Introduction, key features and design
The Sony Xperia E5 is the cheapest Android smartphone in Sony’s current lineup; however, the Japanese electronics giant has never done budget particularly well – it’s a premium brand – and the entry-level Android smartphone space has never been more competitive, so the Xperia E5 has its work cut out if it’s going to make an impression.
Expectations of what you can get for your money in the budget sphere have changed dramatically in the last couple of years, with the Moto line and a flood of Chinese newcomers offering increasingly impressive handsets at ever-decreasing prices.
The Xperia E5 does have one foot in the mid-range, but the boundaries between categories are becoming more and more blurred.
The MediaTek processor, 1.5GB of RAM and 5-inch 720p display are slightly below par for a smartphone at this price, but the 13MP main camera is a pleasant surprise, while the classic, industrial Sony design is classier than some of the competition.
Is that enough? With such a wealth of strong alternatives to choose from, can Sony really make its presence felt at the less premium end of the market with the Xperia E5?
Sony style for the snap-happy
Two things immediately stand out about the Sony Xperia E5: the sexy design and the 13MP camera. If you love Sony’s style, then the E5 is going to appeal.
The E5’s budget predecessors have always resembled ugly cousins to Sony’s main lines – a little too chubby and squat to draw any admiring glances. But the E5 doesn’t look out of place next to the current Xperia X lineup. This is a phone you won’t be ashamed to pull out of your pocket.
Sony has also thrown a 13MP main camera into the mix here, alongside a selfie-friendly 5MP front-facing snapper. On paper that’s a major draw for a phone this price, and it’s a good performer in favourable conditions, although there are issues with low-light shots.
The camera app has also been updated from those in previous budget Sony phones, and offers a manual mode, so you can tweak settings to your heart’s content. We’ll dig into the camera some more, and look at a few sample images, in the camera section.
Design and display
- A design you won’t be ashamed to pull out of your pocket
- Everything looks sharp on the 720p display
You can tell at a glance that the Xperia E5 is part of the Sony family. It’s a gently rounded rectangle with big bezels top and bottom.
Like the Sony Xperia X, XA and X Performance, the Xperia E5 sports a 5-inch display. Sony seems to have decided that five inches is the optimum size for a smartphone display, and while everyone else goes large, Sony has recalibrated its lineup to this more manageable size.
The E5 is also about the same size as its relations in terms of dimensions, just a tiny bit thicker, measuring 144 x 69 x 8.2mm. It’s lighter, too, at 147g, thanks to its polycarbonate construction, but the matte finish feels and looks good.
You’ll find the micro USB port for charging on the bottom edge, the headphone jack up top, and a fiddly flap that opens to reveal the SIM card and microSD card slots on the left spine.
It’s when you look at the buttons on the right edge that you notice the first major departure from Sony’s Xperia X phones – there’s no dedicated camera button.
We usually find one at the bottom of the right spine, in the perfect place to press when you hold the phone in landscape view, as you naturally do to snap a shot. This is a real shame, especially since the camera is the star of the show here.
There’s also, unsurprisingly, no fingerprint sensor in the power button. In fact, the E5 doesn’t even get the old, circular, silver signature power button, as on the Xperia XA. There’s just a tiny plastic lozenge for the power button, with a volume rocker above it.
For some reason, Sony has moved the volume rocker to the very top of the right edge, which makes it harder to get at when you’re holding the phone one-handed. It’s much further down on the X range, in a more comfortable position, so we’re not sure why Sony has moved it here on the E5.
All the buttons feel solid, with a satisfying click, but the volume rocker placement is unfortunate – and we would have loved to see a physical shutter button for the camera.
The 5-inch display on the Sony Xperia E5 has a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels, just like the Xperia XA. That gives it a pixel density of 294ppi, which on a phone this size is perfectly adequate – everything looks sharp, and it’s comfortable to read on.
