Sony Xperia 1 V Review: A Step Closer to Besting Apple and Samsung. Sony camera phone
Sony Xperia 1 V Review: A Step Closer to Besting Apple and Samsung
Sony pushes its main phone aimed at creatives to the next level.
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET’s I’m So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
- Patrick’s play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
The new Sony Xperia 1 V retains all the best features of previous Xperia 1 phones, like a 4K high refresh rate display, expandable storage, cutting-edge cameras with eye-tracking autofocus, a 5,000-mAh battery, a dedicated hardware shutter button and a headphone jack, all wrapped in Sony’s lovely, mundane utilitarian design. The phone brims with numerous quality of life improvements for its target audience of creative types like photographers, filmmakers, musicians and gamers who want nuanced control over the content they make.
The sides of the phone are ribbed, which make it easier to grip, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor makes things fast, Gorilla Glass Victus 2 adds durability to the phone’s screen, and the ability to rotate the Photo Pro and Video Pro apps between landscape and portrait just makes sense. The glass on the back of the phone has an imprinted texture that elevates the look and feel. Though.- despite its high price.- you’d never describe this as a posh phone.
Sony Xperia 1 V
- Subtle design improvements
- Photos in mixed and medium light look great
- Using it as an external monitor/video recorder
- The 1,400 price
- Night mode pics are hit or miss
- Videos recorded in low or mixed lighting don’t look great
And then there are the cameras. Oh, the cameras! This past December, Tim Cook shared a post on about Apple and Sony’s long partnership going back over a decade revolving around the iPhone camera. The tweet included a photo of Tim Cook in a very Vincent D’Onofrio Law and Order-esque lean-in pose looking at iPhones being tested in a Sony camera lab. Apple uses Sony camera sensors in the iPhone and those same sensors often make their debut in Xperia phones. One of the biggest upgrades to the Xperia 1 V is a new sensor for the main camera. I should note, that it’s not guaranteed that the sensors in this phone will be used in a future iPhone.
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I’ve been using a preproduction Xperia 1 V on loan from Sony for about a week. And I’m impressed with nearly everything, especially the cameras. Sony pushed its state of the art hardware to another level by embracing more computational photography like Apple, Google and Samsung.
But there is a drawback that overshadows all these niceties. The Xperia 1 V costs 1,400, which converts roughly to £1,110 or AU2,070. If your eyes sting a bit from that number, you’re not alone. And no, the phone doesn’t fold in half. In fact, the Xperia 1 V has done something unthinkable: It made the 1,200 Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra seem like a deal. Yes, the Xperia is the only phone I’m aware of, aside from last year’s model, with a 4K 120Hz refresh rate display and a telephoto camera with lens elements that move like an actual camera lens. The S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro don’t have either. But both Apple and Samsung found ways to make photos and videos look just as amazing, and at times more so, than Sony does without the extremely high price.- I mean, a grand or 1,200 is still a lot.
The Sony Xperia 1 V’s cameras
Hardware-wise three out of the four cameras are the same as last year’s Sony Xperia 1 IV. On the front there’s a 12-megapixel selfie camera and on the back there’s the same 12-megapixel ultrawide, and a 12-megapixel telephoto camera. While not new, that telephoto is one of the standout features on the Xperia 1 V. The variable telephoto lens gives the phone an optical zoom range of 3.5x to 5.2x magnification. Compare that to the iPhone 14 Pro, which only has optical zoom at 3x and anything more is digital zoom. Or look at the Galaxy S23 Ultra, which has a 3x optical zoom camera and a 10x optical zoom camera, but in between 3x and 10x it’s all digital zoom. The more a phone digitally zooms in, the more the image starts to fall apart.
In use, the tele makes the Xperia a much more versatile camera than the iPhone. And while it lacks the 100x digital “space zoom” found on the S23 Ultra, it matches Samsung in its utility to grab close-up snaps and videos while being far away from your subject. The Xperia 1 V, like the S23 Ultra, might be an affluent parent’s dream phone. It could easily capture their kid’s face close up in a school play, recital or soccer match.
But the real news is Sony‘s new 52-megapixel sensor on the main camera. Unlike the square-ish sensors on the majority of phones, this one is wider. When you take photos on pretty much any other phone, the camera uses the entire sensor and when you record videos, the phone uses a 16×9 crop in the middle.
What Sony did is to widen the sensor so that videos use all of the sensor’s height. Photos are cropped in from the sides down to 48 megapixels and “binned” in groups to produce 12-megapixel photos. The new sensor is also faster, which allows Sony to use more computational photography processing.
All of this adds up a new dedicated night mode and better processing for medium, low light and mixed lighting. In my week with the phone, everything except night mode has lived up to Sony’s promises. I’m especially impressed how the Xperia makes highlights roll off so naturally in photos.
Take a look at some of my favorite photos from the Xperia below.
How does the Xperia compare to the iPhone 14 Pro? Pretty good, actually. Take a look below at photos I took inside Peoples Barbershop in San Francisco. In the Xperia’s photo, notice the window and the man who is seated on the left. In the iPhone’s photo, the man’s head and neck are in a shadow. Also notice that the lettering on the tips sign on the right is sharper in the iPhone’s photo. In fact, on the whole, the iPhone’s photo looks over-sharpened, compared to the one from the Xperia.
