Sony is ready to throw-down with a new camera-first 5G phone — the Xperia Pro-I — in the battle for smartphone camera supremacy. Less than 12-hours after the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro’s reviews started dropping online, and all the camera enthusiasts trying to determine whether the Pixel 6 Pro or the iPhone 13 Pro Max has the best smartphone camera, Sony wants to be in the mix with the Xperia Pro-I.
The “I” in the Xperia Pro-I stands for imaging, which pays homage to Sony’s popular line of Alpha mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras and professional video cameras, rather than point-and-shoot camera model names like the Sony RX100 VII (Mark 7). At least that’s what the Sony representatives who were briefing journalists ahead of this event told us. The star of the show is obviously this device’s camera technology, so it’s totally fair to think of the Xperia Pro-I as a camera that happens to come with a phone attached.
After all, it’s notable for using a similar 1.0-type Exmor RS image sensor with phase detection AF (autofocus) that powers the RX100 VII, the preferred point-and-shooter of vloggers and tourists. This large 1-inch camera sensor enables “outstanding low light performance, high dynamic range, and beautiful bokeh,” according to Sony. However, DPReview notes that while this 1-inch sensor is 20 megapixels in total, the Xperia Pro-I only makes use of part of the sensor, meaning it outputs a 12-megapixel image on this device.
While rare, Sony isn’t the first to include a 1-inch sensor in a phone. Sharp’s Aquos R6 had one when it was announced earlier this year, as did Panasonic’s CM1 from 2014.
Sony’s Xperia Pro-I has a total of three 12-megapixel cameras on the back (a main, ultrawide, and telephoto) and one 8-megapixel camera around its front. While these cameras seem low-resolution, the Sony representative was very eager to explain that they contain fewer but larger (2.4µm) pixels, where each pixel captures more details, more dynamic range and greater depth of field. The company seems confident it doesn’t need to chase higher megapixel counts like its rivals.
The Xperia Pro-I’s rear cameras use three glass lenses from Zeiss. Its main 24mm lens has dual aperture (f2.0/f4.4) that allows you to change the depth of field more quickly to create “authentic bokeh,” rather than the digital software-created bokeh effect that other phones produce.
The Xperia Pro-I includes the same BIONZ X imaging processor found in Sony’s A9 professional mirrorless camera for sports, which allows it to take up to 20fps in burst shots similar to Sony’s recent smartphones like the Xperia 1 III. This is the rare smartphone camera that is fast at autofocus, and capable of real-time eye tracking (humans and animals) in both stills and videos. Speaking of videos, Sony claims that the Xperia Pro-I is is the first smartphone in the world that can record 4K videos at 120fps and be able to preserve all 120 frames. While other smartphones can record 4K videos, they often compress the frames into a smaller file, which means you won’t have as much control in post-production.
On the phone side of the Xperia Pro-I, it has a 6.5-inch 21:9 3840×1644 OLED display, with 120Hz refresh rate, at a relatively skinny 21:9 aspect ratio. It’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G processor, and unlocked models should work on most 4G networks in the world, as well as sub-6GHz 5G. There’s 12GB RAM, 512GB of internal storage, a microSDXC card slot, and a 4,500mAh battery which can be fast-charged at 30W. Despite its premium and modern specs, the Xperia Pro-I still has a 3.5mm audio jack for creators who need to plug in a mic, and a strap hole to slide in a wrist strap for security.
The Xperia Pro-I will ship in December 2021 for a whopping $1,800 (£1,599). That’s the same price as Samsung’s flagship foldable, the Z Fold 3, and $200 more than the 1TB model of Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max, which costs $1,599. It’s also more than a Sony’s $1,300 RX 100 VII, and the same price as the $1,800 full-frame Sony A7C. But Sony’s aim with the Xperia Pro-I is to provide a device that can do it all, combining the quality of a dedicated point-and-shoot camera with a thin (0.35-inch) 5G phone.