Get too close, or sit it next to a higher-resolution phone and you can see its limitations, but it’s a decent display. Colours look quite realistic, and you can crank the brightness up high enough to read outdoors, or low enough to kill the glare in a darkened room.
The only issue we had with the display was the poor viewing angles. If you aren’t looking at it head-on, it dims considerably and doesn’t look anywhere near as good.
Our Xperia E5 review unit is a dark grey, almost black colour, but you can get the phone in white, too. It’s solidly built, and a really nice size for comfortable one-handed use. In this price bracket the Xperia E5 is a definite looker, and you could easily mistake it for one of Sony’s more expensive releases.
What’s it like to use?
Interface and reliability
- Smooth and simple Android Marshmallow interface
The Sony Xperia E5 runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, and Sony has indulged in a few subtle tweaks on top, but it’s a fairly restrained skin that will be immediately accessible for anyone with Android experience.
If you’re new to Android, then you’ll appreciate the welcome tips, which walk you through the process of transferring stuff from your old phone, installing apps, choosing themes, setting up backups and security, and a few other things besides.
Sony still hasn’t shaken its habit of preinstalling its own suite of apps, some of which are of questionable usefulness. Thankfully, you’ll find Google’s generally superior alternatives grouped into a folder on your home screen.
General navigation is smooth, but we hit the occasional snag when quitting out of apps, and the camera app is particularly slow to load.
The fact that Sony has opted for Swiftkey as the keyboard app for the E5 is pleasing. It’s easy to use, and it learns your typing style quickly, helping to reduce mistypes.
It feels a little cramped on the Xperia E5’s 5-inch display in portrait orientation, but that will depend partly on what phone you’re coming from. We found that we could type fast with minimal mistakes, and that’s what really matters.
Other subtle, but welcome, Sony additions include the ability to swipe down in the middle of the screen to see recently used apps, complete with a search function. There’s also a smart cleaner that automatically deletes the caches of apps you haven’t used in a while, helping to squeeze every last ounce of performance from the meagre 1.5GB of RAM.
Movies, music and gaming
- No headphones in the box
- Casual gaming no problem for the E5
Sony includes a full suite of media apps on the Xperia E5. You can configure the video app to get live TV, you can add services like Spotify into the music app and, if you plug your headphones in, you can fire up the FM radio app.
This a budget device, so there are no earphones included in the box and the audio relies on a single speaker, which is next to the micro USB port on the bottom edge of the E5. We found it was quite easy to accidentally cover the speaker when holding the phone in landscape orientation to watch a movie or video.
The sound quality is reasonable at lower volumes, considering it’s a single speaker, but crank it up and it sounds painfully tinny – you’ll want to invest in some headphones. The display is easily good enough to enjoy a movie on, as long as you prop the phone up at the right angle.
Casual games are no problem for the Sony Xperia E5 – we played Crossy Road for half an hour or so without any issues – and it can also run more graphically challenging titles. Racing through city streets in Asphalt 8, the E5 was able to run at the highest graphical quality, though there was an occasional dropped frame. It was also slow to load, and the top of the handsest got quite warm after 10 minutes.
If you’re eager to play the latest first-person shooters or other graphically demanding games on your phone, then the E5 is not ideal, but it’s powerful enough to cope with most mobile games.
One issue you might run into if you’re looking to enjoy a lot of media is a lack of storage space. This is a 16GB phone, with just over 10GB available out of the box. Thankfully, there is a microSD card slot, which you can use to boost your storage by up to 200GB.
Specs and benchmark performance
- 1.5GB of RAM can result in delay at times
- A reasonably good performer, with the odd stutter
Inside the Sony Xperia E5 there’s a quad-core MediaTek MT6735 processor clocked at 1.3GHz, which is paired with a Mali-T720 graphics processor and just 1.5GB of RAM.
Sony has been a bit stingy with the RAM here, which accounts for the odd delay when you quit an app or load something new; we reckon Sony should have bumped it up to 2GB of RAM.
