While the ultra wides do vary between the handsets here, they're not quite as different as the telephotos. We have the Galaxy and the Mate with 5x periscopes and the iPhone and the Xperia in the 2.5x-3x ballpark. We figured it would be wrong to compare the four at just one of these two zoom levels, so we shot at both 5x and 2.5x.
That posed some issues of its own, mostly with the Xperia when trying to get to the 5x equivalent. The phone handles non-native zoom levels in a bizarre fashion - it counts the magnification from the respective camera you were on before starting to pinch-zoom. So you can do 3x from the main cam, which will go a tiny bit beyond the actual tele cam's zoom level, but the phone won't switch to the tele. You have to manually switch to the tele from the tree selector and the pinch to zoom further. In the end, we settled for a flat 2x pinch-zoom from here.
For the 2.5x zoom level, we went with the iPhone and Xperia's default tele cam magnification, and we pinched to 2.5x on the Mate and the Galaxy. Mind you, between the vastly different camera modules, all the pinch zooming, and the 'x' unit of measurement that's but a vague indication of what's happening, inevitably coverage will vary too, but it's roughly the same.
Starting out with the 2.5x zoom level, we see predictable results from the iPhone - it turns out sharp and detailed zoomed-in photos, which are also low on noise. The Xperia isn't quite there in terms of sharpness, and its shots are also... well, not washed out, but not a benchmark for contrast either.
The Note's attempts at demosaicking the 108MP sensor's data to get a 2.5x zoom image out of it fail to impress - in fact, they're borderline disappointingly soft.
And this is where the unlikely favorite emerges. The Mate 40 Pro's 2.5x zoom shots are as good as, maybe even better than the Xperia's - we'd say the Mate capture finer detail and has better edge definition than the Sony, even if its photos are a little noisier. The iPhone remains superior, but it's not by a wide margin, and it's great that the Mate can offer such versatility without having an actual mid-level zoom module.
Zoom in to 5x, and there are no surprises here - there's a clear divide between team periscope and the plain sort-of teles. The Mate inches ahead and captures a little finer detail than the Note - it's not a huge advantage, but it's there.
The iPhone shots look perfectly good enough at fit-to-screen magnification. They can even stand up to pixel level scrutiny depending on the subject matter - the balcony blinds, for example. The Xperia, too, delivers decent photos at 5x - not as sharp and contrasty as the 12 Pro Max', but certainly usable.