King of the phone cameras?


(Pocket Ribbon) – It’s safe to say that Sony isn’t exactly following the crowd when it comes to designing and building smartphones. It follows the beat of its own drum, targeting the devices with points of difference rather than necessarily the mass market.

With the Xperia Pro-I, the phone manufacturer wanted to offer a photography and videography tool for those with professional experience. But will this approach alienate too many people and, indeed, does it even make sense in a phone format?

Design

Dimensions: 166 x 72 x 8.9 mm / Weight: 211 g Built-in strap hole, physical shutter button Gorilla Glass Victus front IP68/IP65 resistance 3.5 mm audio port

For some time now, Sony’s approach to design has centered around the ideas of simplicity, clean lines and usability – often adhering to features long abandoned by well-known smartphone brands. It’s no surprise that the same approach is evident in the Xperia Pro-I. That’s essentially a tweaked version of the Xperia 1 iii.

That means you get a super thin, flat phone that is very stylish to look at. It also feels great, thanks to the soft matte black glass on the back. To set itself apart from its sibling, it has a subtle grooved finish around the metal edges, while the camera unit has been completely redesigned to accommodate that new sensor – which we’ll get to in more detail later.

Still, it’s a damn sight that’s more attractive and purposeful in its design compared to most phones that have lenses glued into a rectangle in the corner. The central location also gives a pleasant sense of symmetry.

For those who like old-fashioned peripherals — like wired headphones, wrist loops, straps, and physical media — Sony has it here, too. There’s a 3.5mm port to plug in your favorite wired headphones or other audio cable, plus a microSD card slot in the SIM tray – which you can remove without the need for an eject tool – and even a small loop to attach a belt.

Sony has you covered on the front of the buttons too, although this isn’t always brilliant. There’s a physical fingerprint sensor on the side which is great and works well if handled on purpose, but it’s very easy to touch by accident. That’s why it often registered a failed attempt to unlock the phone, meaning too many times we were forced to use the PIN to log in instead.

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It’s a similar situation with the camera’s dedicated shutter button. It’s great to have a button on the frame to activate the camera shutter with your fingers away from the screen. It even acts as a proper shutter button, so half-pressing while the camera app is active will focus. The only problem is that when you’re holding a locked phone in portrait mode, it’s very easy to accidentally squeeze it with your palm and launch the camera without wanting to.

However, there is a lot to love. It is both water and dust resistant. We’re quite happy with the decision not to push the screen all the way to the edges at the top and bottom either, leaving a small bezel to hide the front-facing camera and stereo speakers.

Display and media

6.5-inch OLED panel, 1644 x 3840 resolution (643 ppi) 120 Hz refresh rate, HDR, 1 billion colors Stereo speakers

The display is another area where Sony does things a little differently. Instead of the usual 1080p or Quad HD resolution panel, the Pro-I has a 4K resolution display. At 643 pixels per inch, it’s one of the sharpest resolution screens on any smartphone, and with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz, it’s also among the smoothest on playback.

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It’s a great screen with good brightness and impressive color gamut coverage. Like some of the more modern flagship displays, it offers support for over a billion colors, and – with Sony aimed at the professional market – it has ‘Creator Mode’ power, to bring you 10-bit color HDR (high dynamic range). to provide coverage. That all sounds very fancy, but the idea is that you see movies and video the way they should be seen.

For watching Netflix, Disney+ and the like, you get the feeling that the dynamic range and the colors on offer are fantastic. It just seems really well-balanced, with no oversaturation or contrast that’s too harsh. It’s a really good panel for consuming and creating media.

It’s accompanied by stereo speakers on both sides which help up the immersive factor, although they aren’t the best stereo speakers on a phone we’ve ever heard. They don’t seem as immersive or as full-sounding as the Asus Rog Phone 5’s (as an example).

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The downside, if you can call it that, is that most mobile streaming services don’t support 4K resolution – so you won’t often experience the fullness of that resolution on offer. There’s also the argument that 4K seems a bit of a waste on such a small screen as you have to look very closely, not to mention the impact on battery consumption.

