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Sony Xperia E5 review

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Introduction

The Sony Xperia E5 is the company’s cheapest smartphone in the updated 2016 lineup, but you wouldn’t tell going by just how it looks. The clean and classy design in fact reminds us of Sony’s outgoing flagship, the Z5.

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While the main focus has been on the X-series lately, often for the wrong reasons, the reshuffle at the top didn’t obviously send ripples all the way down. It’s business as usual in the E-series and the Xperia E5 clocks in at about the right time of the year to prove that the stuff that works needs no changes.

It’s not to say though that the Xperia E5 didn’t get any special attention. The upmarket design has one checkbox ticked but the specs are more than decent too for the phone’s weight class and price bracket. Building on the previous generations, the Xperia E5 has all the traits of a well-rounded overall package.

Key features

  • 5.0″ 1280 x 720px IPS LCD display of 294ppi
  • Android OS v6.0 Marshmallow
  • MediaTek MT6735 chipset: Quad-core 1.3 GHz Cortex-A53; Mali-T720 GPU; 1.5GB RAM; 16 GB of built-in storage
  • 13 MP camera with 1080p@30fps video recording and tracking autofocus; 5 MP front-facing camera with 1080p@30fps video
  • LTE Cat.4 (150/50 Mbps); dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n; GPS/GLONASS/Beidou, Bluetooth v4.0
  • Active noise cancellation with a dedicated mic
  • 2,700mAh non-removable battery

Main disadvantages

  • Sealed battery
  • No quick charging

Granted, there’s no metal here – a feat only mid-rangers from China are clearly capable of pulling off. For Sony, it seems like a missed opportunity, considering that the battery isn’t removable with the current plastic build anyway.

The battery size is adequate though and with Android 6.0 Marshmallow’s optimizations should be able to do well enough.

Another interesting thing to see in action is the 13MP/5MP camera set-up front and rear – both are the highest res sensors to ever grace an E-series phone. Well, camera resolution is perhaps a cheap enough upgrade but Sony did well to keep the Xperia E5 on par with the competition.

Sony Xperia E5  review - Sony Xperia E5  review  - Sony Xperia E5  review  - Sony Xperia E5  review
Sony Xperia E5 official photos

But it’s rare to see people driven by a specific feature or two in this price range; they want the full package. The Xperia E5 looks smart and professional and seems quite up to it overall. Time to look at it up close and have in-depth look of its performance.

Unboxing

The Sony Xperia E5 comes with a set of peripherals that match the phone’s price point. The company includes a microUSB cable and a plain A/C adapter, which doesn’t support fast charging.

The Xperia E5 box covers the basics - Sony Xperia E5  review The Xperia E5 box covers the basics - Sony Xperia E5  review
The Xperia E5 box covers the basics

However, the box itself is quite stylish, with a much more expensive feel. Note that Sony packages phones differently based on region (there may even be differences between carriers in the same country).

Sony Xperia E5 360° spin

We broke out the ruler and the Xperia E5 checked in at 144 x 69 x 8.2mm. That’s a fairly okay size for a 5″ smartphone, albeit a bit on the tall side. At the very least, bezels are only going slimmer over generations of E-series smartphones.

It sounds like a fairly thick handset but that’s only on paper. In hand, the Xperia E5 feels just right with a weight of 147 grams.

Design and handling

The plastic build of the Xperia E5 should come as no surprise. Sony hasn’t really tried to reinvent the wheel with this one, nor did they have to. The Xperia E5 follows the design principles set by the company’s flagships of old, most notably the Xperia Z5.

Sony Xperia E5  review

The sides are subtly curved, the edges nicely rounded. At the back, the Xperia E5 has a slight curve around the edges, giving it a great feel when it rests in hand.

There’s no unibody design here – the Xperia E5 isn’t cast into a single piece of polycarbonate. The non-removable back cover has a miniature gap all along where it meets the sides. The choice of a polycarbonate finish is solid nonetheless, as it’s not prone to fingerprints and is pleasantly soft to the touch.

The Xperia E5 in the hand - Sony Xperia E5  review The Xperia E5 in the hand - Sony Xperia E5  review
The Xperia E5 in the hand

What feels a little off-putting is that the glass above the display doesn’t smoothly meet the polycarbonate edges. As a result, horizontal swipes feel a little odd.

Other than this, the front has sizable top and bottom bezels, considering there are no hardware controls.

Above the display sits the earpiece, a 5MP selfie camera, proximity and ambient light sensors and a status LED (invisible when off, positioned in the top left corner).

The front of the Xperia E5 - Sony Xperia E5  review The front of the Xperia E5 - Sony Xperia E5  review The front of the Xperia E5 - Sony Xperia E5  review
The front of the Xperia E5

Similarly to the Xperia XA, the company’s entry level smartphone has its speaker and microphone behind a grille at the bottom right corner with the microUSB port in the center. The secondary, noise canceling mic is at the top next to the 3.5mm headphone jack on the left.