Below are photos of a dog outside a skate shop. I took these photos at 3.5x on the Xperia and 3x on the iPhone. The texture of the dog’s fur looks great in both. The Xperia’s photo has a natural out-of-FOCUS background from its lens, whereas in the iPhone’s photo, the background is also in FOCUS. On the whole these are both good shots, but I prefer the one from the Xperia. The dog looks flat in the iPhone pic and pops more in Sony’s snap.
Now let’s add the Galaxy S23 Ultra to the mix. Below are photos of some baked eggs from Luna. The iPhone’s photo looks over-sharpened, notice the bread. The colors are a bit muted. Also there is daylight coming in from the left side, but warm overhead lighting above. The iPhone’s white balance looks more cool. Samsung’s photo nails the red color of the romesco sauce and did the best job in terms of overall color temperature. The Xperia’s photos definitely skew warm, with the colors looking oversaturated. Also, the Xperia chose to FOCUS on the kale as opposed to the bread.- just as my doctor wants me to do more often.
Let’s go someplace really dark.- like the basement bar at Smuggler’s Cove. These photos were taken with the phone’s night mode. Of the three, my favorite is the one from the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The Xperia does a good job of handling the shadows and colors, but the bartenders’ movements during the capture resulted in a blurry mess with blown highlights.
Sony Xperia 1 V After 1 Week! Best Phone of 2023?
Overall, I’m glad Sony boosted the computational photography on the Xperia. It’s a success in most situations, but my tests also show Samsung’s dominance when it comes to night mode.
In terms of videos, the Sony hangs right along with the iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra under bright light. But as things get dark, Apple’s video processing prowess keeps its videos looking better. For samples of videos from each phone, check out my review video for the Sony Xperia 1 V.
After all that testing, it’s equally important to consider the process of capturing photos and videos. And that’s where the Xperia comes out ahead of the iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra. There are people who prefer to dial in the settings for exactly how their photos and video are captured, and the Xperia is aimed at them. It’s not designed to be a one-handed point-and-shoot experience.
The Xperia’s Photo Pro and Video Pro apps (and Cinema Pro) let you adjust every last detail to get photos and videos looking the way you want. There are third-party apps for the iPhone and S23 Ultra that can do the same, but I haven’t seen anything to the level of what Sony does. Photo Pro essentially turns the phone into an identical interface as Sony Alpha cameras. There is also a dedicated hardware shutter button on the right side of the phone, something the iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra lack.
Perhaps one of the most telling moments during testing came when my colleague, CNET Principal Video Producer John Kim, and I were filming the review video. When we were walking around Salesforce Park, and I spotted a baby bird on the ground. I opened the Photo Pro app and the camera’s eye autofocus instantly locked onto the tiny bird’s eyes and tracked it. I didn’t even have to tap on the screen.
The Sony Xperia 1 V’s battery and performance
At the heart of the Xperia is 12GB of RAM and the aforementioned Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip. These specs make the Xperia 1 V peppy and fast. The phone handled heavy days of shooting photos and videos as well as more mundane things like scrolling social media and playing video games with ease. A lot of that is because of the processor. We had the same experience this year using other 8 Gen 2 chip phones like the Galaxy S23 Ultra and the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate. In benchmark tests, the Xperia hangs right up there alongside Samsung, Asus and Vivo.
I am a big fan of what Sony is doing with its Xperia line of phones. The Xperia 1 V represents years of innovation and improvements, all focused at its target audience of artists and creative types. And if I judge the phone through that perspective, the Xperia gets so much right.
However, my favorite Xperia phones tend to be the slightly lower cost 5 series. Note that last year’s Xperia 5 IV still costs 1,000. The 5 series tends to inherit most of the amazing specs and features from the 1 series but comes without a 1,400 price tag.
Personally, when I was a theater director and short filmmaker, I would have loved the Xperia 1 V. But I would have never been able to afford one. Instead I’d likely opt for a dedicated camera like Sony’s Alpha line of APS-C cameras.
How we test phones
Every phone tested by CNET’s reviews team was actually used in the real world. We test a phone’s features, play games and take photos. We examine the display to see if it’s bright, sharp and vibrant. We analyze the design and build to see how it is to hold and whether it has an IP-rating for water resistance. We push the processor’s performance to the extremes using both standardized benchmark tools like GeekBench and 3DMark, along with our own anecdotal observations navigating the interface, recording high-resolution videos and playing graphically intense games at high refresh rates.
All the cameras are tested in a variety of conditions from bright sunlight to dark indoor scenes. We try out special features like night mode and portrait mode and compare our findings against similarly priced competing phones. We also check out the battery life by using it daily as well as running a series of battery drain tests.
We take into account additional features like support for 5G, satellite connectivity, fingerprint and face sensors, stylus support, fast charging speeds, foldable displays among others that can be useful. And we of course balance all of this against the price to give you the verdict on whether that phone, whatever price it is, actually represents good value.
The Sony Xperia 5 IV is a near-top-spec phone, but the price may prove too premium
Sony’s small-but-mighty phone reaches version IV with some excellent cameras, great software, and a nice screen. However, the Sony Xperia 5 IV is expensive compared to other Android phones, and even the iPhone 14.
