Music is a big part of our lives. Although dedicated music players are now a thing of the past, music on your smartphone is still a big deal. Enter the Walkman, Sony's new Xperia E1 Dual wants to be the smartphone with a better audio experience for the bargain hunter. Although in terms of specs its just an entry-level device with a dual-core processor, 4-inch display and 512 MB RAM running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. But where it is supposed to excel is its audio capabilities which are amplified by the 100dB loud speakerphone and a set of free Sony headphones with the box. While we are seeing convergence between platforms and form-factors, do we still need a device with specific features that excel over others? Is the Sony Xperia E1 just a good music player and quite ordinary at everything else? That's what we will find out today in our Full Review.
- Vibrant Display
- Superb Performance
- Android 4.3
- Loud Speakerphone
- Free Sony MDR-ZX110A Headphones
- Secondary Noise-cancellation Microphone
- Quality accessories
- Below Average Camera
- No Autofocus
- No Front-camera
- Slightly bulky build
- Just SVGA Video Recording
- Apps not movable to SD card
The Sony Xperia E1 Dual is powered by one of the better processors in this segment, namely the 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon 200 MSM8210 chipset which also features the Adreno 302 GPU. Confirming its entry-level status is the presence of just 512 MB RAM but still it runs Android 4.3 which is a first in this segment. Sony is also working on a KitKat update for the Xperia E1 but there's no schedule to it. Moving to the back you will find a surprise there, a secondary noise-cancellation microphone which is definitely a value add. But then you have a disappointing 3-megapixel fixed focus camera with no flash and no front-facing counterpart as well.
The Xperia E1 Dual, as the name suggests is a dual-SIM phone with dual standby using two regular SIM card slots with quad-band support for global roaming on GSM. There's a microSD card slot in there as well which can take upto 32 GB storage. There's a 1700 mAH battery as well, which promises good battery life, more on that later.
There are a lot of sensors on the phone, including:
- Proximity Sensor
- Ambient Light Sensor
- Magnetic Field Sensor
- Orientation Sensor
- Rotation Vector Sensor
- Gravity Sensor
- Linear Acceleration Sensor
If we talk of hardware benchmarks, the Xperia E1 Dual was among the top-handsets in the segment:
- Antutu: 12369
- Quadrant: 5390
- NenaMark2: 55.4 FPS
- Vellamo HTML5: 1849
- Vellamo Metal: 474
USB OTG is not supported but you have WiFi, BlueTooth, Dual-SIM connectivity, quad-band global roaming, GPS as well as FM Radio. The GPS works quite well and is able to triangulate location within seconds.
You can have a look at all the accessories that come within the box, in the unboxing of the Xperia E1.
The Sony Xperia E1 has good build quality, it might be a tad bit thicker at 12 mm but it still feels good to hold. The matte backcover as well as rounded sides provide grip to hold the device. There are black strips on the sides which add a sense of style which and overall the phone is quite well designed.
At the top you have the 3.5 mm audio jack alongwith the dedicated Walkman key with several functions while at the bottom there's just a space to open the backcover.
On the left you have the microUSB data-syncing/charging port. On the right is Sony's signature round power lock/unlock button as well as the volume rocker. Both are sturdy, offer good feedback and are easily reachable.
Moving to the front you have the 4-inch WVGA display which has good viewing angles as well as color reproduction. It is covered under hard plastic front panel which is a bit tapered to the sides leaving no gap for dust and grime to collect. At the top of the display you have the Sony logo and to its right the proximity and ambient light sensor. Above these is the main earpiece, which is sufficiently loud and clear. You also have a notification LED to the left of the earpiece, while you will find Sony's signature visualizer LED just below the display as well. Why was there the need to include two lights on the phone is beyond comprehension. The LED below the display on lights up while playing music or charging themes, it has nothing to do with notifications. All notifications are shown using the top multi-color LED.
The 3 MP camera can be found at the back, alongwith the secondary noise-cancellation microphone just above it. You also have another Sony logo in the middle with a rather large speakerphone grill at the bottom with Xperia branding above it. The backcover is quite sturdy, it does bend but there's no flex. Plus the matte surface makes gripping the phone easier. It continues to the sides as well.
On opening the backcover you are greeted to two full-size SIM card slots on the left, next to the battery compartment which houses the 1700 mAh battery. Just above the battery compartment you have the microUSB data-syncing/charging port. The speakerphone is deceptively smaller than the grill in the backcover taking a fraction of the space to the left.
Overall the build of the device is good, it might be a bit thicker, but the rounded corners and sides with use of matte plastic makes the phone easy to grip. The design definitely screams Sony, but we really admire the smaller bezels to the display especially the top and bottom part which makes the Xperia M significantly taller that the Xperia E1 although both have 4-inch displays.
The Xperia E1 features a 4-inch TFT LCD panel which shows vibrant colors and good contrast. Outside visibility is not that high, but its acceptable given its entry-level nature. The touch-response and color reproduction of the display is good.
There's no ghosting of freezing of any kind in even high-framerate gameplay.
