are able to record with both the camera app and the Cinema Pro app.
── Doesn’t the 4K resolution have an effect on the battery life?
Watanabe: We’re aware that there may be many people out there who think it might. However, we’ve equipped the Xperia 1 II with a 4000mAH battery, which means battery life should not be a problem for most users.
── Were the engineers at the Sony Atsugi Technology Center involved in the development of this model?
Watanabe: Yes. Sony has a technology development base in Atsugi in Kanagawa prefecture called “Sony Atsugi Technology Center.” We worked with the team who developed, among other things, the high-cost master monitors that cost over 3 million yen and used the latest master monitors that will soon be used around the world to tune the Xperia 1 II display.
The Xperia 1 II can be used to check colors for printing photos
── Are there any other improvements in the Xperia 1 II that you’d like to mention?
Watanabe: Keeping on the display, we’ve also added a feature to select the white balance based on standard light source and color temperature. Specifically, by setting the white point to a number such as D55 or D65, the color of a printed photo can be faithfully reproduced on the display of the Xperia 1 II.
── That’s definitely a feature aimed at pro users.
Watanabe: Exactly. This feature isn’t aimed at the general user. It was developed with the needs of a pro photographer in mind. That photographer is now able to check the colors of a photo taken on the Xperia 1 II using the display on the Xperia 1 II before printing it. We have created a display that should even satisfy the pro users who are used to using Sony’s α series cameras.
Other companies are focusing on optical performance, but Sony is promoting the digital camera-like high speed shooting performance
── Why did you decide to use ZEISS lenses?
Watanabe: The camera lenses used in the Xperia 1 II were developed in collaboration with ZEISS. They have been designed to faithfully reproduce the subtle textures of the subject in terms of gradation, color reproduction, transparency, and bokeh.
Also, you may have noticed that there is a “T*” after the ZEISS logo. This is related to the special coating applied to the lenses. It minimizes flare and ghosting, which can degrade image quality, to deliver clearer images.
── The ability to burst shoot at 20fps is a selling point this time, isn’t it?
Otani: While other companies have tended to focus on optical performance, the Xperia's camera features are one of the things we want to promote to show that it is a true Sony (pro camera) product.
From the very beginning of development on the Xperia 1 II we knew we wanted high-speed sensors. The decision to go with the 12 megapixel Dual PD sensors was made in order to balance image quality and performance. However, the Dual PD is only available on the 16mm and 24mm lenses. The 70mm is equipped with PD.
── What is the structure and role of the Dual PD and PD?
Otani: PDAF (phase detect autofocus) splits the light coming through the lens in two and directs it to dedicated sensors and determines the direction and amount of focus needed by comparing the two images. This results in a fast and accurate autofocus system.
On the PD sensor around 5% of the pixels on the sensor are used for phase detect autofocus, whereas on the Dual PD sensor 100% of the pixels are used. In other words the whole sensor is being used as a phase detect AF sensor. This allows the sensor to have both faster and more accurate AF than the PD sensor.
── That sounds important for both the new burst shooting features and focusing.
Otani: You’re absolutely right. We chose the Dual PD and PD sensors in order to achieve the high performance in the Xperia 1 II, as represented by the “world-first 20fps burst shooting with AF and AE.”
As I explained earlier, the Dual PD sensor can autofocus both quickly and accurately. However, increasing the resolution any more would affect the sensor’s readout speed, and it’s likely that we wouldn’t have been able to achieve the high-speed shooting and AF performance that we have.。
── So that’s why you’ve kept all 3 sensors at 12 megapixels?
Otani: Of course that’s not the only reason why we made all 3 sensors 12 megapixels. 12 megapixels is of course more than enough resolution to be displayed on most monitors, and it is also enough for A4 size prints.
Also, by making all 3 sensors the same resolution of around 12 megapixels it prevents the issue of the resolution changing when changing the magnification.
── What benefits are there in using a larger sensor size?
Otani: We’ve used 1/1.7-inch sensors this time, which are able to gather more light than before. This means that the phone is able to quickly recognize subjects even in dark scenes. The sensors now gather around 1.5 times more light than the ones used in the Xperia 1.
The camera will get even better with the Photography Pro app coming in an update
── I feel that the new Photography Pro camera app that will be added in an update will get a lot of attention from the users.