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Chipset: Qualcomm SM8450 Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 RAM: 8GB Storage: 128/256GB OS: Android 12 Screen: 6.1in, OLED, 120Hz, 1080 x 2520 Cameras: 12MP x4. wide, ultrawide, tele, selfie Video: 4k/30, 1080/60, EIS Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6e, Bluetooth 5.2, USB-C 3.2 Dimensions: 156 x 67 x 8.2 mm Weight: 172g
Android phones like the Sony Xperia 5 IV require updates, at least they do if you care about things like the security of your payment information and getting new features. Google’s phones get updates for five years from their first availability, as do Samsung’s. OnePlus phones get four. With the Xperia 5 IV, Sony is offering three years of security updates, and only two of OS updates.
We tell you this up-front because the rest of this review is going to be positive. The Xperia 5 IV is a great phone, with good specs, a sharp, bright, colourful screen, and a nice camera cluster with an excellent app. It’s even relatively water-resistant and comes in green. That limited update policy, though, means you may find yourself thinking about an upgrade earlier than you might want.
In many ways a cut-down version of the range-topping Xperia 1 IV, though it doesn’t have that phone’s excellent zoom camera to make it quite the best camera phone. It takes a step back in the processor department too, but also doesn’t cost £1,300. The Xperia 5 IV is still an expensive phone, but Sony is chasing a price/performance sweet spot here, and largely hits it.
Sony Xperia 5 IV review: Design
We may have mentioned in our review of the Xperia 10 IV that the Sony phones of this generation look rather similar, and the Sony Xperia 5 IV is no different. It sticks to the familiar look, being tall, slim, and shiny on one side. It differs from the 10 IV in the position of its SIM tray (though you can still open it with your fingernail, which is one of our favourite Sony features), its additional shutter button, and a slight variation in the camera module that on this phone contains a Zeiss logo.
There’s still a headphone socket at the top though, which is good to see even though Sony sells some of the best wireless earbuds out there, and you can find the phone bundled with the Sony Linkbuds.
The phone is a standard black (or white, or green) rectangle made from aluminium and Gorilla glass, the screen a 6.1-inch OLED in a 21:9 aspect ratio, with a 1080 x 2520 resolution for a pixel density of 449ppi. As you’d hope from a Sony device, the screen is excellent, and the taller, thinner shape makes it easier to hold if you’ve got slender hands.
Despite being the same size as the Xperia 10 IV, it’s just a little heavier at 172 grams, and has the same fingerprint reader built into the lock button, a position that makes a lot of sense. than burying it under the screen where you can leave a smeared mess, anyway.
Sony Xperia 5 IV review: Camera
The Xperia 5 IV’s triple-lens camera is accessed via Sony’s Photo Pro app. All the cameras produce 12.2MP files, and the rear module consists of a 24mm-equivalent f/1.7 main camera, an ultrawide 16mm-equivalent f/2.2, and a short tele 60mm-equivalent f/2.4. On the front lives an f/2.0 selfie camera.
Photo Pro offers an on-screen PASM dial, which offers Basic and Auto modes. Basic is the standard Android camera app with an on-screen shutter button, while the others (Auto, Program, Shutter Priority and Manual, with a memory recall option for loading saved settings) turn the Xperia 5 IV into something more like a compact camera by using the hardware shutter button. There’s no Aperture Priority, but then depth of field isn’t much of a concern with smartphone cameras unless you get very close, and Program mode offers aperture control anyway. We found, annoyingly, that it tended to slip back into Basic mode every time we closed the app, but later found an option in the settings to change this.
Burst shooting gets high- and low-speed modes, both of which carry over to the HDR mode. There’s a choice between single-shot and continuous AF, along with face and eye detection, and you can set wide, spot or centre-weighted metering. If you’ve ever used a Sony Alpha mirrorless camera, most of the options and terminology will be familiar, as is the way the AF points cluster like a swarm of green squares over the point of FOCUS.
Video tops out at 4K 30fps, and there’s five-axis image stabilisation at work. You can shoot videos in the Basic mode of the camera app, but if you’re more serious there’s a Video Pro app, and a Cinema Pro app developed in conjunction with CineAlta that takes things even further. If you like to fiddle with video settings, but can’t quite stretch to something like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, then this might be worth a look, though don’t expect the footage to have quite the same feel. Beware, though, that the phone can get hot quite quickly if you’re shooting lots of video.
Sony Xperia 5 IV review: Performance and interface
There’s a Snapdragon Gen 1 thrumming away inside the Xperia 5 IV. It’s a chipset that’s already been superseded by an 8 that runs slightly faster, but still holds its own very nicely in the mobile arena. It contains eight processor cores, in the normal arrangement of four fast performance cores and eight slower but more efficient cores, but here one of the P cores is a ‘prime’, which means it’s even faster for single-threaded applications, running at 3GHz. It’s accompanied by three more P cores at 2.5GHz, and four E cores at 1.8GHz, making for a capable package that can tear through the usual mobile computing tasks.