Network and Call Quality
Call quality is good due to the secondary noise cancellation microphone, your voice sounds much clearer to the other person. The earpiece is also quite loud, so you can easily carry on a conversation in a noisy environment.
The speakerphone too is quite loud and doesn't crackle when calls are put through it. GPS is able to get a precise lock on your location within seconds. WiFi connectivity is better than average and 3G download speeds are within acceptable limits.
The Sony Xperia E1 has a 3 MP fixed-focus camera and that's really its download. Being fixed focus, macro shots are impossible to take and even distant shots turn out a bit blurry. Lack of detail, noise and muddled images are the characteristics of this camera. Colors are dull, inaccurate and images turn out to be overexposed in the so-called HDR mode.
The camera interface is filled with options for various scene modes like soft snap, anti motion blur, landscape, backlight correction HDR, night portrait, gourmet, pet and more, but these are utterly useless since the camera can't take decent shots in even the best lighting.
You do have touch to capture available as well. Then there's video capture, Sony says that the Xperia E1 Dual can take upto 720p Videos, while the phone allows for only SVGA (600x800 pixels). Even then the video quality is downright pedestrian. You won't be recording your memories with this camera, and its good that you won't as all you will get is a garbled mess. The sound quality on the recording is loads better other phones due to noise-cancellation, but that's no compromise.
Here are the image samples taken with the 3 MP camera of the Xperia E1, you can see the full-resolution samples here.
The speakerphone is loud. Lets start with that. But it does tend to crackle a little bit at full volume if you have ClearAudio+ enabled. However, you can tweak the settings a little bit and get good sound from the loud speaker. You have an equalizer, ClearPhase and XLoud sound enhancements which affect the loudspeaker to a huge extent, we will talk more about them in the music section of the review.
During calls too the speakerphone is loud, clear and doesn't crackle there.
Music Playback and Walkman Key Functions
The Xperia E1 is more than a phone. It has a loud speakerphone and comes with an excellent set of Sony MDR-ZX110A cans which sound as good as they look. They have deep bass, the mids are a bit muddled and the high's are constrained. But still for the non-audiophile these sound good enough, especially when they come free.
First let's talk about the Walkman key that's placed at the top of the phone with the Walkman insignia opposite to the 3.5mm audio jack, showing its everything to do with music.
The key performs four functions mainly:
- You can bring up the Walkman player wherever you are, by just long tapping it. Even on the lockscreen, where it appears as a widget.
- By single-tapping on it, you can play or pause the currently track.
- On double-tapping you move to the next track in the list.
- There's one shuffle functions as well. For that you need to keep the Walkman key pressed and then shake your phone to play a random song from your playlist.
Then there's the visualizer LED, Sony's own way of identifying your album art's major color and then showing than in the LED just below the display. It looks neat and is unique to Sony Xperia smartphones but its novelty has begun fading.
Coming to the Walkman app, it was just updated to version 8.3.A.0.2 which brings a new interface where you have a side-panel to the left and the main dashboard of the app now shows tiles of all the music that you have, the next track in your list and a Most Played tracks playlist.
The Now Playing interface remains pretty much the horizontally scrollable album art covers which also change tracks. At the bottom you have the music playback control buttons and the progress slider. You can also favorite tracks. It has Gracenote for track details as well as Sony Jive integration. Using Jive you can legally download music for free.
In settings there is a lot you can do to personalize the sound of your E1. First up is ClearAudio+, Sony's own proprietary technology which tries to achieve that fabled S curve to make sound fuller and rich. It definitely adds a bit of artificial trickery to make the sound seem fuller with more bass and clarity. This mode will be enough for most users especially who are listening through their headphones, but if you want more control you can disable ClearAudio+ and that's where things get interesting.
Sony also puts in a Equalizer which you can customize, its a 5-band graphic equalizer so its limited in that respect but remember you are doing this on-the-fly on your phone. You can choose from one of the presents like Heavy, Pop, Jazz, Unique, Soul, Easy Listening, Bass Boost, Treble Boost and Custom settings as well. I found Easy Listening to be the best preset mode upon which you can customize to your own liking and even add a hint of bass to the mix with Sony's Clear Bass.
In Settings you have Clear Phase and xLOUD which dramatically change the sound from the loudspeaker. Clear Phase increases the high-frequencies without paying much attention to the mids or lows, while xLOUD amplifies the output to the speakerphone making it sound really loud. Both work as advertised, but with Clear Phase on, music generally seems shriller and voice takes a backstage. You also have a Clear Stereo option when you plugin your headsets which tries to get you the original stereo sound that the artist intended you to hear.
You can play 720p videos on the Sony Xperia E1 without any issues. The playback is smooth, no frame-drop and no stuttering.
Audio is always in-sync as well. Most 1080p videos either stutter or suffer audio sync issues. The video player is minimal in its interface but it does allow subtitles and has a repeat mode as well. You can expand the video to fill the display or fit to screen.
