Opinion, Smartphone

Sony Xperia Pro-I – Will the Camera-First Approach Work?

Sony has always focused quite a bit on the camera performance of its flagship smartphones, but the new Sony Xperia Pro-I takes it to a whole new level. After all, the Japanese company is not just positioning this as a smartphone: it’s also touted as “an exciting addition to Sony’s camera line-up.”

This is because the Xperia Pro-I features a 1.0-type Exmor RS sensor for its 12MP primary rear camera; similar to the sensor found in Sony’s well-loved (and very capable) RX100 VII camera. But assuming the Pro-I can deliver the same camera performance as the RX1000 VII…is it good enough to make it a compelling flagship smartphone?

Well, yes and no. Though I believe there will be folks who will be attracted to the photography prowess of the Xperia Pro-I – though the true capability of the camera system still remains to be seen right now – the high asking price of the phone makes it a hard sell.

Naturally, the Malaysian pricing of the Xperia Pro-I has not been revealed yet, even if it’s said to be available here as soon as December 2021. But we can take the US pricing of the phone to put its value proposition in context. Set to retail at a steep $1,800 in the US market, that comes up to about RM7,470 – definitely a premium asking price.

At this price point, the Xperia Pro-I has to contend with a number of other smartphones with their own unique features. These include the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 – the foldable phone retails from RM6,699 to RM7,099 – and of course, the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which starts at “only” RM5,299.

Compared to these “mainstream” offerings, the Xperia Pro-I does fall short in a number of vital areas. Next to the Galaxy Z Fold 3, for example, it’s immediately not as eye-catching. Not only does Samsung’s offering has an impressive, awe-inspiring foldable form factor, it even offers better value for money.

As for the iPhone 13 Pro Max, it features one of the fastest – if not the fastest – chips on a smartphone, the Apple A15 Bionic. It offers performance levels Android phones can only dream of, and for mobile gamers that want the best gaming experience money can buy, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is as good as it gets.

Of course, it is also an iPhone, which has no shortage of fans.

In contrast, the only thing the Xperia Pro-I has going for itself is the promise of “professional imaging quality.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that Sony is leveraging its imaging expertise with this flagship phone, but the phone needs more than just excellent camera performance to succeed, in my opinion.

Granted, the Xperia Pro-I certainly has the hardware of a high-end flagship smartphone. Complementing the impressive 12MP primary sensor are a 12MP telephoto lens with a 50mm focal length, as well as a 12MP ultra-wide angle shooter. These three focal lengths are versatile enough for the phone to deliver a flagship-grade camera experience.

Aside from that, the Xperia Pro-I also has a sharp and vibrant 6.5-inch 4K OLED screen with a fast 120Hz refresh rate, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset paired with 12GB of RAM, 512GB of expandable storage, an 8MP selfie camera, a 4,500mAh battery, and an IP65/IP68 rating.

But even so, there’s not enough “wow factor” for the Xperia Pro-I to justify its steep asking price. Again, let’s assume it can really deliver an amazing camera performance; is it worth spending $1,800 for the camera system alone? Sure, some folks will say it’s worth it, but I reckon the majority of folks will say otherwise.

There’s much more to a smartphone than just camera performance alone; it’s also important for a particular device to excel in other regards. It’s no secret that Sony’s smartphone business has seen better days, and it’s unlikely that the Xperia Pro-I can turn things around.

That being said, it’s not fair to pass judgment on the Sony Xperia Pro-I without having even seen the actual phone in person. While a “camera-first phone” may not sound as compelling as a phone with a foldable display or the fastest mobile chip in the market, if Sony can truly deliver an amazing camera performance with the Pro-I…it may win over enough folks.

Well, maybe. Once we have the Xperia Pro-I in for review, we’ll find out for sure if its camera performance alone can justify such a high asking price. Hopefully, Sony Malaysia will bring in the flagship phone to the local market in December 2021 as promised.

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