Our full review of the Sony Xperia E1 smartphone, an £80 mobile with a focus on music, with a dedicated Walkman button.
Oh look, another sub-£100 smartphone. We’ve only gone and reviewed two of these already in the past week: Motorola’s Moto E (£89.99 here in the UK) and Nokia’s Lumia 630 (£89.95, a cheeky four pence cheaper). Both of those phones boast strong design and impressive specs given the under £100 asking price, so the Sony Xperia E1 stumbles into the budget party with plenty to prove.
You can actually pick up the Xperia E1 for less than the Moto E and Lumia 630 here in the UK - it’s just £80 on O2 Pay & Go. The Xperia E1’s specs aren’t quite as strong, with a smaller 4-inch screen and 3-megapixel camera on offer, but Sony’s hoping to appeal to music fans with the dedicated Walkman button and a ‘super loud’ speaker. Can it really shout out over its affordable rivals?
Sony Xperia E1 design: That old Xperia feeling
Sony’s Xperia smartphones all rock a similar design, and the Xperia E1 basically looks like a dumpy, squashed version of the Xperia Z2. It may be the ugly sister, but the plastic shell feels rugged enough to survive a battering, while its more expensive brethren would probably shatter under the same punishment. The only weak spot is the soft display, which bends in far too easily under duress.
Of course, the Xperia E1 isn’t waterproof like the flagship phone, so don’t go playing with it in the bath, or taking selfies in the shower.
The Xperia E1 is dinky enough to comfortably hold and fiddle with using one hand, and you can prise off the back to reveal the battery and microSD memory card slot. This phone uses old-school full-sized SIM cards for some reason, so if you’re using a micro SIM you’ll either need to fiddle with it until the connectors are lined up right, or buy a cheapy SIM convertor.
The black handset is a little boring, but you can also pick up the Xperia E1 in white or purple, and the white model actually looks quite fetching, kind of.
Sony Xperia E1 features: Walkman-tastic
We used to like the Sony Walkman phones back in the day, and Sony has resurrected the beloved Walkman button for the Xperia E1. The button sits proudly on top of the phone, and holding it in brings up the Walkman app, while a quick prod at any time starts or stops your music.
Hold the Walkman button down when the Xperia E1’s hibernating and music controls will pop up on the lock screen, so you can easily pause or skip your track without unlocking the mobile.
Sadly, the built-in speaker is, to put it bluntly, absolute pants. We weren’t exactly expecting to have our ears blown off, but the sound is weak and tinny even compared to the Moto E, a fellow budget handset. You’ll definitely want to use earphones to enjoy your music.
Sony has thrown in its usual smattering of apps besides the Walkman, which link to services such as Music and Video Unlimited. Android 4.3 Jelly Bean sports the same Sony look and feel as more premium models, although the desktops don’t animate as you swish around, a smart decision given the basic processor.
Sony Xperia E1 performance and battery life: App-rehensive
With a few subtle tweaks like that, the Xperia E1 runs Android pleasingly well. Sure, you get the occasional tremor or stutter while flicking through menus, but nothing serious. However, start to fiddle around in apps and things slow down a little. There’s normally a short pause while apps load, and the likes of Google Play and YouTube proved quite jittery at times. Still, games such as Contra and Despicable Me ran with a sooth frame rate and were perfectly playable.
You can expect more or less a full day of use from each charge, and if you try streaming video non-stop, you’ll get about five hours of battery life. That’s more or less the same result as the Moto E and Lumia 630.
Sony Xperia E1 screen and media: Meh
The Xperia E1’s 4-inch TFT screen with 800x480-pixel resolution is sharper than the Nokia Lumia 630’s 4.5-inch display, but still lacks the clarity of the budget Motorolas (the Moto G in particular, with its 720p HD screen). Compared even with the more basic Moto E, we found the Xperia E1 disappointed for overall image quality.
While colours appear rich and vibrant on the Moto E, they looked washed-out on the Xperia E1. Thankfully viewing angles are okay, and the screen is bright enough to counter some pretty harsh glare.
The inclusion of a microSD memory card slot means you can happily expand the almost non-existent built-in storage space, to carry around your music and movie collection on long journeys.
Sony Xperia E1 camera: Simple snapper
The 3-megapixel camera is another disappointment, from the slow shutter speed to the eventual results. There’s no flash, just like the Motorola Moto E and Nokia Lumia 630, so you’re limited to snapping away in brightly lit environments. And like the Nokia Lumia 630 there’s no auto or manual focus, so up-close macro shots are a blurry, ugly mess.
Outdoor shots normally come out fine, certainly decent enough to share on Facebook and the like, although white areas are sometimes over-exposed. You have a selection of manual controls to play around with if you demand finer results, and the Picture Effect feature allows you to add all kinds of kooky effects and filters.
You can also shoot movie up to 800x600 resolution.
Sony Xperia E1 verdict
Although the Xperia E1 is billed by Sony as a music phone, the built-in speaker is far too weak to back this up. And as an affordable mobile, it simply can’t compete with its rivals. Check out one of Motorola’s sub-£100 smartphones or the Nokia Lumia 630 instead, all compared in our ‘best phone under £100’ feature.