There’s a niche smartphone segment in the android realm, that’s more niche than the likes of gaming smartphones or even flagships. That’s the pro-centric Imaging smartphones. You might go, “but we do have pro-centric imaging phones like Samsungs and iPhones.” While they are more consumer focused, it’s not a pro-sumer product. This is where Japanese engineering kicks in and they made the Sony Xperia Pro-I. We know that this phone has been in the market for a year, but we still want to do our content to share our thoughts to give you a better view on things, that there are things you are missing out on.
Sony Xperia Pro-I Review
A Simple Design I love through and Through
Sony’s philosophy in making a phone simple and elegant has never changed. The Sony Xperia Pro-I doesn’t shy away from keeping the design clean and timeless. With a matte glass texture on the back featuring the necessary branding and all that, with a Piano Black metal rails with ridges on the sides, slipping into the front display – it’s just simple and pretty.
There are some serious thoughtful designs. Like for instance, on one side, the phone has a loop for you to tie a strap on – just like how a pocketable digital camera has one. I miss this because it does give a bit of a security to when you hold and use a phone this thin.
And then there are the dedicated buttons on the other side – a circular button that launches the Video Pro and a 2-step shutter button that’s the Camera app to take pictures. Things like these are such a rare find that only Sony these days have them. It still has a notification LED too.
Despite being this thin, Sony has found a way to put in a proper Headphone Jack and a USB-C port for users to take complete advantage of, especially when content creation is in effect. Or it could just be as simple as for listening to music via the wired connection. Finally, a tool-less SIM Card slot one can’t go wrong with – this should be a normal thing on other phones.
The Display is stunning
On the front of the phone, the Sony Xperia Pro-I houses a 4K HDR OLED Display in the 6.5” dimension with a 21:9 aspect ratio. Now generally, I am no fan of watching movies or shows through my mobile screen.
So, I’d immediately resort to my iPad Air or even my laptop for that matter. But the Sony Xperia Pro-I has been one of the two phones in my life that I have used it for content consumption. Unlike others, Sony takes their ability to deliver content seriously – and they make sure that you are watching shows, the way the creators intended to.
So, there is one specific profile that gets launched the moment you launch apps like Netflix or Prime Video to bring out the right colours, right depth, and blacks. Making this display a perfectly enjoyable screen to watch things on. The 21:9 is something I love personally, because it’s the Panavision ratio, well, almost.
It gives a nice immersive-ness – overall. The Sony Xperia Pro-I display has a nice narrowness and none of that curved display bullcrap that adds little to no value. If you do plan to use it with one hand, boy, you are in for a real treat.
It’s hard to come by a good display like this that’s very neutral when you need it and pumps up the colour if you need to. Oh, and the stereo speakers to pair it with, it could be a wee bit better.
Camera: A Pro-user’s Heaven
The focus of the Sony Xperia Pro-I happens to be the camera and its ability to shine as a pro-tool. On the back, you will notice that the phone has four different cameras:
- 16mm f/2.2 12MP Ultra-Wide camera
- 24mm f/2.0/4.0 12MP Wide Camera with 1” sensor
- 50mm f/2.4 12MP Standard Sensor
- A 3D iTOF for faster focus speeds
A TL;DR on the Software
The last time we reviewed an Xperia, it was the Xperia 1 and their definition on making a serious pro-sumer tool was apparent: specifically in the software department with the Video Pro camera app that shot Cinealta colours and in 21:9 aspect ratio – in fact, we did a whole review shot with that phone. But there was some limited features to them.
Fast forward to the Sony Xperia Pro-I – we have Photo Pro, Video Pro and Cinema Pro. Each app does something rather unique and taking a page out of their Sony Alpha series camera, you can see the way they have incorporated it. Now the Photo Pro app is a blown out pro app on top of the normal camera app within, that lets you control the granular settings such as Modes and it reminded me exactly how I use my A7II. For normal users, this interface can get extremely overwhelming.
And then there’s Video Pro – which gives you enough controls like being able to use the camera in AF or MF with proper focus peaking, a Zoom slider and other monitoring tools on screen to make sure you are shooting the video in the right format you want it to.
