Sony continues to make a niche smartphone with its Xperia line up and the device continues to capture the attention of those who want the premium-tier device.
The newest from the brand is the new Xperia Pro-I. Sony’s smartphone naming can be very confusing especially with all their other devices which often use the I, II, etc.
I don’t know what’s wrong with simply using Xperia 1, 2, 3, and so forth but anyway, I digress.
This is a perfect professional camera phone with real pro-level options allowing you to do what you can do with your Sony digital camera.
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FYI, the “I” behind the “Pro” stands for “Imaging” which is Sony’s way of explaining how serious it’s taking the professional photography game.
Apart from the brilliant camera sensors on this device which I’ll talk about later on in this post, the new Sony Xperia Pro-I comes with a powerful 6.5-inch 4K OLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate.
Powering the device is the current flagship Snapdragon 888 chipset which helps with the improvement of the device’s camera and other performances.
In terms of the design, there has been a number of changes such as a slimmer frame and a loss of weight all of which give the device its modern look and feel.
Sony is adamant to join the modern bandwagon in regards to the usage of a hole-punch camera cut out or even a notch for that matter. It instead sticks to the traditional form factor which includes a top bar to house the device’s selfie camera and earpiece while it has a small chin below the display.
Sony Xperia Pro-I features a professional-grade camera system board with the company’s 20mp sensor on its Sony RX100 VII to the smartphone.
This isn’t the first time Sony will be doing so much in the camera department of a smartphone but the company certainly took things up a notch.
The 24mm ZEISS lens on top of this large sensor offer variable aperture with fixed F/2.0 and F/4.0 aperture.
Features of the camera include real-time eye AF, 315 PDAF points as well as the ability to shoot 4K videos at 120FPS as well as featuring eye-AF and object tracking for cinematic video experience.
Other features you’ll get on the Xperia Pro-I include the support for autofocus on its 12MP ultrawide sensor as well as support for a macro shot.
There is the third 12MP telephoto lens which uses a 50mm lens and utilizes the capacity of the bigger sensor to snap higher pixels.
There is support for a 3.5mm headphone jack because this is a very professional smartphone and it also offers powerful stereo speakers, a microSD card slot as well as a dedicated hardware shutter, an eyelet to hoo up straps like a digital camera and multiple microphones to enhance its audio recording capabilities.
The phone can also act as an external monitor and controller to a number of popular Sony cameras. You can also pair it with a new Vlog monitor accessory with an external magnetic display, which can turn the triple rear camera into an unmatched vlogging machine.
Sony Xperia Pro-I specs
- Body: 166.0x72x8.9mm, 211g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), glass back (Gorilla Glass), aluminum frame; IP65/IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins).
- Display: 6.50″ OLED, 1B colors, 120Hz, HDR BT.2020, 1644x3840px resolution, 21:9 aspect ratio, 643ppi; Runs at 1096 x 2560 pixels except for select use cases.
- Chipset: Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm): Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680); Adreno 660.
- Memory: 512GB 12GB RAM; UFS 3.X; microSDXC (uses shared SIM slot).
- OS/Software: Android 11.
- Rear camera: Wide (main): 12 MP, f/2.0-4.0, 24mm, 1″ type, 2.4µm, Real-time Eye AF, OIS; Telephoto: 12 MP, f/2.4, 50mm, 1/2.9″, Dual Pixel PDAF, 2x optical zoom, OIS; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 124˚, 16mm, 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF; Depth TOF 3D.
- Front camera: 8 MP, f/2.0, 24mm (wide), 1/4″, 1.12µm.
- Video capture: Rear camera: 4K@24/25/30/60/120fps HDR, 1080p@30/60/120/240fps; 5-axis gyro-EIS, OIS; Front camera: 1080p@30fps, 5-axis gyro-EIS.
- Battery: 4500mAh; Fast charging 30W, 50% in 30 min (advertised), USB Power Delivery.
- Misc: Fingerprint reader (side-mounted); Stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos; NFC; 3.5mm jack; shutter key.
Sony Xperia Pro-I seems like one potent flagship, at least for people who know what they will be doing with it, and we cannot wait to see it in action!
Design of the Sony Xperia Pro-I
This is a pretty good-looking device in all regards as mentioned earlier and it comes with some pretty decent features but then what about the design, it looks like the typical Sony Xperia since the company has adopted this type of form factor.
Unlike popular smartphone designs lately which often sandwich two glass with a metallic body frame, Sony simply made the Xperia Pro-I with a metallic frame all around while the presence of glass can be felt only on the display.
The sides are ripped which makes gripping easy and also gives the device some unique look and feel.
The device is also water-resistant just like other Sony Xperia smartphones on the market this year and it comes with the Gorilla Glass Victus which offers better protection and strong scratch resistance.
In terms of thickness, the Xperia Pro-I is about 8.3-mm and slimmer despite its big 6.5-inch 4K OLED display.
Speaking of the display capacity, the device took some inspiration from other Sony smartphones such as the recently announced Xperia 1 III with features such as 120Hz refresh rate and 1B colors aside from the 4K resolution supported on the display.