Otani: We worked hard to improve the usability of the Photography Pro app based on the opinions of pro users of Sony’s α series cameras.
We took feedback covering the entire photo taking workflow, from the way you hold the camera to all the individual settings, and worked hard to create something that satisfied all of their needs.
In particular, Nick Didlick, Bob Martin, and other master photographers tested the 20fps burst shooting and eye AF functionality, and we improved the features based on their feedback.
Until now we’ve put all the camera performance in our Xperia products you’d expect from a high-end smartphone. However, for the Xperia 1 II we’ve not just improved the basic camera performance, we’ve also tried to add functionality and operability that camera enthusiasts will appreciate.
── What are the differences between the standard camera app and the new Photography Pro?
Otani: Compared to the standard camera app, Photography Pro allows the user to change a lot more settings, and settings like shutter speed and exposure can only be manually changed in Photography Pro. There is also a wide range of white balance presets to compensate for the color of lights in the shooting environment.
Photography Pro differs from the standard camera app not only in the UI, but also in its functionality. For example, the 20fps burst shooting with AF/AE and real-time eye AF/animal eye AF will only be available in Photography Pro.
── I’d love to try out the new Photography Pro app. The press release says that it will “be available in a software update.” Until we get that update, will those features be available in other photography apps?
Otani: Until the update comes you will only be able to use the standard camera app. After the update you will be able to choose between the standard camera app and Photography Pro.
── Can you tell me why you decided not to include “super slow motion” video recording?
Otani: We designed the video recording features in the Xperia 1 II around the needs of cinematographers and other video creators.
We listened to directors and cinematographers who have actually used Cinema Pro to make videos, and found that the vast majority of the time they were using slow motion at around 4 to 5 times slower than real time.
960fps can’t be used for recording long scenes, so the it was decided that 120fps (shot at up to 2K resolution) was enough.
For reference, here’s a short film shot entirely using Cinematography Pro. Slow motion wasn’t available in the app at the time of shooting, so it wasn’t used for this film, but the creator has said that they had wanted to use slow motion in the scene at around 7:03.
360 Reality Audio looks to the future...
── I was surprised to hear that the new Xperia will be getting Sony’s proprietary 360 Reality Audio technology.
Ikeda: Thank you. The Xperia 1 II is a high-end device. We wanted to equip it with technology from throughout the Sony group, so we decided to include 360 Reality Audio.
360 Reality Audio was originally developed for surround sound systems with 13 channels or more, but we have managed to create a virtual surround sound system using the smartphone’s 2 channels.
It’s also compatible with wired earphones and wireless headphones and earphones, and although currently external speakers are not supported it is something we are looking into.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that there are currently no services that provide 360 Reality Audio in Japan. As a result, you will not be able to experience 360 Reality Audio straight away.
── It’s a feature I definitely want to try... Are there any services outside of Japan that will offer it?
Ikeda: In North American and European market streaming services like Amazon Music HD, Tidal and Deezer offer around 1000 titles by artists such as Mark Ronson and Pharrell Williams in a format compatible with 360 Reality Audio.
Why they brought back the headphone jack
── I’m glad to see that the 3.5mm headphone jack is back.
Ikeda: The decision was made to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack on the Xperia XZ2. We made that decision based on the priority we were placing on improving the design of the phone and the fact that wireless earphones were becoming more common.
The reason for bringing the 3.5mm headphone jack back for the Xperia 1 II is from the same mindset we had when developing the Xperia 1, which is to say “giving people a smartphone that they will love.” We also felt it was indispensable for viewing entertainment-related content and for playing games.
It’s now possible to eliminate wind noise. The improvements go beyond the camera module
── Have the speakers been improved?
Ikeda: Of course, in a number of ways. First, we’ve used new components in the construction of the speakers. But what’s more important is the orientation of the speakers.
On the Xperia 1 there was one speaker facing the front (towards the user) and one speaker facing sideways. We used software to adjust the balance and improve the listening experience, but there’s only so much that software can do.
With the Xperia 1 II we placed both speakers on the front of the device, improving the balance between the left and right channels. Of course, bringing the speakers to the front has a negative effect on the screen-to-body ratio. We worked hard to mitigate this effect as much as possible.
