Just take a look at the camera hardware in the Xperia 1 III and Xperia 5 III to see how much attention Sony already gives to photographers in its top smartphones. The company’s professional mobiles, however, go much further. The well-specced follow-up makes much more sense, as the previous Pro series installment was so specialized that it only really appealed to videographers.
The Xperia Pro-I, which is essentially a high-end compact camouflaged as a smartphone, has a sensor similar to Sony’s RX100 camera range, replete with large pixels. It makes for an exceptional hardware and software combination for enthusiasts when combined with the phone’s manual photo and video capabilities.
It costs more than almost any smartphone now available, so you are undoubtedly paying for the ability to carry Sony’s imaging heritage, hardware, and software with you everywhere you go. But with Apple, Google and Samsung doing such impressive things with computational photography – and Oppo and Xiaomi nipping at their heels – can Sony really get away with demanding such a chunk of your salary for a camera phone?
Sony Xperia Pro-I design: groovy, baby
Sony is aware of good design. Sony phones have had cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio screens for the past few years and have been tall with slender frames. And the new Xperia Pro-I delivers up exactly that recipe.
The phone has Gorilla Glass on both sides and a metal frame. Moreover, there is a graduated camera bump, and the sides have grooves for added grip. A very conventional flat back and front glass/metal sandwich design is enhanced by both of these components.
This phone has many buttons, all of them are located on the right side. The volume rocker, power button/fingerprint scanner combination, shortcut button, and camera key—a large, spongy object—are all located from top to bottom.
One of the primary ways Sony phones differ from the competition is the camera key. It stands out even more on the Xperia Pro-I. But, on an otherwise stylish smartphone, the fact that the camera demands you to use it in all modes other than basic (with no on-screen option for shutter release) feels a little out of place.
Additionally noteworthy is the fact that the Xperia Pro-I is one of the few flagship phones featuring a headphone jack and Hi-Res audio compatibility. All of this positions this Sony phone as a masterpiece of traditional values, designed with purists in mind.
Most importantly, it feels wonderful in your hands. The frame is more comfortable to hold than slick competitors, looks luxurious in Sony’s signature black, and, despite being tall, is still sufficiently thin to allow for comfortable left- and right-thumb stretches.
Sony Xperia Pro-I screen: sharp, tall & punchy
It’s not a bad thing that Sony gave the Xperia Pro-I the screen from the Xperia 1 III. It’s hard to argue with the specifications: the 6.5-inch, 21:9 aspect ratio panel packs a huge 3840 by 1644 resolution, or more than 6.3 million pixels, across a very small display area. Sharp is putting it mildly.
This device has a lot going for it, including support for HDR playback, BT.2020 color space, and no notch or hole-punch selfie camera that blocks your vision. When recording 21:9 footage on the specialized video recording programs, the specifications translate flawlessly as well.
If you anticipate spending a lot of time on YouTube, Disney+, or Netflix, you’ll need to accept the fact that all 16:9 and Full HD films will be framed by very noticeable black bars. Only when watching UHD material does the screen display in true 4K resolution; otherwise, upscaled Full HD+ is used on purpose to conserve energy.
Excellent contrast is made possible by OLED technology, and the phone’s 10-bit Creator mode guarantees that colors are accurate. Although brightness isn’t quite as noticeable as on devices like the Galaxy S21 Ultra or iPhone 13 Pro Max, indoor and outdoor viewing shouldn’t be a problem in moderate British climates.
Sony Xperia Pro-I camera: one star, two backups
Comparing the Xperia Pro-I to Sony’s top-tier Xperia 1 III, its camera ought to make up for the roughly £400 price gap. Luckily, the main camera – the star of the show – does.
The Pro-primary I’s camera has much higher specifications than the flagship thanks to its huge sensor size and large pixels. Yet, its zoom range is inferior to that of the Xperia 1 III, and the ultra-wide is also worse. Hence, other phones with better secondary cameras out of the gate include the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra and the OPPO Find X3 Pro. So, the Pro-I is having trouble if range is important to you.
Then there is the issue of how Sony processes photos. The Pro-I needs to hit a home run because devices like the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max, Google Pixel 6 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra have made significant advancements in computational photography.
How does Sony position its newest phone for success, then? The Xperia Pro-I camera’s sensor, which uses the same technology as the Type-1 sensor on the RX-100, is a major hardware development. Even though the Pro-I doesn’t have a one-inch sensor, it does have some sizable light-grabbing pixels. As a result, the Sony camera phone should perform better in low light than any previous Sony camera phone.