There’s 8GB of RAM, and a choice of either 128GB or 256GB of storage, which can be expanded by up to 1TB using the micro-SD card slot that shares space with the nano-SIM. You can use an e-SIM too for dual-number fun.
The OS is Android 12, with an update to 13 promised ‘soon’ at the time of writing. Sony doesn’t put a noticeable stamp on the OS, with only the presence of a few Sony-centric apps giving the manufacturer away. These apps, and indeed everything we tried on the phone, open quickly, as did a folder full of app icons on the home screen, something that can give some phones pause.
Sony Xperia 5 IV review: Battery and charging
The battery is fairly large, at 5,000mAh, and is filled up with USB PD 3.0. It’ll get to 50% in half an hour, and there are wireless and reverse charging options too. You don’t get a charger in the box, which is a shame given the high price, but understandable as we’re surrounded by USB ports these days, and it cuts down on unused electrical junk.
Should you buy the Sony Xperia 5 IV?
If you want something snappy, nice to look at, easy to hold and with a great camera app in your. then this is a good choice if you’re prepared to pay for it. The only thing that’s going to put people off is the price. it costs the same as the iPhone 14 Plus 128GB model, and £100 more than the basic iPhone 14. It’s three times the price of the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite, and almost twice the price of a Nothing Phone 1 with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Despite being an excellent, powerful, well-made phone, the Xperia 5 IV may have trouble persuading you to justify spending so much on it.
Sony’s imaging-focused phone drops the ball in other places
Tom’s Guide Verdict
Sony’s Xperia Pro-I goes all-in on pro-level imaging, but can’t match less expensive camera phones like the iPhone 13 Pro Max or Pixel 6 Pro. And it suffers from lackluster battery life, a dim display, and an unintuitive pro app user experience.
- – Ridiculously expensive
- – Unintuitive pro app user experience
- – No mmWave 5G or wireless charging
- – Subpar battery life in 120Hz mode
- – Cameras not better than cheaper phones
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Price: 1,799 Android version: Android 11 Display: 6.5-inch OLED (3840 x 1644) Refresh rate: 120Hz CPU: Snapdragon 888 RAM: 12GB Storage / Expandable: 512GB / Yes Rear cameras: 12MP (f/2.0-4.0) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 12MP (f/2.4) 50mm/2.1x telephoto Front camera: 8MP (f/2.0) Video: Up to 4K 120 fps HDR Battery: 4,500 mAh Charging: 30W Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 7:05 (120Hz), 9:08 (60Hz) Size: 6.54 x 2.83 x 0.35 inches Weight: 7.4 ounces
Sony has never had what you would call a rational idea of what a smartphone should cost. Its Xperia line of handsets has achieved meme status for how expensive some of its models have been. Even now as smartphone technology advances to the next big thing, Sony likes to think its Xperia mobile brand can command a hefty price tag, and the new Xperia Pro-I is no different.
Sony targets professional photographers and videographers with the Xperia Pro-I. There’s some serious camera hardware onboard here, including a 50mm (2.1x optical zoom) telephoto lens and the choice between f/2.0 and f/4.0 apertures on the main camera.
But at a jaw-dropping 1,799, the Pro-I is laughably bad in some areas. A phone that costs as much as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 but doesn’t have mmWave 5G, wireless charging, or a display that exceeds 400 nits of brightness? I’m floored by how madly Sony has misjudged the value the Xperia Pro-I provides.
While this device isn’t for the typical smartphone buyer, our Sony Xperia Pro-I review finds a phone that can’t meet the expectations of its niche audience.
Sony Xperia Pro-I review: Price and availability
The Xperia Pro-I comes in one configuration with 512GB of storage and 12GB of RAM. That’s pretty high-end in Android land, but you’ll have to drop 1,799 to get that privilege. For reference, that’s what the base 256GB Galaxy Z Fold 3 costs. At least that’s a whole new form factor with a foldable screen.
Should you wish to, you can buy the Pro-I from Sony directly or through various retailers like Amazon.
Sony Xperia Pro-I review: Cameras
The Xperia Pro-I sports a triple 12MP sensor setup, including a 50mm telephoto lens. That comes out to 2.1x zoom, based on the camera app. And around front, the Xperia Pro-I features a 8MP selfie camera.
I brought out the iPhone 13 Pro Max for comparison, which currently tops our picks for the best camera phones. For the first shot, I took both phones to a mural in my neighborhood, which has a variety of whites and grays, plus some red. The Xperia Pro-I kept the colors toned down, almost muted. The iPhone boosted the reds and blues a bit to make the image more visually appealing. To the common eye, the iPhone’s shot would probably be preferable, but Sony’s could be tweaked in editing. Then again, you could say the same for the iPhone.
In this second outdoor shot looking down a bridge, both photos look rather similar at first glance. But look deeper and you’ll see that the Xperia Pro-I produced a warmer image with less yellow than the iPhone did. I think the iPhone 13 Pro Max overcompensated for the direct mid-afternoon sunlight, leaving the Xperia the victor in this situation. Sony’s phone also produced more natural colors.
Inside, the differences between the two images jump out immediately. The Xperia Pro-I produced a bland and dim image compared to the iPhone, which brightened up the scene considering the low light on the dark side of the house. The Xperia’s FOCUS also seems way too soft, which you can see with some of the book titles. It’s an interesting comparison, but the iPhone 13 Pro Max clearly wins in this situation.