The panel fully supports BT.2020 color space and is intended to rise to the occasion when professionals need so.
The inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack might still sound like a miracle to some because of the fact that the Xperia Pro-I is a “premium” smartphone but the decision to include the headphone jack is definitely due to those that’ll be using this device.
If you want to use the Xperia Pro-I as a vlogging camera, you definitely need an external port to plug in your microphone instead of using Bluetooth headphones which often have latency issues.
This inclusion didn’t come at the expense of the device’s battery which is surprisingly big and still manages to pack some big sensors as well as other interesting specifications all of which further make the device interesting.
There are three 12MP cameras here, each with different sensors. They are all centered at the back of the Xperia Pro-I. The large 1-Type Exmor RS BSI CMOS is in the middle, sitting between the 12MP ultrawide (top) and the 12MP telephoto (bottom) snappers. The TOF camera and the IR light source are visible just below the main camera.
The LED flash is outside the large camera setup, near the top. And the white dot next to it is probably the color spectrum sensor. Finally, the last thing of interest is a monoaural microphone – it is used to enhance voices when shooting videos.
The cameras are jutting out a bit, but as we said – nothing as prominent as on other flagships, and the wobbling on a desk isn’t as annoying.
The sides of the Xperia Pro-I are interesting, too, as they are jam-packed with different features.
Many might crown the iPhone 13 Pro as offering the best camera experience on a smartphone in 2021 but this is indefinitely the rival that takes the camera game to a whole new level.
Back to the design of the Xperia Pro-I, the right side of the device has the majority of the features of the device which includes its power key that can also be used to lock the device and then a smaller rounded key that can be configured for things like hardware shutter.
Speaking of the shutter key, it’s been massively improved since the previous Xperia models. Its two-step mechanism is borrowed from the Sony RX100 models and is incredibly responsive with pleasant tactile responses.
The redesign of the button is now more fascinating and it’s textured in a way to give it that feel that you’re touching on something when you’re trying to focus your eye on a subject while taking a picture.
Sony also continues to place its fingerprint reader on the side of its devices just as the current Xperia Pro-I which has its fingerprint scanner on the power button.
It’s of course pretty fast compared to those placed beneath the display.
Other things you should know about the hardware and design of the Xperia Pro-I include a dedicated leather case that further allows for a better grip and also a Vlog Monitor.
The Vlog Monitor is like a selfie stick that holds a 3.5-inch LCD display as well as a number of controls that can be mounted at the back of the camera thanks to its magnetic hardware allowing for an easy latch.
Just like you’re holding a gimbal but this time around, you’re vlogging using the back camera that offers the best video experience.
Remember, this device is designed to be all-in-one for creators. Rather than hauling a digital camera all around, you can just make use of the Sony Xperia Pro-I and it’ll not disappoint.
6.5-inch 4K 120Hz OLED Display
Sony went all in with the Xperia Pro-I offering a really bright display with all the interesting specs you’d expect from a truly premium flagship smartphone.
The fact that it offers a 4K resolution is enough to call your attention but that’s not where it ends.
It also offers the industry-standard 120Hz refresh rate which is adaptive in order to conserve the device’s battery.
Protecting the 4K OLED panel is the scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass Victus which covers the entirety of the device’s front part.
Resolution-wise, the 4K panel is 3840 x 1644 pixels with a tall 21:9 aspect ratio. Those numbers are quite familiar in regards to the previous Xperia 1 III released earlier.
The pixel density of the Xperia Pro-I is a whopping 643ppi when you work on an actual 4K data.
And the fact that you can record a 4K video a whopping 120FPS is an astonishing record for the device.
Although that isn’t the first time we’ll be seeing those numbers. Even the previously announced Galaxy Note 20 Ultra last year can record up to 8K videos.
With the high-resolution display, you can unlock the highest resolution on streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube, or Amazon Prime Video.
Software and camera software
The Xperia UI isn’t the best and if I get to use this device in the long term, I’ll certainly swap out the skin for a better launcher however, it is pretty customizable with some pretty decent launchers out there.
I personally like to skin my Android device to my favorite. My current device, Huawei Mate 20X make use of Microsoft Launcher with different widgets and icon pack to get the look and feel that I want personally.
But if you want to stick with the standard UI, the home screen comes with normal features such as Google apps feed on the left panel and there is quick access to the notification area.
Sony’s Game Enhancer is one of the things you get loaded with the software out of the box and just as the name suggests, it enhances your gaming experience and takes things to a whole new level in terms of smoothness and fluidity.
You also get a game hub and launcher as well as a number of other important Sony proprietary applications for professional photography as well as Google applications all coexisting.
Cluttered firmware that you’re often unable to delete is one of the reasons why some users don’t like Android devices.
The fact that OEMs can come with their own custom theme and then there are often the default applications that often come loaded with the Android OS often mean duplicates – like the calendar app, gallery app, camera app, even clock app.
But anyway, there is no report about whether the Xperia Pro-I will be getting Android 12 soon because Sony’s software update isn’t that paramount in the news as other brands like Samsung or even Google with its Pixel devices.
