Sony’s handset range runs the gamut from the latest high flyer, the new £599 Xperia Z2, through to the middle of the range £239 Xperia SP via the £349 Xperia Z – with a few models in between. Sitting at the most affordable end of the spectrum, the £99 Xperia E has recently been updated, and as is the Sony way, it has been called the Xperia E1.
Coming in at £119 SIM-free, the Xperia E1 is a handset competing with the likes of the £99 Acer Liquid Z5 and, if you are prepared to stretch your budget a little, the £150 8GB Motorola Moto G. It is also up against the newly available EE Kestrel, the £99 4G handset which went on sale at the start of the month, which I will be reviewing shortly.
The Xperia E1 is a small handset, with a thick – 12mm – chassis and a completely plastic build. The backplate on my review sample was white, and this bleeds around the edges and is visible as a band around the front screen surround. Embedded into the white on all four edges are thick black bands which play host to all the buttons and connectors. On the black version of the phone the colour variance is not really apparent (you can also get a purple version).
There’s a big plus in that the plastic from which this phone’s chassis is made is quite robust, making this a pretty solid handset. It ought to carve a niche out for itself in school kids’ bags and while it might get a bit scratched in amongst all the other bits and bobs, it stands a good chance of remaining intact.
The phone is small – and it has a small screen at 4in. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the 800 x 480 pixel TFT is rather ropey. Viewing angles are not great, the screen is very reflective, and pixellation is evident. Beneath the screen there’s a long, narrow light that will pulse at various times. I’ve seen this light before in Sony handsets, and it’s a bit “meh” in my opinion.
Sony is bigging up the processor, saying that the 1.2 GHz Qualcomm MSM8210 dual-core processor is the most powerful in a handset of this class. Sony goes on to quote some research from November 2013. Okay – but if you add a few pennies to the cost of this phone you can get the Motorola Moto G. That rocks a quad-core processor and knocks the other specs of this handset into a cocked hat, too.
I found things moved a bit slowly for my liking. The screen was not exactly in the rapid response league, and web pages rendered slowly. On several occasions I sat and watched while the ITProPortal site manifested slowly in Chrome. This speed issue is likely down to the mere 512MB of RAM that’s supporting the processor.
Buttons and connectors are the usual bunch apart from one. Sony’s trademark round power button and a volume rocker are on the right, with the microUSB charge connector on the left. The headset slot is on top.
This handset is primarily about the music, and on the top edge of the phone there’s a Walkman button. Any guesses as to what that does? Yes indeed, it launches the Walkman player. Even when the screen is off, a long press will open you into the lock screen, which shows a tiny player control. You can tap at the on-screen controls to resume playback from whatever point you stopped at last time, or just press the Walkman button to toggle pause and play. The handset remembers what you were listening to even if you have switched it off between audio sessions.
To get into the Walkman app you can long press the physical Walkman button once the handset is switched on, or tap the app icon in the old fashioned way.
Look at the back of the phone and you will see a huge speaker grille. Sony says the Xperia E1 has a 100 decibel speaker with Clear Audio and xLOUD technologies in support. The former apparently minimises distortion, while the latter gives you enhanced bass and richer sound. Well, there’s no doubting the volume this speaker is capable of – it’s certainly loud, but the quality is not fantastic with bass distinctly lacking. It is obviously in another league because it is a flagship phone, but the HTC One M8 currently sets the standard for handset speaker quality.
Pop in headphones and things get a lot better – the set provided by Sony delivered pretty good sound. I could certainly live with them, aside from the fact that they’re flat earbuds of the kind that simply won’t stay in my ears.
The Walkman player has the same features you’ll find on other new Sony handsets. It’s richly featured and includes connected options like the ability to share tunes with Facebook friends, download music info, look stuff up online like YouTube videos, Wikipedia and lyrics searches, and, heaven help us, you can find karaoke videos. Furthermore, it’s possible to stream music from other devices, as well.
If all this feels like too much to handle, the standard Android music player is here too, and if you’d rather have a different kind of audio, then there’s an FM radio.
Android 4.3 has had a Sony makeover. One of the features I like about Sony’s skin, which crops up on all its recent phones, is the way you can sideswipe out a menu in the apps drawer and reorder apps by alphabetical, most used, installed, or a personal order. It helps make sense of the load of extra apps Sony likes to install; though to be fair to Sony on that front, the Xperia E1 has less Sony-bloat than the Xperia Z2 suffers from.
Of the 4GB of memory that’s built into the Xperia E1 there was just 1.4GB free out of the box, and after the handset had performed some updates this was down to 1.1GB. You will be using a microSD card to store all your local music, and you can (just about) hot-swap cards without removing the battery.
There’s no front-facing camera, in case you were wondering. The back camera shoots at a mere 3 megapixels and it has no flash. Battery life is reasonable, but more would definitely have been welcome in a handset that’s supposed to major on music playback, and I suspect some music fans will struggle to get through a day on a single charge.
Sony has tried to differentiate the Xperia E1 from the rest of the budget-level handsets by giving it a music major. I’m a big fan of the Walkman button, and the Walkman app, while not unique to this phone, is feature rich and a nice thing to have. The build quality of the E1 is robust, too.
However, the handset is a bit laggy in performance, is very short on internal storage, and for a bit more cash you can get the Moto G, which offers quite a lot more punch if not the same speaker volume or expandable storage.
Manufacturer and Model
Sony Xperia E1
1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8210
4GB (1.1GB available)
4in, 800 x 480 pixels, 233ppi
62.4 x 12 x 118mm (WxDxH)