The Sony Xperia Pro-I may be one of the most unique smartphones I’ve ever got my hands on to review.
Whilst when you look at it from the front it looks like you’r standard smartphone, It’s the camera technology built into the back, which means this is more of a camera phone then a smartphone as you will see when I go into more depth on this review.
Sony kindly offered to lend me this device as well as their vlog monitor and handheld kit for vlogging to put through its paces for the next 2 to 3 weeks and to see what the camera was all about. As I will say many times in this review, this is more about the camera than the rest of the smartphone without overlooking the fact it still has a 4K display and Snapdragon 888 processor with a huge 512 GB of storage.
A big thank you goes out to Sony and their PR team from the only loaning me device and the vlogging kit, but for also going through some of the main features for me before the device arrived to make sure I was getting the most out of my time with it.
Sony definitely have their own design language they stick with on their smartphones over the past couple of years. Whilst other manufacturers are busy doing hole punch cameras or cutting parts out of the screen for notches, Sony decided to go against this and offer the taller 21×9 aspect ratio display but with the camera and earpiece separate in the top not built into the screen like the good old days.
This definitely does make a difference and you can tell a Sony smartphone a mile off by this feature, It also helps the fact that that 4K display is not interrupted by any holes or notches getting in the way of your content.
Looking at the front of the Xperia Pro-I, it’s taken up by the large 6.5 inch 4K resolution display which has the highest PPI of any smartphone, However, the display isn’t 4K at all times, only when needed to be.
This means you’re not going to get 4K resolution with everything you do, but it’s handy when playing back content such as YouTube where you can set the full resolution to experience how good it really is, especially as it also runs at 120hz for super smooth scrolling.
The top features the earpiece and the front facing 8 megapixel selfie camera which is decent enough for most conditions, But I expect most people will be using the vlogging kit to use the rear camera to get the best samples possible.
There’s no physical button on the screen, This is all done by either gesture or three button controls like we’ve seen for many years on smartphones.
It seems as if physical buttons are a thing of the past which is good news because it just takes up needed space.
At top you have one of the two microphones used for audio capturing as well as noise cancellation as well as something nice to see a 3.5mm headset port so you can still plug in your traditional earphones which you get bundled in the box and not have to tie up that USB-C port at the bottom.
Over on the left you get a lanyard loop which means you can wrap a lanyard around this phone if you’re using it for photography and not have to worry about dropping it and falling out of your hands breaking your expensive camera, This is very rarely seen on phones and is a nice little touch from Sony
Above this is the SIM ejector area, and in traditional Sony style you don’t need a pin to take the drawer out.
You just put your fingernail under the little hole and it slides out nicely to reveal the dual SIM card slot, which also means one of them acts as a microSD card slot if you need to expand that memory.
However, just a word of warning with Sony phones, for some reason when you pull out the SIM card tray it seems to want to restart the phone every time.
This isn’t new for Sony, they seem to do it on all of their phones, but it’s just something to take into account if you’re someone who keeps swapping your SIM cards.
Move from the right hand side is where you will find all the buttons.
At the top you have the traditional volume up and down button followed by a power button in the middle, which also acts as a fingerprint scanner and is very accurate in my testing.
It’s also slightly recessed into the phone so you could feel where it is without even needing to look.
Below here You’ve got a programmable circle button which has default loads up the cinematography app so you can jump straight into the video mode without needing to mess around with on-screen controls.
And below this you have the traditional Sony two-step camera shutter which when you half-press focuses and a full press will actually take the picture.
This is something that’s been on a lot of Sony phones over the years and they’re one of the only manufacturers that still have this feature, which is quite nice to have, especially on a camera focused device such as this.
Down at the bottom you’ve got the other microphone used for stereo recording as well as the USB-C charging port which is also used for data transfer.
Move over to the back, can you get a nice smooth design with the Sony logo in the middle, but the main focus excuse the pun is the massive camera setup.
Rather than put the camera in one of the corners so you’ve put the camera module right in the middle probably to fit that nice large sensor in.
There’s a lot to talk about the camera, so I will cover that in the camera section of this review. Let’s just say the camera module on the back is huge but for very good reason.
Another small design point worth pointing out is the frame of this phone. It’s squared off but with some ridges going all the way around this actually helps improve the grip it does certainly feel different from other phones I’ve used and that’s in a nice way as well.
Over on the back there is also an additional microphone should you want to use this for capturing more direct audio when using the camera grip.