This is a premium smartphone and everything about it is premium. But not just only the premium feature but also the fact that it offers some professional-grade experience.
Speaking of professional experience, the Sony camera app isn’t the regular camera app that you see on devices such as iPhones or Samsung Galaxy devices.
The camera application allows you to do a lot of things. There is a segmentation of the camera application that is called Basic mode which allows you to do simple tasks such as control your white balance, exposure, access bokeh mode, drive mode, use flash, and the aspect ratio.
You can also do some manual selection of the camera aperture you’d like to use between the f/2.0 aperture or f/4.0 aperture.
Right from the viewfinder, you can also access the More button where you get access to other features. There is the Google Lens button on the viewfinder and a menu button to access a long list of menu options as well as toggling between the basic and pro mode.
Photo Pro UI
From the Pro section, this is where you get the system hands over the control of the camera to you in order for you to manipulate things as you’d want.
The Photo Pro UI looks quite similar to a dedicated Sony Alpha camera but on a smartphone.
Features include the ability to switch the camera’s photographic settings like focus mode and area, correct the white balance and ISO
One thing we complained about the previous Photography Pro app was the lack of a touch-based way to engage the shutter release.
The dedicated mechanical button is the default way, and the volume rocker is also an option, but that’s that.
However, it’s much the same situation here. If you like the Photography Pro interface but you’re not too keen on having to squeeze the phone to take a picture, you’re out of luck.
You also get the real-time tracking autofocus technology on the Pro mode as well. With this feature, your subject is a millisecond away from continuous tracking to always keep them in focus.
Real-time Tracking also works in conjunction with the shutter release button. Half-pressing the button will engage continuous AF and keep the subject focused on top of tracking it.
While the autofocus technology is pretty fascinating, it can be switched up to a manual focus which often requires you to click and select your subject in order to focus the camera on them.
For video recording, there is a Cinema Pro application that can be used for advanced video capture as well as a new Video Pro which can be used by a moderate user instead of an advanced user – and it’s not confusing for noobs like myself.
Camera hardware specs of the Xperia Pro-I
The new Sony Xperia Pro-I comes with a triple 12MP rear camera system which can be used to take professional-grade pictures and record high-quality videos.
The primary lens is a wide-angle lens, then there is an ultrawide-angle sensor and then a telephoto with 2x optical zoom.
Sony also included a ToF sensor, a color spectrum sensor, and an LED flash on the Xperia Pro-I.
Since the “I” stands for “Imaging”, you can definitely expect some high-end professional capability as far as this device is concerned, and above, I mentioned all the interesting quirks and features that makes this a true “Pro” smartphone on the market.
The highlight of the Sony Xperia Pro-I is the 1″-Type sensor used for the main camera. It is the same sensor behind the Sony RX100 camera – a 20.1MP 1″ Exmor RS BSI CMOS with 2.4µm pitch. You’ve probably caught the resolution discrepancy – a 20MP sensor shooting 12MP photos. That is because Sony is not utilizing the entire sensor, but just its 12MP center.
The device is equipped with a 24mm stabilized sensor and variable aperture with fixed f/2.0 and f/4.0 steps.
This isn’t a common practice by smartphone manufacturers but considering the fact that Sony is targeting a niche audience of professional content creators, the need to include every little bit to spice up the device makes a lot of sense.
The implementation of two aperture levels allows for a photographer to select if they’ll like more focus depth and better sharpness or a background defocusing in closeup situations which is why there are two f/4.0 and f/2.0 apertures respectively.
Of course, in any situation when there is not enough light, any sharpness advantage from stopping down the aperture to the darker f/4.0 is quickly outdone by the increased noise and noise reduction smearing.
Sony uses its IMX363 12MP sensor for its ultra-wide-angle sensor with 1.4µm pixels. The sensor has a big 16mm f/2.2 lens and has support for PDAF giving it the capacity to take macro photographs as well.
Then there is another IMX486 12MP sensor with a 1/2.9″ sensor with 1.25µm pixels and offers a stabilized 50mm f/2.4 lens.
There is also a Sony IMX316 ToF camera. As for the selfie camera, it’s a Samsung 8MP sensor which is pretty basic.
The majority of works are done at the back of the device in regards to the triple rear camera setup.
Sony utilizes a combination of great camera hardware that works great in broad light and better post-processing AI to enhance the picture quality when you just want the device to do the job for you however, you can take over by going fully manual as a professional.
Should you buy it?
Sony will officially launch the Xperia Pro-I by December with a US$1,799 price tag. Although the device is really premium, I still can’t find a justification for the high price however, I can keep ranting from now until December, Sony Xperia smartphones aren’t meant for everyone.
It’s sort of a niche smartphone for a group of “Pros” who want to make use of all the professional bits of the device’s hardware offerings.
Yes, there are some premium-grade features like its powerful 120Hz refresh rate which I can’t obviously compare with the OnePlus 9RT which also has the speedy refresh rate.
I can’t because the Xperia Pro-I has a 4K OLED panel which alone murders my misconception. But there are other interesting quirks and features such a the camera system and so forth.