For another indoor shot, I tasked both phones to photograph these produce stands. With daylight on the other side and harsh fluorescent lighting above, the challenge proved beyond both phones’ abilities. Either image looks pretty dingy with bland colors and poor exposure. This is a steep challenge for any camera, but neither phone came out ahead.
The telephoto test compared the Xperia Pro-I’s 2.1x optical zoom to the 3x max of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Shooting the same mural as before, the Xperia Pro-I produced softer colors than the iPhone, while also failing to give the same sense of detail. The iPhone’s image, distance notwithstanding, has better colors and richer details in the bricks and the way the light hits the paint. Even if the Xperia had the same 3x optical zoom as the iPhone, I think the latter would still win in this test with default settings.
To test the ultrawide lens on each phone, I grabbed this shot of the front of a grocery store. The Xperia did very well here, properly compensating from the sunlight while producing bright colors in the purple sign and blue sky. The iPhone’s shot isn’t bad, but I think Sony won this ultrawide comparison.
The portrait test proved interesting, since the iPhone 13 Pro Max struggled with exposure and tone. The Xperia Pro-I zoomed out a bit more on the image, but produced something that was warmer and better lit overall. It’s hard to make out my finer details in either image because of the challenging lighting conditions, but the Xperia has a better photo.
The night mode comparison is really not much of one at all. The Xperia Pro-I acted like it didn’t recognize the low light with an image so dark, you can barely see the smoker in my backyard. The iPhone produced a clearer image that, though fuzzy, shows far more details than the Xperia managed.
Finally, for the selfie test, the Xperia Pro-I seemed to struggle with overexposure given the direct sunlight. My beard is certainly redder and my hair blonder than the iPhone’s selfie, but the background is a little more blown out in contrast. The iPhone 13 Pro Max adjusted the image pretty well given the harsh light and it’s the selfie I’d prefer to post if I had to choose.
Sony probably doesn’t expect you to go with the photos the Xperia Pro-I processes on-device, nor does it anticipate that you’ll be content with the auto settings. The manual controls are easy enough to work with, certainly easier than either of the video apps.
Instead, you’ll probably head into an app like Lightroom to adjust things to your liking in post-processing, but for photos using default settings with no editing, the iPhone wins in most scenarios. That’s kind of hard to swallow given that Sony’s camera-focused phone costs 700 more than the iPhone 13 Pro Max while lacking the polish of Apple’s device in other areas (as we’ll soon see).
Sony Xperia Pro-I review: Display
One of the defining characteristics of an Xperia phone is the unusually tall display.
Sony has gone this route for a long time now, but it doesn’t look any less odd when compared to a more traditional smartphone design. The Pro-I has a 6.5-inch OLED 120Hz screen with an impressive 3840 x 1644 resolution. That’s a lot of pixels packed into this display.
The Pro-I’s screen is nice enough indoors, but in our testing, it only reached a max of 342 nits of brightness. That’s incredibly dim for a phone that costs this much. The iPhone 13 Pro Max gets more than 1,000 nits and the new Galaxy S22 Ultra hit 1,359 nits in our testing (with a rated max of 1,750 nits). You can see both those phones’ displays clearly in bright sunlight; the Pro-I can’t make the same claim.
And that’s disappointing because, otherwise, the Pro-I’s display is good. Its Delta-E color accuracy score is a nice 0.25 (0 is perfect), and the Pro-I can reproduce 98% of the challenging DCI-P3 color gamut. All that equals more realistic colors for viewing and editing your photos, something that I think works in the Pro-I’s favor.
Compared to other phones that cost hundreds of dollars less, the Xperia Pro-I’s screen is on par other than its brightness, especially for its color accuracy and reproduction. I think it’s more than passable for viewing photos, which is the important piece — so long as you’re indoors or in the shade.
Sony Xperia Pro-I review: Software, battery life and other features
Software: The Xperia Pro-I features a version of Android 11 — Android 12 just started rolling out during the course of writing this review — that’s pretty close to stock on the surface, but with a lot of preinstalled garbage like. LinkedIn, and a Tidal trial. Sony’s software support can be a bit suspect sometimes, but at least Android 12 is on its way. Otherwise, the system is pretty unobtrusive. But Sony’s pro apps are another story.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a professional photographer or videographer, but I found the Cinema and Video Pro apps quite unintuitive. Even the Photo Pro app took some getting used to. Granted, this phone isn’t meant for the layperson, but that doesn’t excuse poor design like settings buried in convoluted areas. I understand that Sony wanted to give an “authentic” experience that professionals might feel more at home with, but I think most people have grown accustomed to how smartphone photo/video apps are laid out nowadays.
I think Sony could have done a much better job with these apps, perhaps by better nesting settings and tweaks better. Some options like the manual controls feel like a pain to get to, and I only adjusted some things slightly like ISO and white balance.