Sony have cut back on the amount of customisation they do to Android updates, and this allows faster rollout of newer patches because there is less work involved.
Also there is less bloatware installed including doubling up on apps for the same task, for so long there was an Album app for photos as well as Google Photos for example, instead there are just a few from Sony to enhance the experience without taking over completely.
When I started to use the phone I was running Android 11, however after about 4 updates (which seem to take forever to install for some reason) I finally ended up on Android 12 and have based the screenshots on this.
The latest version of Android brings with it the new design language with flatter icons and shapes, for example the number pad to unlock the phone is now large circles with basic feel that makes everything just easier to understand and use.
Also the notification slider has been redesigned with easier to understand notifications and optioned to customise quickly, it is the same content as before just much better in design and overall layout.
Having such a tall screen also brings some new additions to the software with the ability to be able to multitask with 2 apps at the same time on a 50/50 split, and with the screen being so tall it does not make the content too small to be usable.
Sony has done a good job on the software front with little bloatware and quick software updates such as to the latest Android 12, and this is a big improvement from the old Sony software experience on older devices.
One setting you will either love or hate pretty quickly is the dynamic vibration mode when watching back video content, the idea is that is enhances the experience with small timed shakes when video content needs it,for example in Jurassic Park when the T-Rex scene makes the water in the cup shake, this is a perfect use, but may be annoying for some people, so Sony let you switch this on or off easily.
As you would expect my phone at this price performance is excellent thanks to The Snapdragon 888 processor which easily handles anything you have to throw at it, including high resolution, raw photos or 4K video recording, should that be your thing.
As well as having a speedy processor, you also need a decent amount of RAM which helps you multitask.
With the Sony Xperia Pro I you get an impressive 12 GB which is one of the highest on a smartphone on the market.
When it comes to charging the device, Sony have included their 30w quick charging which does a decent job at recharging the phone at reasonable pace, but there’s obviously lack in speed compared to some of the competition which can offer around 60w charging for twice the speed, but it’s still much better than what we had on older phones.
You also seem to lose out on wireless charging which was a bit of surprise, especially as this is top of the range. Sony smartphone but won’t be much of a deal breaker for a lot of people because most of us have charges with us or portable battery packs to top up on the move
The Xperia Pro-I comes with support for 2G/3G/4G/5G so you have a wide range of connectivity options depending on your network and sometimes price plan of choice (not all plans include 5G access)
When it comes to 5G performance this will of course depend on your area and network of choice as there are a lot of factors however during my time with the face I was able to pick up 5G from Three at my home address I was getting speeds of an excess of 300Mbps which was fantastic to see
With using 4G this was also giving access to 4G+ which is also known as LTE-Advanced, again it depends on network and location but I was happy to be getting speeds of around 100Mbps over this network here in Torquay which isn’t exactly the most popular of places for technology, and if you are in a better area with faster networks you can in theory get 200/300Mbps speeds over 4G.
Being 5G ready as soon as signal covers your area you will get access to these even faster speeds and you are future proofing yourself, all for such a great price.
Of course you also get the standard GPS, Bluetooth, NFC and WiFi built in for navigation and communication, WiFi supports the latest standard too for stronger and quicker data speeds if you have the right router
The selfie camera uses the same 8MP lens that was found on the premium Xperia 1iii, but also the same on last years models too which performed quite well, although low on the megapixel count when you consider some phones these days have 32MP selfie cameras, and this phone is hardly cheap to buy either.
Quality is decent for selfies and what you would take them for which is mainly sharing on social media and video calls, although in a time when phones around this price have 16/32/40 megapixel selfie shooters it would have been nice to have a higher megapixel count for more detail as I mentioned before.
Selfie videos are decent too, but with a lower megapixel count you do lose some of the creative opportunity such as cropping in and keeping the footage really sharp, but for most uses it will do a good job.
Whilst the Sony Xperia Pro I has four cameras on the back, technically three of them are the ones you use as the fourth one is just a 0.3 megapixel depth sensor to improve portrait photos.
First you have a 12 megapixel f2.2 16 mm ultra wide for those landscape style photos you want to capture or to get more into your photo.
Second is a 12 megapixel f2.4 50 mm telephoto camera which allows two times optical zoom whilst also including optical image stabilization for more steady shots even when you’re zoomed in.
Finally comes the main feature which is the 12 megapixel f2.0 24 mm 1 inch sensor again with optical image stabilization for fantastic photography.
