At $2,500, the Sony Xperia Pro is so much more than a phone

The device has HDMI input that lets you use it as a field monitor for a standalone camera and even broadcast a live video signal to a platform like YouTube.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
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.
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  • 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.
Patrick Holland
5 min read
Sony Xperia Pro

Here's the Sony Xperia Pro mounted on a Sony A7S III mirrorless camera. An HDMI cable allows you to use the Pro's 4K display as a field monitor.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Over the past few years, with  phones like the Xperia 1 II (read as "one mark two") and the Xperia 5 II, Sony's moved away from mainstream appeal and aimed itself at photo and video enthusiasts. The new Sony Xperia Pro is the most extreme example of this move to date. The $2,500 phone (which converts roughly to £1,830 or AU$3,250) isn't meant to compete with the likes of the iPhone 12 Pro Max or the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Its  HDMI  input transforms it from a phone into several other devices for photographers, videographers and live broadcasters.

Remember in 2007, when Steve Jobs first announced the original iPhone? He teased the audience saying that he had three revolutionary products to release: a widescreen iPod, a phone and an internet communicator. I'd be the first to stop any comparisons between the Xperia Pro and the original iPhone . But following Jobs' formula, the Xperia Pro is four products: a phone, a camera monitor, a speedy photo file transfer device and a  5G machine suitable for broadcasting and livestreaming.

The Xperia Pro aims to fill the void left by the 2018 Red Hydrogen One phone, which lost itself in the world of 3D (or 4V as Red called it) and disappointed filmmaking enthusiasts and professionals who hoped for the ultimate video recording phone. Aside from a cameo on Dominic Toretto's dashboard in the F9 trailer, the Hydrogen line of phones shut down at the end of 2019 when Red's CEO and founder Jim Jannard retired.

Sony Xperia Pro

The Sony Xperia Pro comes in black. In certain light it looks dark gray. The back and the sides of the phone are in what seems like a built-in case.

Patrick Holland/CNET

I got my hands on a preproduction Xperia Pro, which only had support for mmWave 5G (the final phone will support both sub-6 and mmWave 5G). The Pro is essentially an Xperia 1 II repackaged into a new and bigger body, complete with a micro-HDMI port and a USB-C port. The back and the sides of the phone are covered by what seems like a built-in case. Gone is the glass back on the Xperia 1 II.

The Xperia Pro has a dedicated shutter button, a new shortcut button and a side-mounted power button and fingerprint reader. It has the exact same cameras as the Xperia 1 II. Powering the Pro is a Snapdragon 865 5G chip and 12GB of RAM. There's an easy-to-open dual-SIM card tray that can also be used with a microSD card for extra storage. Even before you connect a dedicated camera to its HDMI port, the Xperia Pro is capable of taking excellent photos and videos.

On paper, the HDMI input along with the Xperia Pro's 6.5-inch 4K display and 5G connectivity make it an ideal companion for photographers, video shooters and content creators. There's so much to test and I'm really looking forward to it.

The Xperia Pro's $2,500 price will definitely cause sticker shock. But if you add up its functionality (phone, 4K monitor, 5G cellular modem) the price becomes easier to swallow. And for a certain type of creative, the Xperia Pro could be worth every penny. The Xperia Pro is now for sale in the US.

Sony Xperia Pro as a camera field monitor

On the bottom of the phone you'll find the USB-C port on the left and the micro-HDMI port with a cover in the middle. To use the Xperia Pro as a field monitor, simply plug in an HDMI cable from a camera (with a micro-HDMI connector at one end), turn the camera on and open up the aptly named External Monitor app on the Xperia Pro.

Depending on your camera's settings and output, you'll see a preview of what you're filming on the Xperia. Unlike many camera monitors, the Xperia Pro lets you use it like a phone. To zoom the image in or out, simply pinch the screen. The app has tools for screen lock, brightness control, zooming, grid lines, frame lines and a 180-degree image flip.

Sony Xperia Pro

A typical 4K camera monitor costs hundreds of dollars. The Xperia Pro can become a 6.5-inch monitor and it doesn't need external batteries.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Smartly, Sony hasn't made any of the functionality proprietary. I tried the Pro out with both a Sony A7SIII and a Panasonic S1H mirrorless camera and the app worked great for both. The Xperia Pro's display supports 10-bit color, but currently the monitor app only supports 8-bit video. Sony says an update to 4:2:2 10-bit video is planned.