Software and Apps
Sony's skin on the Xperia E1 is actually usable. Although I have never been a fan of custom skins, the so-called Xperia UI (TimeScape UI for old-timers) is actually a better take on Android with its flashy animations to bold colors.
Starting with the lockscreen, the interface screams style. You need to either Swipe Up or Down to unlock the screen which shows a window shade effect while you are unlocking it.
Once unlocked you are at the homescreen which can now be 7 in number. On long tapping on any of the homescreens you will be greeted to a 3D view of them all alongwith option to add widgets, app shortcuts or change the wallpaper and theme. You can add widgets or App shortcuts to any homescreen from this interface. Just long tap on the app or widget and drag it to the homescreen you want it on. Simple, easy and effective.
Now coming to the App drawer, with Android 4.3 there are a few changes. You get a side-drawer to the left of the apps using which you can enter uninstall mode, change the sort order for apps, search for particular apps or just to the Play Store or Sony Select to download more. So no more clutter of tabs or menus, everything just a swipe to the left.
The notification drop-down has also been customized to brilliant effect. Instead of having to go into another interface to access your quick toggles, Sony includes them in the main drop-down. You can have upto 8 quick toggles which are customizable. You can also jump into Settings from there. Xperia-Apps, the mini apps which could be opened through the multitasking UI have been axed.
You have a Personalization option in Settings which lets you change the Theme of your phone which includes wallpapers for the lockscreen and homescreens and the Accent Color of the interface. You can also customize the wallpapers without changing the theme and also change the quick toggles or quick settings in the notification drop-down from right here. You also have smart dual-SIM settings which forwards the call to the other SIM card when one is unreachable. You have an option to disable the notification light in Display settings, another neat option. You have the general options available in Security namely, pattern, pin or password.
Then there's a diagnostic mode in About, using which you can test the hardware of the device including the buttons, speaker, display and pretty much everything and get a complete report.
Web Browsing is fast which is aided by the excellent touch-response from the display. Text looks crisp and it re-flows quickly while zooming in or scrolling through large web pages. The Xperia E1 is never overwhelmed with how large web pages are even though it comes with just 512 MB RAM.
Gaming performance is superb with the Adreno 302 GPU. But the only caveat here is that you are limited to 2 GB storage and apps as well as app-data are not movable to the SD card. So, even though the phone is capable of playing high-end games in low-med settings, you just can't play more than one high-end game at a time due to this restriction.
But we still tried to play as many as possible including Asphalt 7, Dead Trigger 2, Riptide GP2, Frontline Commando: D-day, GT Racing 2, Temple Run 2, Real Football 2013 and Subway Surfers. There just wasn't enough space to install larger games. But all these games performed brilliantly without any lag or framerate issues. The graphics quality was good as well.
All social networking apps including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc work fine. You can even make Skype video calls using the rear camera, but then you would have to stand in front of a mirror to talk.
In terms of general performance there is no beating the E1 Dual. Everything just sails through. The interface is fluid, animations slick and response top-noth. With an impending Android 4.4 KitKat update, things are only going to get better as KitKat is optimized for devices with 512 MB RAM. But even today, the Xperia E1 performs much better than, say the Galaxy S Duos 2 which has 768 MB RAM and is still bogged down by that heavy TouchWIz UI. You can read more alongwith a comprehensive comparison with other similarly priced handsets in our Benchmark Review.
You also get the new Xperia Keyboard which has swipe like functionality built-in. You also have SensMe visualization and album slideshows, which recognizes the content of your images, groups them together and plays a beautiful slideshow with music.
Apps open quickly, web browsing is effortless on a fast connection and the touch-response is again great. Overall this is a very zippy phone which handles multitasking well.
You can easily get more than a days worth of usage with the Xperia E1 even with some gaming and music playback over the speakerphone. Sony Xperia E1 also comes with an improved Stamina mode for the battery alongwith a low battery mode which just keeps the essential services running while reducing the usage of any power consuming activities. It boosts battery life by quite an extent and gives your phone that extra lease of life when needed.
You can customize the low-power mode so that it is enabled only when your battery falls below the chosen percentage. You can also choose which connectivity options like GPS, Data, WiFi etc should remain on even if your phone has entered low-power mode. Then there's stamina mode which shuts down services in standby mode to prolong battery life, you can also allow certain applications to bypass this restriction and continue working in the background.
The Xperia E1 seems more like a niche product. It tries to be the jack of all trades and still achieves mastery in atleast one aspect, music. Its more a music playback device than a phone. Everything on the phone is catered towards making it a better music player.
Don't get me wrong, everything else on the phone apart from the camera is second to none in this segment. But Sony has purely focused on the music credentials of the Xperia E1 and they have succeeded there to an extent. But at a time when devices across platforms and form-factors are converging, do we really need a music-centric, a camera-centric, a gaming-centric device? Probably not.
We want "1" phone that can do everything, do it well and cost less at the same time. The Xperia E1 ticks most of those checkmarks, but software restrictions on storage, an abysmal camera and lack of a front-facing camera just makes it second fiddle to the rest of the phones in the segment.