Finally, the Cinema Pro, the holy grail for videographers on mobile because its exactly what it is – to shoot proper cinematic videos in a cine colour profile and more. It’s actually the only phone to do HLG on the fly.
As someone who heavily rely on my mirrorless for pretty much every photoshoot – I like to put in the work to shoot the images I want, if my Instagram doesn’t say that I don’t know what else it does. But this is where the Sony Xperia Pro-I did something, no other flagship smartphone I have used has ever done – to offer that continuity.
The miniaturized 1”-inch sensor which isn’t quite a true 1” sensor, but the idea is there – takes phenomenal photos. Our definition of phenomenal photo is to have a good colour tone neutrality which this phone achieves close to, if not better than an iPhone’s neutral tone.
If you are looking for something saturated or a colour science that fits your social media immediately, this is not the phone you are looking for – you can get a Samsung and other brands that adds their own flavour on top of it.
Check out our sample images in this post, and you can see what we mean by neutral tones. That said, the camera of the Xperia Pro-I allows me to shoot even in RAW and I mean, true RAW where you can properly edit and bring out the colours through some lightroom work.
Now, in this case, I did like having the RAW+JPEG turned on because I wanted a failsafe. Not to forget, the au naturale bokeh on a 1” sensor is a sight for sore eyes over computational photography.
Sony incorporated one of the features Samsung dropped with their S9 as a pro tool and that’s the Dual Aperture. Such an underrated feature I personally think deserves more attention. So, you do have room to experiment the depth of field. To be frank, as a pro-tool, the Xperia Pro-I excels in many ways than I can imagine.
In fact, it’s the only phone I have properly enjoyed the video app because there’s no need for me to install things like Filmic Pro and getting native support is a dream.
Newer Alpha System Users Rejoice
If you remember that other Xperia with a proper HDMI port to use it as a viewfinder, well, this Xperia Pro-I does it too but through USB-C – so, in this case, my A7II was not supported but hey having a 4K Monitor with even functions like Waveform monitor and False Colour function for exposure is crazy good and what a time to be alive.
Not a Casual Smartphone to be in your Pocket
As a reviewer, obviously, we do use every phone we receive for reviews as our daily drivers to give the real-world review treatment and go through exactly a consumer would go through. That said, now as a smartphone, the Sony Xperia Pro-I do smartphone things: it takes calls, works for social applications and even to game on it.
But that’s where it ends. The one area personally, I felt like it was a hassle to use it as a normal phone was the camera.
While it is a pro-grade camera for a smartphone with all those nitty gritty features baked into it, which also means you need to put in the work to take photos or videos – It doesn’t translate quite well when you just want to snap something quick and then send it over through WhatsApp or any social media for that matter.
At this point, I did want a camera that did normal things too, which was a biggest hit for me. But this doesn’t mean that I am hating the device or anything, it’s just that the phone belongs on the pro end of the spectrum more than the consumer friendly, or to put it in a crude way, a sure-fire idiotproof end of the spectrum.
So, as a user I see this phone in my pocket when I need to shoot pro images when I don’t have my A7II with me. It does have a normal camera interface mode too, but that too feels like I need to put in the work to shoot.
Which makes sense because a lot of users who purchased one, ended up using this as their second device to not use for a lot of their personal, casual use cases – and that is exactly what I’d do too.
If you are one of those consumers that says, “The Sony Xperia Pro-I is expensive and I wouldn’t buy it” – well, you are right because this phone isn’t for you. In fact, the Sony Xperia Pro-I is so niche that it belongs in a realm where professionals yearn for a device that they could slip into their pockets and have that granularity they need. Not to forget the features it has on top of the camera system, its nuts.
It answered that for me, and I loved this phone so much. But the phone is such a professional tool that, when you do use the camera for casual use case, it doesn’t bode well. It didn’t for me either. In fact, for many pro users, who said they have this phone in their pocket as their second device rather than popping their SIM in it and making it a primary device.
If I were to spend RM 6,699 (which is the price as of 4th September and you get free WF-1000XM4), you best bet it’s the pro tool that I want in my pocket despite my primary SIM being in a different phone which I can use for casual stuff.
Despite it hits and misses, I still have a soft spot for this phone, and I am going to miss having this phone in my bag when I head out.