Sony Xperia Pro-I review
Retail price: $1,799.99
What we like
1. High-quality hardware with niche tweaks
2. Pro-friendly photo capture
3. Gorgeous 4K-ish screen
4. Excellent audio
5. Solid battery life
6. Fast performance
What we don’t like
1. Murky software support
2. Pro apps unintuitive even for experts
3. No wireless charging
4. No mmWave or Wi-Fi 6E
5. Outrageously expensive
The Xperia Pro-I, Sony’s latest pro-grade smartphone, is the first to contain a 1-inch sensor. Sony fans have been waiting for this for a long time. It’s the first time the Japanese smartphone maker has combined the imaging prowess of its camera section with its mobile line.
While the first Sony Xperia Pro was essentially a high-end external monitor with a decent camera, the Pro-I is a top-of-the-line photography phone from start to finish, cementing it as Sony’s best phone to date. It has three cameras: a 16mm ultra-wide-angle, a 24mm wide (supported by that massive sensor), and a 50mm portrait lens, all with 12MP resolution sensors.
While it’s not nearly as expensive as the $2,499/£2,299 Xperia Pro, at $1,799/£1,599, it’s still a costly phone. Is Sony’s latest smartphone hobbled right out of the gate because it lacks the periscope lens and wireless charging of the Xperia 1 III, or can its main camera make it interesting for photographers?
Sony Xperia Pro-I review of design and screen
The Xperia Pro-I has the same long design, flattish edges, and flat front and back that we’ve come to anticipate from Sony’s Xperia 1 series of phones. It also has a USB-C port on the bottom, just like the Xperia 1 III, and the headphone jack.
The phone’s frame is flat but textured, with a deep striation that goes around the entire device, giving it a ribbed appearance. It’s easy to keep a grasp on the Xperia Pro-I because it’s housed in a matte blasted aluminum frame. Without a rubberized finish, which would degrade the surface, there is a grippiness.
It’s tough, with IP68 dust and water resistance and Gorilla Glass Victure on the front and Gorilla Glass 6 on the back, and it’s not too thick – 8.9mm thick, slightly thicker than the iPhone 13 Pro.
The phone’s main camera is centered in the top quarter of the phone, and the telephoto and ultra-wide cameras are vertically bookended by the telephoto and ultra-wide cameras. There’s also a Zeiss trademark on it, as well as a time of flight (ToF) camera.
The Xperia Pro’s chassis was plastic, whereas the Xperia Pro has I’s glass and metal, giving it a significantly more luxurious feel. It’s also more compact, with a shutter release button that’s nothing short of a revelation.
A dedicated old-school two-stage shutter release key is located on the phone’s right side. We weren’t surprised when we heard it would be on the phone — Sony is the only company that still uses a separate shutter release on its flagships – but the one on the Xperia Pro-I is better.
To begin with, the shutter release is large and tactile, making it simple to fumble with and control. It’s also logical for photographers because it’s two-stage, and long-pressing it brings up the camera app. If you want to start the video app, there’s a convenient shortcut button next to the shutter key that will do that for you.
The panel is a 10-bit OLED with a 120Hz refresh rate and support for HDR and the BT.2020 color palette. Although its 4K resolution gives it a competition-beating pixel density of 643 pixels per inch, which is overkill, the screen most of the time runs at a virtual resolution of 1096 x 2560.
The Pro-screen I’s is 6.5 inches in size, and with a 21:9 aspect ratio, the phone is long and slender, making it comfortable to hold. It feels traditional and clean in comparison to the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, and the lack of notches or punch hole cameras is also nice. Instead, to fit the 8MP front camera, the bezels above and below the display are a little thicker.
Sony Xperia Pro-I camera specs
The Xperia Pro-main I’s camera has a headline-grabbing, huge 1-inch sensor – or does it?
Before we get into more detail about the Xperia Pro-I, let’s take a trip down memory lane and have a look at some older large smartphone sensors. The first camera that comes to mind is the Nokia Pureview 808. This camera was released in 2012 and has a 41.3 megapixel 1/1.2 in CMOS FSI image sensor.
The 808 Pureview was a real smartphone pioneer, complete with a Xenon flash, but its archaic operating system, Symbian, assured it would never beat out the Android and iOS competitors that would follow. Its images were unbeatable until computational photography advanced photo processing to new heights, resulting in more natural-looking HDR photographs and long exposure night modes.
What might the Pureview sensor of 2012 look like with photo processing from 2021? Fast forward to 2021, and the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra and the Xiaomi Mi 11 have certain hardware similarities. While the resolution is increased to 50MP, the sensor size remains the same at 1/1.2. While Xiaomi’s camera phone isn’t flawless, its binned pixels produce a combined pixel size of 2.8 m, resulting in an outstanding depth of field.
But, if you think these two smartphones can’t compete with the Xperia Pro-I, think again. The 1.0-type Exmore RS sensor on the back of the Xperia Pro-I has been cropped in at 12MP to fit on the back of a slim phone, making it smaller than an inch. It does, however, have a pixel size of 2.4 m. While it falls short of the pixel binned pixel size achieved by the Pureview 808 and Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra’s oversampled sensors, it does match the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 108MP sensor.
Sony’s Xperia Pro-I doesn’t just have a big sensor; it also has a variable aperture lens – f/2 or f/4 – and two well-specced prime lens upgrades – a 12MP, 1/2.5-inch, f/2.2, 16mm ultra-wide and a 12MP, 1/2.9-inch, f/2.4, 50mm portrait lens. When compared to the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra and other non-Sony smartphones, OIS on the primary camera and portrait lens really helps these lenses feel like cameras seem like photographic equipment.
Sony also installs three different camera apps. Photo Pro, the main camera app, is oriented for photography and has the same UI as Sony’s tiny cameras. It can capture video, but it also has two distinct video apps. The first, Cinema Pro, was included with the original Sony Xperia 1, while the second, Video Pro, is a new addition with a more user-friendly interface that is more akin to mirrorless cameras than cinema cameras.
Sony Xperia Pro-I specs
The Sony Xperia Pro-guts also make it stand out against the Xperia Pro. The experience is powered by a Snapdragon 888 chipset, rather than a Snapdragon 865 from last year. It also has a larger battery, with a capacity of 4500mAh compared 4000mAh on the original Pro, and it charges at a faster rate of 30W versus 21W.
With all of that information, the proof isn’t in the specs; it’s in the images, and we had a chance to take some with the Xperia Pro-I. You can see some samples below and determine for yourself how the Pro-I performs until we run a complete side-by-side comparison of the Pro-I and its primary competition.