Running performance benchmarks in Geekbench 3, the Xperia E5 managed a single-core score of 539 and a multi-core score of 1485. It’s the multi-core score we’re really interested in, and when we ran it a second time the E5 clocked 1415.
That’s not a great score. Consider for a moment that the Moto G4 scored 3104, the Oppo F1 scored 3030, and even last year’s Moto G got 1590. It did manage to beat a couple of budget rivals, the HTC Desire 530 (981) and the Wileyfox Swift (1330), but both those phones are £20 cheaper than the E5.
In practice, we found the Xperia E5 to be a reasonably good performer, but there was the odd stutter, and we have concerns that lag will worsen over time as you install more apps, the storage fills up and you have to turn to a microSD card for more space.
The rest of the specs are much as we’d expect. The Sony Xperia E5 supports dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC and 4G connectivity. You don’t always get NFC with budget phones (you won’t find it on the Moto G4), so it’s nice to see it included here – you’ll need it if you want to try out Android Pay.
Battery life and camera
- Will last a day with general usage
- Video and gaming result in faster drain
Sony generally puts in some effort in the battery life department, which is a good thing given that this is a common complaint about smartphones.
The Xperia E5 performed fairly well in our testing. On an average day, with some web browsing, a spot of gaming, a couple of wee videos and some basic messaging it still had a little left in the tank at bed time.
Playing a graphically demanding game, like Asphalt 8, we saw 5% drop off the battery every 10 minutes. Gaming is inevitably going to drain the battery pretty quickly, but you’d expect the fact that the Xperia E5 only has a 720p screen to help it last a little longer.
When the phone was left on standby there was no suspicious power drain, so with light use we think the E5 could conceivably stretch to two days between charges; for the vast majority of users, however, a daily charge will definitely be in order.
The battery in the Sony Xperia E5 is rated at 2,300mAh. That’s exactly the same size as the battery in the Xperia XA, but way less than the whopping 3,000mAh battery in the Moto G4. However, the Moto G4 battery has to power a much larger 5.5-inch, 1080p display, so it’s not really a fair comparison.
The Oppo F1, on the other hand, has the same size and resolution display as the E5, and it boasts a slightly bigger 2,500mAh battery.
We ran the Sony Xperia E5 through TechRadar’s battery test, playing a 90-minute HD video at full brightness, with Wi-Fi syncing in the background. Starting with a full battery, the Xperia E5 has dropped to 74% by the time the video ended.
That’s a loss of 26%, compared to just 17% for the Moto G4 and 15% for the Oppo F1 – however the E5 did better than the Xperia XA, which lost a whopping 29% in the same test.
To make matters worse the Xperia E5 doesn’t support any kind of fast charging, so there’s no option to give it a quick burst if you need to head out the door in 10 minutes. The Moto G4, by contrast, has turbo charging, which can restore a decent chunk of battery life very quickly, but with the E5 you’ll have to wait for around two hours if you want your fully charge your phone.
- Performs well in good light
- Requires a steady hand for low-light and indoor shots
The Sony Xperia E5 boasts a 13MP main camera with support for autofocus, object tracking and HDR. Outdoors, in good lighting conditions, you can snap some lovely shots with the E5 – the HDR versions are invariably better, appearing lighter and with greater clarity in the details.
The camera app resembles a scaled down version of Sony’s usual camera app. There’s an Automatic mode, a Manual mode, and a Video mode; there’s no Superior Auto option, and the largely superfluous AR modes and Panorama options are also missing.
As it turns out the manual mode is pretty basic. It allows you to choose different scene types, and tweak the white balance and exposure level, but not a great deal else.
Images are captured at 9MP by default, and the results look good, given a steady hand; HDR in particular, since this mode combines two images, requires a stationary subject, absolute stillness during capture and then a couple of seconds to process.
The camera app is easy to use, but it’s rather slow to load – with the screen sleeping it takes a couple of seconds to get the camera app open and snap a shot.