Battery life: One place the Xperia Pro-I really struggles is battery life. In the Tom’s Guide battery life test — a benchmark where we set a phone’s display to 150 nits of brightness and then task the device to endlessly reload web pages until it dies — the Xperia Pro-I barely exceeded 7 hours (7:04) in its 120Hz mode. At 60Hz, the phone held out a bit longer at 9 hours and 8 minutes, though that’s still nearly an hour behind the average phone.
The only other modern Android phone that performs that poorly is the Pixel 6 Pro at 7 hours and 49 minutes in its 120Hz mode. The current king of Android camera phones also struggles, but it goes for 45 minutes longer than the Xperia Pro-I.
And then there’s the iPhone 13 Pro Max at a whopping 12 hours and 16 minutes. Considering that that is our pick for the best camera phone, it’s a wonder why you’d opt for the Xperia Pro-I should you want a capable camera phone that’ll last for several hours of photography.
Sony Xperia 1 V full review
Special features: The Xperia Pro-I features two extra buttons alongside the power button and volume rocker. One is a shortcut key that you can map to any app. By default, it launches the Video Pro app, but you can set it to the camera app or whatever you have installed. Next to that is a shutter button, which is very handy while you’re taking photos or videos.
Another area I think the Xperia Pro-I shines is the speaker quality. These are very nice phone speakers, certainly on par with anything else on the market. Listening to my favorite music on the Pro-I was just as good as my iPhone 13 Pro Max. In some ways, the Xperia Pro-I’s speakers are richer and fuller, with stronger and warmer bass than Apple’s. You can set up Dolby Atmos and 360 spatial audio, and there’s even support for an AI DSEE Ultimate upscaler for compressed music.
Sony Xperia Pro-I review: Verdict
The Xperia Pro-I is an interesting phone to review since it’s not really meant for most people — its price tag assures that. But its high cost creates expectations the phone can’t match. The display, while having great color accuracy, is so dim that you can hardly see your photos outdoors. The battery life is just outright bad, practically inexcusable for a 1,799 phone.
The Xperia Pro-I can shoot some nice pictures, sure, but when compared to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, it’s not all that much better. In fact, the iPhone beat the Xperia in several comparisons, especially in the night mode test. I imagine the Pixel 6 Pro — our favorite Android phone for taking pictures — would hold its own as well.
I don’t think anyone should buy the Xperia Pro-I. If you’re a professional photographer or videographer, you likely have your own dedicated equipment that can do a lot more than this phone could dream of doing. And if you’re a hobbyist, there are better phones (like the iPhone 13 Pro Max or Pixel 6 Pro) that can accomplish many of the same feats while costing far less.
The Xperia Pro-I is the best Sony camera phone for photographers with an RX100-sized 1-inch sensor
Digital Camera World Verdict
The Sony Xperia Pro-I is an excellent camera phone for imaging enthusiasts. It takes natural-looking photos, and offers no less than three unmatched manual camera apps. Its main camera is also the best we’ve seen from Sony, though we were let down by the secondary cameras and the lack of wireless charging. Nevertheless, the Xperia Pro-I checks enough boxes to be a standout photographer and videographer’s smartphone.
- Natural photo and video processing
- Excellent stills and video camera apps
- Rich design with photography-centric highlights
- Day-long battery life
- Impressive performance
- Huge storage capacity
- – No wireless charging
- – No periscope telephoto camera
- – No ultra-wide autofocus
- – Very expensive
- – Max screen brightness could be brighter
- – Spongy camera button
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Sony’s latest pro-grade smartphone, the Xperia Pro-I is the first to feature a 1-inch sensor. This is a long-overdue vindication for Sony fans. It’s the first true example of the Japanese smartphone maker navigating its mobile line with the imaging gravitas it has with its camera division.
While the original Sony Xperia Pro was a very expensive external monitor/smartphone hybrid with an adequate camera setup, the Pro-I is a less expensive top-spec photography phone, confirming it as the best Sony phone to date. It has three cameras, a 16mm ultra-wide-angle, a 24mm wide (which is backed up by that large Type-1 sensor), and a 50mm portrait lens; all its cameras have 12MP resolution sensors. And it’s also powerful, with top-tier specs – a crisp 4K display, the latest widely available Snapdragon 888 processor, and over half a terabyte of storage.
At 1,799/£1,599, while it isn’t quite as expensive as the 2,499/£2,299 Xperia Pro, it’s still a pricey phone. Given the fact it’s missing out on the periscope lens on the Xperia 1 III, and has no wireless charging, that Type-1 sensor needs to be pretty special to justify Sony’s pricing.
Sony Xperia Pro-I design and screen
Clearly a Sony phone, the Xperia Pro-I showcases a long design, flattish sides, and a flat front and back, as we’ve come to expect from the Xperia 1 family’s recent smartphones. It also brings back the headphone jack, just like the Xperia 1 III, and sports a USB-C port, which can double up as a two-way display port. This means with the right connections, your Xperia Pro-I can act as an external monitor, just like the original Xperia Pro.
The frame is flat, but textured, with a thick striation that wraps around the whole phone giving it a ribbed effect. This makes the matte blasted aluminum frame of the Xperia Pro-I very easy to keep a hold of it,
With IP68 dust and water resistance, a Gorilla Glass Victus front, and a Gorilla Glass 6 back, it’s hardy, and despite its larger-than-most camera sensor, it isn’t too thick at 8.9mm thick – slightly thicker than the iPhone 13 Pro.
