This week at IFA was a chance for smartphone companies to shore up their plans for the rest of 2022. Most of these announcements focused on the budget and midrange space, an effort buoyed by companies like Samsung and Honor as they expand pre-existing models into new regions. Only one company announced something worthy of the term “flagship,” but no matter how eye-catching Sony’s Xperia 5 IV looksit’s doomed to fall short of its market-changing potential.
There are a couple of issues facing this device right off the bat, all of which might be enough to sink this phone’s chances. Sony’s pricing, as usual, does not reflect the current status of the market. It’s no secret that buying a smartphone has become more expensive over the last few years, even when trading in your old gadgets. But the Xperia lineup is on a whole other level, featuring price tags that rival the likes of the Galaxy Z Fold 4. Those costs, combined with a few mediocre specs and an invisible retail presence, will likely leave the Xperia 5 IV a sales disappointment.
That’s not to say it’s not a good phone — in fact, it could be a great one. Sony has taken the best of its flagship Xperia 1 IV and stripped away some of its most excessive elements, shrinking down its footprint and nearly cutting the price in half. Two of the three 12MP lenses are unchanged from the $1,600 model, and while a 1080p OLED screen isn’t the most impressive panel out there, at 6.1″ with a 21:9 aspect ratio, most users won’t notice a difference compared to the 4K panel on the 1 IV.
Four phones for a four-digit price tag.
Sony also continues to deliver on some old-school features, things that used to be standard on Android hardware and are now increasingly hard to come by. The Xperia 5 IV lacks a hole-punch selfie cam, instead building in thin bezels along the top and bottom of the display to prevent any gaps in the screen. Meanwhile, the 3.5mm headphone jack is bound to appeal to audiophiles and creators looking to use external mics. Outside of the Asus Zenfone 9I’m hard-pressed to think of any other flagship phone with a headphone jack in 2022.
But while a price reduction compared to the Xperia 1 IV might please the small group of Sony fanatics the company has built, it’s simply not enough to draw general consumers away from Samsung, Google, and Apple. This device has to compete with the Galaxy S22 Ultra, the Galaxy Z Flip 4, and — by the time it launches — the Pixel 7 Pro. All three of those phones are or will be priced right around the same dollar amount as the Xperia 5 IV while offering improved software support, a wider array of accessories, and, in most cases, better specs. That means faster and cooler processorsmore RAM, and higher resolution displays — all important considerations with any phone purchase.
Unfortunately, carrier deals play a role in all this too. Sony has no retail presence in the US, requiring shoppers to buy directly through its website or a web-based partner like Amazon. There’s no way for your average consumer to try out this phone before buying. Despite Sony’s sky-high pricing, it’s easy to imagine consumers being swayed by Sony’s excellent build quality, unique camera lineups, and impressive speakers — if they could actually test it out. Instead, there won’t be much attention on the Xperia lineup at all.
Sony is one of the last brands still using 3.5mm jacks. Pictured: Sony Xperia Pro-I.
This is especially frustrating because there is finally space in the market for Sony to compete. The US market is starved for options, with Chinese OEMs either prevented from entering the country or bypassing it altogether. HTC is, effectively, gone from the market, while LG made its official goodbye over a year ago. These days, if you’re shopping for a phone in the US, you’re probably buying from Apple or Samsung. If you’re especially into Android — you know, if you’re a nerd, like us at AP — you might buy from Google, or OnePlus, or even Motorola. And, for the most part, that’s it.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely even the most die-hard Android fanatics will ever consider picking up the Xperia 5 IV. Your regular shoppers — folks who buy smartphones every three years from their carrier — they won’t even know it exists, even if it inevitably appears in whatever Spider-Man movie comes next. And it’s a shame, because I really think there’s room for Sony to grow an audience, particularly in the US. Until these prices come back down to Earth, and until Xperia phones have some kind of retail presence, devices like the Xperia 5 IV will remain niche oddities for enthusiasts alone.