If you dig into the settings you’ll find an option to quick launch, which fires up the camera app and automatically captures a shot, but we found that anything less than steady hands resulted in blurry pictures.
You tap the little icon at the top-left of the camera interface (in landscape orientation), or swipe left to right, to switch to the 5MP front-facing camera. This does fine if the light levels are decent, but you’ll see a lot of noise creeping in if it’s at all dark; it also requires a pretty steady hand to avoid blurring.
The Sony Xperia E5 is also capable of shooting 1080p video at 30 frames per second, but it has issues with focusing in the right spot, the object tracking isn’t great, and we found that the footage looks quite grainy.
On top of this, given any movement of the phone or the subject the action will blur – you need ideal lighting conditions and limited movement for the best results.
Verdict and competition
The Sony Xperia E5 has a perfectly decent display, good software, and a camera that performs well in the right conditions. It’s a very comfortable phone to use, and the design is among the most attractive at this price point.
As expected, the CPU and GPU let it down somewhat, and the limited RAM is going to impact on day-to-day performance; we just don’t think manufacturers should be shipping Android phones with less than 2GB anymore. We’re also a little disappointed by the battery life.
Who’s it for?
Perhaps the E5 will tempt people upgrading from a sub-£100 smartphone, or coming from an older feature phone, but it doesn’t really do enough to stand out from the budget crowd, considering the extra expense, and it certainly can’t compete with the mid-range. All of which leaves it awkwardly straddling the two categories, and failing to make a mark in either.
Should you buy it?
We have seen worse budget phones – the slightly cheaper HTC Desire 530 springs immediately to mind – but we’ve also seen better. If the bigger size isn’t an issue for you, then scrape together another £20 and opt for the Moto G4. If you’re set on this form factor, take a closer look at the Oppo F1. Both are significantly more powerful than the Xperia E5, and that gap will extend with age.
The Xperia E5 is a nice enough phone – it’s one of Sony’s better budget releases, and we can see a few people being reeled in by it. If you don’t care about graphically intensive games, and you’ve never experienced anything faster, then it’s unlikely to offend. But take our word for it – you can do better.
- If you’re thinking about buying the Sony Xperia E5, you should also consider these handsets…
Sony Xperia XA
As Sony’s next phone up from the Xperia E5, the Xperia XA might be one you’ll want to look at. Unfortunately there’s a big jump in price, to £229 (£200 if you shop around), but that extra money will buy you a much better processor and GPU, backed by 2GB of RAM.
Beyond that the two devices feel very similar – they have the same amount of storage space, and similar designs, cameras and screens. The Xperia XA does offer a slight improvement in most areas, but is it worth an extra £50? The answer is no, because there are other phones out there that offer more for this price tag.
Read our full Sony Xperia XA review.
The Moto G4 is much faster than the Sony Xperia E5, has a bigger, Full HD screen, and probably edges the win on camera performance. On the other hand, it lacks NFC, and doesn’t look or feel as nice as the Xperia E5. It will cost you an extra £20, at £169, but it does more than enough to justify the extra cost.
If you want a bigger screen, and if performance trumps looks, then you should choose the Moto G4. Its weaknesses are broadly similar to those of the Xperia E5, but its strengths are markedly stronger. The Moto G4 is quite simply the best bargain smartphone on the market right now.
Read our full Moto G4 review.
The metallic finish on the Oppo F1 makes it look more expensive than it really is. In fact, you can pick it up for just £10 more than the Xperia E5, and your extra tenner buys you quite a lot. There’s 3GB of RAM, an octa-core Snapdragon 616, and an Adreno 405 GPU – in short it will run a lot more smoothly than the E5. It can also match it, or maybe even surpass it on looks, depending on your tastes.
The software experience isn’t as polished, though, because the Oppo F1 has the slightly ugly and awkward ColorOS running on top of an older version of Android.
Read our full Oppo F1 review.