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Sony Xperia E3 Review: In Depth

2.5
The grainy display and iffy camera make it a difficult phone to recommend...

The Good

  • 4G
  • Nice design
  • Expandable storage

The Bad

  • Cramped, low-res screen
  • Iffy camera

We review the Sony Xperia E3, Sony’s most affordable 4G phone to date at just under £100. But is it great value for money, or do rival budget phones beat it into the dust?

For £100, you can bag yourself quite a few 4G phones these days. One of our favourites, the EE Kestrel, offers ridiculous value at just £99, while the Huawei Ascend 550 will barely dent your wallet at just £79.

So Sony’s Xperia E3, a 4G phone hitting UK stores with a £99 price tag, has an unenviable and undeniably tough fight on its hands. How does it really fare against rival cheapy handsets? Here’s our full Xperia E3 review.

Design

The Xperia E3 retains Sony’s standard design ethos, rocking a distinctive sharp-angled body with the iconic rounded power button, but of course things have been pared back from premium handsets such as the Xperia Z3.

So instead of a matching glossy back to compliment the front of the phone, the Xperia E3 sports a rubbery rear that feels nice in the palm. As a positive, the soft-touch backing makes the E3 easier to grip, with none of the slipperiness of the Xperia Z3 and Xperia Z3 Compact. However, the Xperia E3 sadly also loses the water resistance of those handsets, so don't go dropping it in your pint or down the bogs.

It’s a chunky little chappy and quite heavy despite its dinky build, but the Xperia E3 won’t weigh down your pocket and the heft gives it a more premium feel. You can prise off the back to expose the phone’s innards (kinky), including a non-removable battery, micro SIM slot and micro SD slot.

Screen

Sadly the Xperia E3 starts to show its budget side with the 4.5-inch screen, which seems to be far too small for its body. Those wide bezels are all the more obvious when you pose the Xperia E3 next to the also-new Lumia 535, which has almost the same dimensions yet sports a larger 5-inch display that makes the most of the room available.

Once you get used to the fact that the screen is rather squashed, you’ll probably notice that it’s not too hot. As a budget panel it does the job, proving bright enough to counter sun glare and responsive enough for comfortable web browsing and so on. However, rivals such as the EE Kestrel offer sharper screens (that 854x480 resolution gives just 218 pixels-per inch), with individual pixels not so obvious. The Xperia E3’s screen is also a smudge magnet, with finger grease covering the surface all too easy and proving quite noticeable.

Make sure you don’t push too hard on the surface either, as you’ll get some wicked distortion - a result of the screen’s surface being rather soft and flexible.

Features

The Xperia E3 cuts back on features in order to keep the price down, but the big inclusion is 4G LTE support, so you can enjoy fast web browsing and media streaming here in the UK.

Sony has of course included its music and movies services, so you can stream tunes and the latest films for a small fee. You also get the usual selection of Sony apps, whether you like them or not, pre-installed on the phone. That wouldn’t be a massive issue if the Xperia E3 didn’t come packing a measly 1.75GB of storage space, half of which is already filled with crap.

Luckily you can uninstall any apps you don’t like the look of, and the phone’s storage is also expandable via micro SD memory card, so just a small investment gives you all the space you’ll need.

Performance and battery life

Unsurprisingly, the Sony Xperia E3 packs a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, the chipset of choice for cheapy phones. It holds up quite well, keeping Android 4.4 KitKat running reasonably smoothly. There’s occasionally a pause when you’re waiting for apps to open and we noticed some stuttering when playing a few of our games, but it’s nothing particularly troublesome for a budget blower.

We happily made it through a full day with the Xperia E3 on each battery charge, without having to keep our eyes locked on the percentage bar. If you stream movies non-stop you’ll get around five hours of battery life, a perfectly average result for modern phones.

Camera

Sony’s premium phones pack some of the very best camera tech you’ll find in a mobile device, but the Xperia E3 is a budget phone, so don’t expect wonders from the 5-megapixel snapper.

To be fair, you can shoot 1080p video and Sony has bundled some of its funky camera features, including Vine (quickly cobble together six-second video clips to share online) and AR effect (add weird cartoon images to your shots in real-time, a real favourite with the kiddiewinks).

The camera’s fine for shooting quick photos of friends and family when you’re out and about, as long as you snap in daylight. There is an LED flash, but our photos looked rather hazy and grainy even when using it. Our close-up shots, for instance of food, were a mixed bag. Occasionally the focus struggled to keep things sharp and it took a couple of attempts to get a usable shot.

A basic VGA camera on the front of the phone can be used to video chat or take really soft, blurry selfies.

Verdict

Sony’s Xperia E3 is one of a growing number of sub-£100 4G phones, and it brings some slick design with it, but there are better rivals for the same or lesser cost. The grainy display and iffy camera ultimately make it a difficult phone to recommend, even though it does its job, allowing you to stream media and browse the web with satisfying LTE speeds.

Key Specs

  • 4.5-inches
  • 480x854 pixels
  • 144g
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 5-megapixel
  • VGA
  • 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400
  • 1GB
  • 4GB (1.5GB usable)
  • Yes

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