The three rear cameras are center-aligned in the top quarter of the phone, with the main camera vertically bookended by the telephoto and ultra-wide cameras. It also sports Zeiss branding, and there’s a time of flight (ToF) camera in the mix too.
While the Xperia Pro’s chassis was plastic, the Xperia Pro-I is glass and metal, so feels much richer. It’s also more compact, and its camera button is nothing short of a shutter release revelation when it comes to size and texture.
For starters, the shutter release is big and feels markedly different to the rest of the phone, so is very easy to fumble over and control. Being two-stage, it’s also intuitive for photographers, and a long-press of it opens up the camera app.
We don’t love how spongy the shutter button is on the Xperia 1-Pro. There isn’t that satisfying half-press resistance as found on most cameras, and we ended up resting our finger on it while taking a shot, not realizing we’ve locked FOCUS on occasion. If you want to fire up the video app, there’s a handy shortcut button alongside the shutter key that does the job.
As for the display, it’s a 10-bit OLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate, as well as HDR and BT.2020 color space support. Its 4K resolution gives it a competition-beating pixel density of 643 pixels per inch, which is overkill, but the screen runs at a virtual resolution of 1096 x 2560 most of the time.
The Xperia Pro-I enjoys the same display hardware as the Xperia 1 III, which is a good thing unless you need a super-bright screen. For folks living in bright, sunny climes, outdoor viewing might not be as easy as on an iPhone 13 Pro, or a Samsung Galaxy S21.
The phone’s screen is 6.5 inches, and with a 21:9 aspect ratio, the Pro-I is long and narrow, which makes the whole phone easy to clasp. Compared to the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, it feels classic and clean, and the fact it doesn’t have any notches or punch hole cameras is also refreshing. Instead, the bezels above and below the display are a bit weightier to accommodate that 8MP front camera.
Sony Xperia Pro-I camera specs
When news broke that the Xperia Pro-I would ship with a Type-1 sensor, the world assumed it would be 1-inch, just like that of the RX100. That, however, isn’t the case, with the phone’s sensor being nearer 1/1.33-inch.
Before we talk about the Xperia Pro-I more though, let’s stroll down memory lane and look at large smartphone sensors of old. The OG Nokia Pureview 808 is the first camera that springs to mind. This features a 41.3 megapixel 1/1.2 in CMOS FSI image sensor and was releasedin 2012.
Complete with a Xenon flash, the 808 Pureview was a true pioneer of a smartphone, but its antiquated operating system, Symbian, ensured it would never beat out the Android and iOS competition that was to follow. As for its photos, they were untouchable until AI computational photography took photo processing to new heights and eked out more natural-looking HDR shots and long exposure night modes.
What would the Pureview’s 2012 sensor look like with 2021 photo processing? Fast forward to 2021 and hardware-wise, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra shares some similarities. While it ups the resolution to 50MP, it features the same 1/1.2 sensor size. While Xiaomi’s camera phone isn’t perfect, its binned pixels deliver a combined pixel size of 2.8 μm, and the resulting depth of field it can capture is incredible.
If you think these two smartphones pale in the face of the Xperia Pro-I though, think again. The Xperia Pro-I’s 1.0-type Exmore RS sensor’s 1-inch sensor has been cropped in at 12MP to fit on the back of a slender phone, which results in it actually being smaller than an inch. That said, it delivers a pixel size of 2.4 μm. This is still huge for smartphones, and while it falls behind the pixel binned pixel size created by the Pureview 808 and Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra’s oversampled sensors, instead matching that of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and its 108MP sensor.
Sony doesn’t just pack in a large sensor with its Xperia Pro-I though, it also loads up the lens with a variable aperture – f/2 or f/4, and it matches the main camera with two prime lens additions – a 12MP, 1/2.5-inch, f/2.2, 16mm ultra-wide, and a 12MP, 1/2.9-inch, f/2.4, 50mm portrait lens. The primary camera and portrait lens sport OIS.
Sony also loads up not one, but three camera apps. The core camera app, Photo Pro is geared towards photography and shares the same core UI as Sony’s compact cameras. It records video, however, there are also two separate video apps. Yes, three pre-loaded apps that all record video – it’s starting to get a bit much.
Within Photo Pro, you can access Basic mode, which is the only option for an on-screen shutter release and feels the most like a smartphone camera app. Auto mode is akin to Basic mode in so far as it makes all the decisions for you, however, it offers up some FOCUS controls – single-shot AF or continuous AF, as well as the option to capture RAW photos. The phone also features Programme auto, Shutter speed priority, and Manual modes. In manual, the maximum selectable ISO is 12800, and the maximum shutter speed is 30 seconds.
As for the dedicated video apps, the first – Cinema Pro was introduced on the original Xperia 1, and the second, Video Pro is a new addition, featuring a more accessible UI, reminiscent of mirrorless cameras rather than cinema cameras.
Sony Xperia Pro-I camera performance
Sony has historically championed natural image processing when compared to Apple, Google, and Samsung, whose phones sharpen edges and boost shadows liberally. While many find Sony’s photos a touch lackluster by comparison, photographers and Sony fans have come to appreciate the Japanese brand’s more traditional take on imaging. This backdrop tees up the Xperia Pro-I perfectly.