The lens can also switch between f2.0 and f4.0 for different apertures and how much light you want to let in, and this is mechanical not digital so allows you to be really creative with what you can capture on this phone.
In looking at other reviews there has been a bit of confusion around the main sensor, a lot of people are calling it a 1 inch sensor.
However, Sony are calling it it a ‘1.0 type sensor’
This is because when you look at the actual figures, the camera doesn’t use the full 1 in sensor size when taking a photo, but it acts the same way like Sony’s RX100 point and shoot cameras does which is why you get such good quality photos especially in low light conditions and still offers one of the largest sensors in a smartphone, much bigger than a lot of the competition.
It is this 1.0 type sensor that will really make the Sony Xperia Pro-I stand out from the rest and if you’re into your photography and know how camera settings work, the manual mode on this will allow you to capture some truly amazing photos in all conditions.
Sony have gone with a three lens setup, all at 12 megapixels which includes a telephoto, a main, and a wide angle camera for all conditions.
Also the megapixel size all being the same should make for the same colours and contrast no matter what camera you decide to use which will be key to professional users.
Having the three lenses on the back means you can get quite flexible with your shooting modes.
You won’t get the super crazy 100x zoom you see on some of the competition like from Samsung, but The Sony does produce some very good shots in all lighting conditions.
Most people will want to stick with that main 24 mm sensor for the best photos but at least you have other options should you need to get closer or further away.
Here are photos taken using each of the three cameras so you can see what quality you can expect to see from these 12 megapixel sensors.
Normally it is Night photos that struggle with capturing a lot of details compared to some of the competition in the past for me, this is not really the case with the Xperia Pro-I due to that massive sensor used for the main camera that captures much more light and allows you to take some fantastic low light photos.
In an attempt to make things easier and more streamlined, Sony have now gone with a single app for the camera and a separate one for their Pro video mode.
When you load for the first time you get into the Basic mode for those of us who like to point and shoot to get a decent photo, tapping this setting in the corner opens up all the professional modes and tools to get the very best photo possible should you know how to use these the right way.
Cinema Pro is the professional video recorder included which can really produce some fantastic content, anyone coming from a Sony camera will recognise a lot of the settings and toggles available to get the best from the device, anyone who prefers the point and shoot method may be a bit overwhelmed by all the options you have on screen.
It is clear that Sony are leaning on their fan-base of existing Sony users who will understand what they are looking at when loading the Cinema Pro app to record video.
I have to say this is one of the phones I’ve been most looking forward to getting hands on reviewing in my time reviewing smartphones over the years.
Many because I love mobile phone photography and have not owned a stand alone camera and what must nearly be 8 years, I use my mobile for everything so the camera is a big key selling point for me
First, you have some very high end specs including the 4K screen and the 512 GB of built-in storage. The Xperia Pro-I definitely isn’t a phone for everyone, It’s very centered around that main camera sensor as proved by the very high price point but this isn’t the phone aimed for everyone.
This is a phone for the camera enthusiast who wants one of the largest sensors on a smartphone to be creative with and for the professional.
I am very into camera photography on mobile phones, but even I was a little overwhelmed at the beginning with the amount of control you can have over the camera and unless you really know what you’re doing, a lot of these settings would go unused.
This is why I switched a lot of the time from the Basic mode to Auto as this took some control away from me and let the camera do the work, but still let me get some fantastic photos using that 1.0 type sensor.
That is the main selling point of this phone, it meant I didn’t have to go full manual control but still got some fantastic shots from the camera.
The Sony Xperia Pro-I is very much a flagship product in it’s own category, and whilst they’re not going to be selling by the millions, what it does offer is cinematographers and avid photographers a chance to leave their main camera at home and experience the same type quality they would expect from a Sony point and shoot but in their smartphone.
I normally end my review saying if I would personally recommend buying this product. This very much falls down to what type of user you are.
If you’re really into your photography and want one of the best cameras on a smartphone with full control over all the settings to leave your standard point and shoot at home and enjoy amount of flexibility you have of this is outstanding.
However, as I’ve said before, if you’re more into just your basic point and shoot photography, this may be a little too advanced for you, but you would realize that before you even purchased the phone in the first place.
The massive thank you for Sony who offered me the device on a 2-week loan as well as the vlogging kit So I was able to put the Xperia Pro-I through its paces and for all their support during my time with the phone