Sony Xperia Pro-i Review : 1 Inch Sensor - Worth The Hype and Price?

Boasting a 1 inch sensor, 4K120fps capabilities, dual aperture modes and camera features only true camera professionals could appreciate, we couldn't help but to feel curious in finding out how this phone and it's cameras would stand up against some of the android flagships of the world or even the latest iPhone 13 Pro's.

Sony flagships always seem to embrace the idea of simplicity and functionality. A symbiotic form factor that stands out and while they have improved quite a lot from the previous Xperia phones, the Xperia Pro-i was truly the chatter amongst camera enthusiasts when it was released last October 2021.Because at this premium price point, is it worth the hype? Or could this Japanese made phone be hiding more under the hood than we realise?


If you'd ever wonder how it would feel to be taller than the rest of the class, this phone would have no issues seeing the front of it while sitting all the way at the back. IF it had eyes, I mean it kinda does in a way.. At 166 x 72mm in size, it surely feels like a two-hander type of phone. Unless you won't mind shifting around your grip to reach the top of the screen, the wafer-shaped aluminium side rails do help in preventing it from slipping out of your hands, while the matte paint texture on the back ensures the overall Sony trademark look as well as hiding away most fingerprints.


While it does feel hefty weighing at 211 grams, with Corning Glass at the front and back, the 6.6 inch OLED and 21:9 aspect ratio form factor, feels balanced and oddly justified. Even with a slight forehead hiding the 8MP front camera on the top, it still manages to have a 82.5% screen-to-body-ratio ~ with 120Hz refresh rate making scrolling and swiping feel blazing fast.


There's also a Creator Mode within the Image quality settings, to provide "A faithful reproduction of the creator's intended vision through 4K" as Sony says. Reaching up to 400 nits peak brightness, it will squint some eyes when stared at for too long but surely not the brightest we've seen.Viewing angles are mostly consistent all throughout with rich colours and deep blacks as you would expect out of an OLED screen. Watching movies is purely an immersive experience as most films are made in the 21:9 aspect ratio, but regular online content on YouTube that is usually made in the regular 16:9 aspect ratio, could be missing out on this phone's full screen real estate.


Otherwise, the dual speakers should keep you engaged with Dolby Atmos enabled to provide a surround sound experience. Held with both hands, it sure sounds like the speakers are facing directly at you instead of the usual dual speaker constructions we've seen. Truly one of the best speakers we've had on this channel in our opinion, but while it may not be the loudest, it manages well in the highs and mids for speech driven content such as ours or lower end tones for bassy music.


The side-mounted fingerprint sensor does lack consistency as the slightest differences on the surface of your thumb may cause it to miss attempts before having to wipe it down again. We also wished for it to be slightly bigger as it's easy to mistake it for the volume rocker just above it, which to its own regard could have been better placed on the other side of the phone to avoid the confusion.


But let's not forget the biggest key selling point of this phone which are its cameras. Even though Sony does claim the Xperia Pro-i (which stands for Imaging) to come with a 1-inch sensor built in, it still only uses the middle portion of the sensor which results in only 12 effective megapixels. The triple camera construction houses a dual aperture f/2.0 & f/4.0 12MP main camera, a 12MP telephoto camera and a 12MP Ultra-wide camera.


There's also a dedicated shutter button on the bottom right side, allowing you to half-press to focus, and a smaller circular button above it to quickly launch the Video Pro app. Whether this button could be customisable to whichever camera app you would like to assign it to, is still uncertain. In the camera app itself, you're greeted with familiar functionalities as you would with any other phone, but if you prefer to shoot things in the likes of a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you have that option too. Ranging from Auto mode, Program Auto, Shutter Priority, Manual Exposure and even a Memory Recall option as well. For users keen to take full control of their photography or videography experience, the Xperia Pro-i is where it shines the most.


Images themselves in bright daylight are really good but might fall short in terms of sharpness and detail. To some extent, it still feels like there's something missing especially when compared to other notable flagships like an iPhone 13 Pro which also has a 12MP sensor. Even shooting in low light will create colour fringing in the darker parts of the image and get noticeably noisy, while also washing out some of the highlights and whites.


The natural shallow depth of field coming from the big 1inch sensor however, keeps to its promise following the dual aperture modes to adjust focus to your liking but this can only be manually set and not adaptive even in Auto Mode.

Various drive modes are also available to allow you to shoot in Continuous Hi that could be translated into an animation if you choose to do so, or just a feature that could be used for casual wildlife/sports photography.


With one of a kind apps such as Video Pro and Cinema Pro to allow users take full control ranging from applying looks, adjust frame rates, a variable zoom slider and Manual Focus slider, all of your necessary guides, markers, HDR functions are all built-in. Sony really out did themselves for providing this much control in a smartphone. Even with all the accessibility, footage quality however is yet again a hit and miss. Factoring how great the footage looks in broad daylight, retaining most of the highlights, exposure compensation keeping shadows well balanced, and producing true-toned colours as you would with an actual point-and-shoot Sony camera. The natural depth of field does amazingly well at separating your subjects from the foreground or background, beautiful signature ZEISS lens faring and undoubtedly the most desirable part of this phone.


But before I get ahead of myself, there are some of the same faults in its stills photography performance, while feeling as if it shy's away from raising brightness in situations where it should and instead retains the blacks and shadows to avoid noise or grain.


Not the best of solutions in tackling low light performance and surprisingly an issue that we weren't expecting coming from Sony, where they've been known to triumph most mirrorless cameras in this area of expertise. So probably in this case, the apple did fall far away from its tree.Not forgetting to mention that we experienced the camera shutting off as temperature modes got significantly way too high to operate and even unbearable to the touch when shooting in 4K25fps.


But there is a vlogging kit option if you were to consider this to be your go-to vlog setup, that comes with a bluetooth grip and external monitor that can be attached to the back magnetically, to take full advantage of that 1-inch sensor which is sold separately.


Nonetheless, it's still equipped with 12GB RAM, Snapdragon 888 and Adreno 660 that manages to score top marks for our Geekbench tests scoring 1125 for Single-Core test and 3459 for Multi-Core test. So clearly it doesn't miss out on processing power with a very smooth gaming experience and video captures available up to 4K120fps. Battery life is decent, reaching up to a full day of use, with continuous 4K shooting, social media usage and some light gaming, which also comes with a 33 Watt charger in the box that would get you to 50% in 30 minutes.


The Sony Xperia Pro-i comes as standard of Android 11,12GB RAM and 512GB storage priced at RM7,199 or S$2,299


But even with all of the shortcomings we discovered and also a hefty price tag, we wouldn't want to take away from the true capabilities of these cameras as there is truly nothing like it. Sony somehow catered to a very niche group of enthusiasts looking to have all the necessities of a mirrorless camera and packed them into a phone. A phone to which many may not be considered as desirable given how tactile it might feel to some, yet there are the few who wish such accessibility and is clearly built for them. Whether or not you may fall into this category, we're glad it exists in the mundane world of smartphones that gets easily saturated with very little upgrades from the versions before them to the successors thereafter. In my observation, The Sony Xperia Pro-i has a long way to go to appeal to the average consumer but never too far away from standing out from the rest of the herd, while standing tall as it looks ahead.

 

Written by Fitri Aiyub

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