Variable aperture is another Samsung innovation that is brought back by the main camera. So, you can toggle between f/2 and f/4 within the UI, which is useful for playing with depth of field under various lighting situations.
When it comes to taking pictures, the Sony Xperia Pro-I does so more like a regular camera than a smartphone. The results are clear and perfectly capture the environment you’re in. Yet, compared to other flagships, Sony uses fewer software tricks to illuminate shadows and highlight details. Purists will appreciate this, but it won’t appeal to casual photographers who simply don’t want to deal with a backlit silhouette.
The good news for those same photographers is that Sony offers a whopping three imaging apps for enthusiasts: Photo Pro for images and basic video, Video Pro for enthusiast video capture, and Cinema Pro for sophisticated, filmmaker control. The Xperia Pro-I, which offers control over everything from frame aspect ratio and shutter speed to white balance, focus, and much more, is a terrific way to show off your talent.
Even though we had a great time experimenting with the numerous photography settings, the Xperia Pro-I will be an unnecessary luxury for the vast majority of smartphone owners. That makes photographing more difficult and results in images that require some editing before they are Instagram-ready. On the other hand, if you can look past the subpar ultra-wide, telephoto, and selfie cameras, Sony has delivered the goods for anyone wanting for the most sophisticated control over photographs and videos in your pocket.
Sony Xperia Pro-I performance: storage, speed and souped-up Android
Only the Snapdragon 888+ (found on the ROG Phone 5s) and the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 have outperformed the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 since the Xperia 1 III debuted on the market with its 888 chipset. Since that the 888+ is marketed at gamers and that the 8 Gen 1 has not yet been released, it is understandable why Sony chose the standard 888 when choosing the silicon for the Pro-I.
Any software that the Google Play Store has to offer will run smoothly on Qualcomm’s flagship octa-core CPU starting in 2021. It can handle significant multitasking when paired with an amazing 12GB of RAM. With incredibly smooth home screen animations and quick loading times, we were unable to detect any symptoms of lag at any point.
Android customized by Sony is largely stock. For apps, swipe up. For the notification tray, swipe down. For the Google feed, swipe across. For those who think the 21:9 aspect ratio is just a little bit too tall, the optional floating shortcut bar is back and can be helpful.
While 3D games like Genshin Impact run well at their highest settings, extensive 4G and 5G usage, such as while tethering, causes the phone to become heated.
You won’t run out of space with the 512GB of on-board storage or the microSD card compatibility because you can record a lot of screen-captured gaming highlights or take a lot of 4K photos.
The phone works well with remote play on the PS4 and PS5, and it supports WiFi 6 and 5G at lightning-fast rates. We were able to achieve 5G download rates of 320Mbps on EE in Ealing, London, which were comparable to those of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Using a 4G O2 SIM, we were able to stream videos at speeds of close to 60 Mbps in the same location. 5G is still preferred for gaming when not connected to Wi-Fi, though.
Sony Xperia Pro-I battery life: why no wireless?
Like the Xperia 1 III, the Xperia Pro-I has a 4500mAh battery. With some shooting, recording, tethering, and texting, there should be more than enough to get you through the day. The Pro-I should have no trouble lasting from morning to dusk, even if you mix in some gaming, as long as you pay attention to the brightness.
The phone also has 30W wired charging, which allows it to charge 50% of its battery in 30 minutes, competing with Apple and Samsung, both of whom no longer include a plug in the package.
However, the Xperia Pro-I lacks wireless charging, which is a feature of all its £1000+ rivals and is featured on the Xperia 1 III. With how much greatness Sony has poured at the Pro-I in other aspects, this is a true puzzler. This will seem like a significant tradeoff if you frequently use wireless charging.
Sony Xperia Pro-I verdict
A fantastic phone overall, the Xperia Pro-I has a wonderful camera. Nonetheless, because of its cost, it must be superior to excellent. Nevertheless, there are certain areas where it falls short, such as the camera specifications, which aren’t very spectacular across the ultra-wide and zoom range, and the lack of wireless charging.
Having said that, Sony does a fantastic job with the design of the phone, and its screen and user interface are both gorgeous. Also, using the main camera is a real pleasure. It’s conceivably the greatest camera phone for hobbyists and photography and video purists who love having complete creative control over their stills and video. Hence, even if it won’t be for casual photographers, the Xperia Pro-I will probably have a following.