A typical 4K camera monitor costs hundreds of dollars. The Xperia Pro can become a 6.5-inch monitor without the typical bulk of most monitors. As a monitor, you can still interact with it like a phone. And best of all it doesn't require heavy external batteries to power it.

The Xperia Pro for live streaming and broadcast

The combination of 5G and the micro-HDMI port allows you to stream live video from a dedicated external camera via the Xperia Pro. It can connect directly to social media platforms like YouTube . That means I can use a Sony A7SIII mirrorless camera and nice lens to capture video live and have the Xperia Pro upload the video signal over 5G (preferably mmWave) to whichever broadcast platform I'm using.

In terms of live streaming, there's a lot to be skeptical of here. But I am excited to test its abilities thoroughly. Over the past months, an interesting proof of concept similar to the Xperia Pro was on full display along the sidelines of NFL games. NFL Gameday host Mike Garafolo shared a photo on Twitter of a camera rig nicknamed The Megalodon which was used by the Fox NFL broadcast crew. The rig is made up of Sony A7 IV mirrorless camera, a gimbal, a monitor and a cellular modem (in the backpack) which shares the video signal to the broadcast truck. It's not hard to imagine an Xperia Pro being used in lieu of the cellular modem or the monitor.

To help you self broadcast, Sony built a Network Visualizer app that displays upload and download speeds in real time. The app can become a PIP window and run over any app you're using for broadcast.

Sony Xperia Pro

The Sony Xperia Pro mounted vertically on a camera with the Network Visualizer app opened. I should note that there wasn't a mmWave 5G connection where I photographed the phone.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Xperia Pro can upload photos quickly to an FTP server

The Xperia 5 II brought support for USB-C tethering to the Sony A7SIII for speedy photo file transfers to a file transfer protocol server. The Xperia Pro inherits the same ability. But with the addition of 5G, you could have even faster speeds -- in theory.

Compare Sony Xperia Pro specs vs. Sony Xperia 1 II, Sony Xperia 5 II

Sony Xperia ProSony Xperia 1 IISony Xperia 5 II
Display size, resolution 6.5-inch 4K HDR OLED; 3,840x1,644 pixels6.5-inch 4K HDR OLED; 3,840x1,644 pixels6.1-inch FHD+ HDR OLED; 2,520x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 643ppi643ppi449ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.7×3×0.4 in6.5×2.8×0.3 in6.22x2.68x0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 170.2x76.2x10.16 mm165.1x71.1x7.62 mm158x68x8 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7.9 oz; 225g6.4 oz; 181g5.75 oz; 163g
Mobile software Android 10Android 10Android 10
Camera 12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 12-megapixel (3x telephoto)12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 12-megapixel (3x telephoto)12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 12-megapixel (3x telephoto)
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K
Processor Snapdragon 865 5GSnapdragon 865Snapdragon 865
Storage 512GB256GB128GB
Expandable storage Up to 1TBUp to 1TBUp to 1TB
Battery 4,000 mAh4,000 mAh4,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor Right sideRight sideRight side
Headphone jack YesYesYes
Special features 5G sub-6 and mmWave, rated IP 65/68, adaptive battery charging and care, Dolby ATMOS, Zeiss lens coatings, time of flight sensor, hardware shutter button, hardware shortcut button5G-enabled (not in US), wireless charging, rated IP 65/68, adaptive battery charging and care, Dolby ATMOS, Zeiss lens coatings, time of flight sensor, hardware shutter button5G-enabled (not in US), 120Hz refresh rate display, rated IP 65/68, adaptive battery charging and care, Dolby ATMOS, Zeiss lens coatings, time of flight sensor, hardware shutter button, hardware Google Assistant button
Price off-contract (USD) $2,500$1,200$950
Price (GBP) Converts to £1,830£1,099£799
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$3,250Converts to AU$1,710Converts to AU$1,350
Watch this: Sony Xperia 5 II in-depth review

Correction, Jan. 27: The Sony Xperia Pro uses a micro HDMI for video input.