Performance and battery

Snapdragon 888 processor, 12 GB RAM 512 GB storage, microSD expansion 4500 mAh battery, 30 W fast charging No wireless charging

As phones go, the Xperia Pro-I is certainly fast enough and feels like the flagship it is. The interface glides effortlessly under the fingers, apps open quickly, data load without much waiting.

However, it does get warm after a while: for example, play 20 minutes and the back becomes noticeably warmer. It’s not too warm to hold comfortably, but it feels warmer than it should.



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There’s nothing to shout about when it comes to battery life. It can easily get through the day, but won’t save a second. No surprise given that screen spec.

Not because it’s particularly bad if you actually use the phone, but in our experience the standby time is one of the worst we’ve used in years. Left at night, our unit dropped more than 20 percent, just sat there doing nothing. We never managed to identify anything specific that drained it, but it’s really extraordinary, especially with Android 11’s battery optimizations.

Once emptied, it charges quickly enough and features optimized overnight charging so you’ll have a full battery when you wake up, but without having to fast-charge it all night long to extend battery life. Unfortunately, there is no wireless charging with this model.

Cameras

Three rear cameras: Main: 12 megapixel 1-inch sensor*, dual aperture f/2.0-f/4.0, optical stabilization (OIS) 2x zoom (50mm equivalent): 12 MP, f/2.4, OISultra wide-angle: 12 MP , f/2.2Real-time tracking, eye/face AF, manual control 4K video up to 120 fps 5-axis gyro EIS/OIS

First tackling the elephant in the room: the so-called 1.0-type sensor. When used to the fullest, it would be 20 megapixels. But it’s not, it’s 12 megapixels, because Sony cropped a window into this sensor quite a bit.

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However, the results of the sensor as it is are really very good. Well, it depends on your preferences. We like the color profile, as the results are rich but not oversaturated, while there’s no heavy HDR effect like you’ll often find on many other smartphones.

The contrast isn’t too heavy, so you don’t get that artificial over-cut look. Photos have the look of “real” photos, rather than the oversaturated and high-contrast images you see all over Instagram. That will be a great thing for some (and not so much for others).

Being a ‘pro camera’ you also get all the pro controls. You can switch to basic mode, shoot automatically and get great results in most lighting conditions. However, you also get all the manual controls you could possibly need to adjust ISO sensitivity, shutter speed and white balance.

You get the same controls for video. We especially like using the manual focus, which allows control for beautiful slow pull focus shots that most phones couldn’t even dream of. The autofocus and tracking available is also excellent, with some clever eye-tracking and fast focusing in both video and stills modes.

Eye tracking is really effective and works in many scenarios. As long as it sees an eye, it will automatically focus on that subject, even if the eye is distorted by a magnifying glass or shaped/colored glass in front of the lens.

Sony seems to be pushing more for this manual control, especially for video, where you have three different apps to choose from. It’s not the most user-friendly experience, given the way this is split up. The interface isn’t particularly intuitive either, even for someone used to manual controls in dedicated cameras.

Once you get over that learning curve, it means you’ll get a better understanding of how to operate this phone’s camera. But in a world where machine learning and processing has the power to do everything for us, we suspect this is a learning curve too far for most people.

The other two cameras – the ultra-wide-angle and telephoto – also take decent photos, but the optical zoom feels a bit weak, offering only 2x zoom (at an apparent 50mm equivalent), and image quality is noticeably worse than the main camera. . It is quite rough in details, while highlights are often slightly exaggerated.

verdict

Sony is not hiding that it will become a niche with the Xperia Pro-I. If you want a phone with professional videography and photography tools, it’s definitely worth considering. It’s one of the most beautiful and well-equipped phones on the market, but it’s still not perfect – and undeniably expensive.

Other minor annoyances, such as the physical shutter button that is too easy to activate, the fingerprint sensor that regularly registers failed scans, and the poor standby battery life make it a phone that has its inconveniences in everyday life.

While the decision to crop so heavily in the 1.0-type sensor is simply mind-boggling, the results of the main camera in the right lighting conditions are different from the usual oversaturated, over-processed images of many of its competitors. For the photographer and videographer looking for that ‘classic’ image output, that’s what makes this unit stand out for all the right reasons – but just not to so many potential buyers.

Written by Cam Bunton.

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