The most obvious difference between Sony’s processing and that of the competition can be seen when capturing a backlit subject. As illustrated in the picture of the tree, the Xperia Pro-I captures the least amount of shadow detail in the foreground object, however, delivers the cleanest silhouette. While the Pixel 6 Pro captures the most balanced image, it also produces softer edges and what looks like ghosting. As for the iPhone, it boosts the shadows to the point of washing out the foreground, ramping up the saturation in the process to give the sky a glow, while the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra delivers a shot that sits between Apple and Google, and Sony.
The Xperia Pro-I’s photo is arguably the least Instagrammable, it’s the most dramatic, and a photographer who’s familiar with traditional photo processing will likely enjoy its processing style.
When matched with a steady hand, detail from the main camera is strong, though fails to deliver blur-free photos as consistently as some of its competition. Noise is handled relatively well on the Pro-I across photos and videos, and Sony helps its phone along by exposing shots less than the competition. While this means lower amounts of noticeable grain.
For maximum scope to edit photos, you’ll definitely want to shoot RAW, and ideally get the phone on a tripod or steadied on a surface with a long shutter time. Once you do, you’ll be able to salvage a fair amount of information, even from shadows.
The camera’s variable aperture is a welcome addition for anyone looking to capture close-up photos with a deeper depth of field. Either f/2 or f/4, it makes the Xperia Pro-I’s main camera a bit more versatile than that of the exceptionally shallow Mi 11 Ultra, and is also a welcome feature when capturing in bright conditions.
While you won’t get handheld night shots that go toe to toe with the Pixel 6 Pro – brightened up stylistically with an HDR veneer, the Xperia Pro-I does hold the shutter open for some subtle computational photography.
The main camera was a lot of fun to use in our fortnight with the phone, and the results impressed us – especially when we got to grips with how the Xperia Pro-I processes photos. The secondary cameras share this natural processing, however, lack the hardware to really stand out in the same way as the main camera.
The ultra-wide camera of the Xperia Pro-I is a fixed-FOCUS module with a 1/2.55-inch sensor. This is compared to the OPPO Find X3 Pro and its larger 1/1.56-inch sensor with an ultra-wide autofocus lens, and the Mi 11 Ultra, with its 1/2.0-inch sensor, also with autofocus. The results from the Xperia Pro-I’s ultra-wide are accordingly good, but certainly not best-in-class.
As for the telephoto camera, it’s a 50mm lens matched with a 1/2.9-inch sensor. Despite being able to capture some great photos, the Xperia 1 III with its dual focal length periscope camera outperforms the Pro-I when it comes to reach, as does the Google Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro.
As for video captured on the Xperia Pro-I, the results you get will largely depend on the camera app you use. We ended up shooting all our impromptu, incidental clips in the standard Photo Pro app, and only remembering to switch to Video Pro or Cinema Pro in testing. When we did, we really enjoyed it and the results reflected our more intentional approach to capturing video, however, we would have preferred all three apps to be centralized, or at least accessible from the default camera app.
Video noise handling is very impressive, bettering that of the iPhone 13 Pro and Pixel 6 Pro. The microphones also stack up well, and the phone’s stabilization works to great effect to counter hand shake. The result is smooth, steady video that looks great for a smartphone, available in a range of formats and aspect ratios, at up to 120fps in 4K.
Sony Xperia Pro-I specs
What also helps the Sony Xperia Pro-I stand out when compared to the original Xperia Pro are its guts. For starters, there’s a 2021-grade Snapdragon 888 chipset, and that’s matched with 12GB RAM – performance and multi-tasking weren’t a problem in our time with the phone.
The Pro-I also has a relatively large battery, clocking in at 4500mAh versus 4000mAh on the original Pro, and the battery charges faster. 30W versus 21W. The phone ships with a fast 30W charger, which powers up the Pro-I by 50 percent in 30 minutes. We found a full charge to last a full day comfortably, even with a fair amount of photo and video capture.
With 512GB storage in addition to microSD card expansion options, the Xperia Pro-I is a storage Champion, and with fast 5G data speeds, it’s also a handy tool for live-streaming too, averaging download speeds of around 300Mbps on EE in London.
Sony Xperia Pro-I: Verdict
There’s no doubt the Xperia Pro-I is niche. It’s also unique and exceptional for photographers and videographers thanks to three elements: its imaging hardware, software, and photo processing.
While we would have loved to have seen a 1-inch sensor on the Pro-I, Sony’s cropped Type-1 sensor is still larger than most, and delivers amongst the best photo quality on any smartphone around. Sony’s software also caters specifically to enthusiast photographers and videographers with extensive manual controls, and it processes photos like a camera would – not a mainstream smartphone.
Unlike the original Pro, the Pro-I isn’t let down by its specs, so for a certain type of user, it could be the best camera phone on the market. Held back from by its high price tag, adequate, but not exceptional secondary cameras, and lack of wireless charging, while it won’t be for everyone, it’s nevertheless a leap in the right direction for Sony, and hopefully a step towards a true Type-1 sensor smartphone.