── The orientation of the speakers can affect the way they sound, right?
Ikeda: Right. Besides the orientation of the speakers we also increased the size of the cabinets and equipped them with more powerful amps.
── Have there been any other improvements to the speakers that are worth mentioning?
Ikeda: With Xperia 1 we worked with Sony Pictures to tune the Dolby Atmos, and with the Xperia 1 II we also collaborated with Sony Music (who are industry leaders) to fine tune the bass response.
We wanted to make sure that the positioning (localization) of vocals and instruments will be correct. I do believe that if you listen to music through the speakers on the Xperia 1 II that the localization will be just right (meaning the positioning of the sound will be exactly as the creator intended).
── Wind and other noise is recorded as well when recording a video. Has this been improved?
Ikeda: Of course it has. We have actually included a software feature that removes unnecessary noise such as wind noise that the microphone picks up when recording. The wind noise reduction will of course be available in Cinema Pro and the standard camera app, but will also be available for third party video and audio recording apps (depending on the specifications of the app).
Why no millimeter wave?
── The Xperia 1 II won’t be compatible with the millimeter wave 5G. Why is this?
Watanabe: There are two types of 5G: Sub-6 and millimeter wave. Sub-6 is able to transmit through obstacles, whereas the millimeter wave type, which may have great linearity, does not deal with obstacles as well.
The Xperia 1 II is a consumer-grade product, so we decided that Sub-6 only would be enough. The upcoming Xperia PRO, which is designed for pro users, will be compatible with both Sub-6 and millimeter wave.
Even with 5G and wireless charging it’s now 0.3mm thinner than the Xperia 1
── It’s generally expected that 5G smartphones are a little thicker than their 4G counterparts.
Hibi: I can’t tell you the specifics, but I can tell you that if we just continued with the same design from the Xperia 1 for the Xperia 1 II then I think it would be a failure.
However, we did bring over the 21:9 ratio screen which was a big hit with the Xperia 1, and then added a larger battery, wireless charging, and the power button with the integrated fingerprint sensor (which is highly accurate).
With the audio jack and other features that contribute to increasing the thickness, it was a challenge to design the Xperia 1 II with its flagship specs, but by reviewing the design of the base, including the internal parts, from scratch, we have reduced the thickness from the Xperia 1 (8.2mm thick) to the Xperia 1 II (7.9mm thick).
We're proud that we've been able to design a product that gets closer to what Sony users and fans are looking for.
We have also increased the size and optimized the placement of the graphite sheets (heat dispersing sheets) we use for heat management.
── I’m also glad to see that wireless charging is back.
Hibi: We added wireless charging (Qi) in response to the needs of our users. By improving the efficiency of the board, we were able to add wireless charging without adding thickness or changing the chassis.
Choice of materials is important to make the single slab
── The purple on the Xperia 1 II is not as vibrant as on the Xperia 1, it’s a much calmer tone than before. What was your thought process when approaching the color?
Hibi: When deciding on the shade of purple for the Xperia 1 we focused on the “1” in the name and went with a deep purple with a hint of blue to reinforce the idea of “starting from square 1.”
There were discussions about using the same color for the Xperia 1 II, but as there are so many new features added to the camera and audio capabilities we have also given it a new color.
We’ve combined the recent flagship trend of a chrome finish (almost like a mirror) with a reddish-purple. As a result, depending on the light, the color will look more ashy or red, with reddish-browns and greys also shining through.
── Fans of the design of the Xperia series like to call them “a single beautiful slab,” and I think that they appreciate the care taken in the choice of materials as much as they do the color.
Hibi: The Xperia 1 II uses Corning Gorilla Glass 6, and the back in particular is made of colored glass to emphasize the sense of a mirrored surface.
In order to create a sense of unity with the front, back and sides of the Xperia, all three colors - Purple, Black and White - have different treatments on the metal frame and back.
For the purple, the metal frame has a slightly glossy finish so that the reflection of light intensifies the sense of mirroring, while the black and white frames are designed so that the border between the back and the metal frame is not visible.
It was difficult to match the back side to the sides, especially the white metal frame, but we worked hard to make the metal as white as possible, and the back has a metallic coating.
This article was originally written in Japanese. All images and content are directly from the Japanese version at the time of publication.