The speaker grille at the bottom - Sony Xperia E5  review 3.5mm jack at the top - Sony Xperia E5  review 3.5mm jack at the top - Sony Xperia E5  review 3.5mm jack at the top - Sony Xperia E5  review
The speaker grille at the bottom • 3.5mm jack at the top

The only controls – volume rocker and power/lock keys – are on the right. The microSD slot and SIM card compartment are near the top on the left side, covered by a shared flap.

The card slots on the left - Sony Xperia E5  review Controls are on the right - Sony Xperia E5  review Controls are on the right - Sony Xperia E5  review Controls are on the right - Sony Xperia E5  review
The card slots on the left • Controls are on the right

The back is pretty clean as the 13MP camera sits comfortably in the top left corner teamed up with a single-LED flash below it.

Below the glued up polycarbonate back lies a 2,700mAh battery.

It would've been nice if the back and sides are one piece - Sony Xperia E5  review It would've been nice if the back and sides are one piece - Sony Xperia E5  review
It would’ve been nice if the back and sides are one piece

Tasty Marshmallow sprinkled with Xperia

The Xperia E5 boots Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box, similarly to its upmarket X-line brethren. Changes to the Android core are few, but Sony has cramped its great multimedia apps as usual.

With just a single, 16GB variant available, the use of a microSD card for videos, music and photos is a must. After the initial boot and setup, the Xperia E5 offers you only 10.6GB of storage.

Sony Xperia E5  review

The lockscreen is customized to show off the Xperia theme (the numbers of the clock are see-through so you see the wallpaper through them). You can swipe left or up to unlock, down to view notifications. You can’t swipe right to unlock, though that’s not much of an issue after the first hour or two with the phone.

Lockscreen - Sony Xperia E5  review Lockscreen settings - Sony Xperia E5  review Lockscreen settings - Sony Xperia E5  review
Lockscreen • Lockscreen settings

The homescreen appears unchanged. This includes the swipe down gesture, which shows a screen of the apps you use most along with recommendations for new apps to install. A search field is highlighted so you can start typing the app’s name immediately. That’s one of Sony’s proprietary features on top of stock Android and we appreciate it very much.

Homescreen - Sony Xperia E5  review App suggestions and search - Sony Xperia E5  review App suggestions and search - Sony Xperia E5  review App suggestions and search - Sony Xperia E5  review
Homescreen • App suggestions and search

The traditional app drawer is still on board and it features an above average amount of vendor apps. Sony takes great pride in their AV prowess, so there is no way that they could have gone for the stock multimedia apps made by Google.

Standard app drawer - Sony Xperia E5  review Standard app drawer - Sony Xperia E5  review Standard app drawer - Sony Xperia E5  review
Standard app drawer

Themes are available (both free and paid) that can customize the look and sound of the Xperia E5 interface.

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Xperia themes

The notification area is plain Android. You can re-arrange the quick toggle tiles and adjust the screen brightness. Note that just like in vanilla Android, there’s no toggle for Auto brightness (you need to go into the settings for that). That’s the one thing we don’t mind skins changing and still, many manufacturers like to keep it stock.

Notification area is vanilla Android - Sony Xperia E5  review Notification area is vanilla Android - Sony Xperia E5  review Notification area is vanilla Android - Sony Xperia E5  review
Notification area is vanilla Android

The app switcher is similarly a vanilla Android affair with the 3D rolodex look. The small apps are gone, however, and there is no longer floating app multitasking.

Similarly untouched app switcher - Sony Xperia E5  review
Similarly untouched app switcher

The Smart cleaner feature will periodically empty the cache of apps you haven’t used in a while. You can switch this off or just manually tell it not to bother for certain apps.

Smart Cleaner frees up memory of both kinds - Sony Xperia E5  review Smart Cleaner frees up memory of both kinds - Sony Xperia E5  review Smart Cleaner frees up memory of both kinds - Sony Xperia E5  review Smart Cleaner frees up memory of both kinds - Sony Xperia E5  review
Smart Cleaner frees up memory of both kinds

One thing Android has been missing for years is a proper backup solution and Sony gives you one. It can backup applications, contacts, messages, phone settings. The backup info itself can be stored on your Sony online account, on the microSD card or an external USB device.

Backups can be scheduled, including conditions like “Connected to Wi-Fi” and “Charging device”, depending on your preferences.

Scheduled backups are the best way to prevent data loss - Sony Xperia E5  review Scheduled backups are the best way to prevent data loss - Sony Xperia E5  review Scheduled backups are the best way to prevent data loss - Sony Xperia E5  review

Phone

We have a single-SIM Sony Xperia E5, but there is a dual-SIM version if you need an extra phone line. Either model has active noise cancellation with a dedicated mic.

The call log can be filtered by missed, incoming and outgoing calls.

Dialer with smart dial - Sony Xperia E5  review Call log - Sony Xperia E5  review Call log filtering - Sony Xperia E5  review Phonebook - Sony Xperia E5  review
Dialer with smart dial • Call log • Call log filtering • Phonebook

Not to stay behind the curve of the X-family, Sony has given the E5 a unique feature – a built-in answering machine. It picks up an incoming call, plays your greeting and would later replay your friends’ messages. You can set up your greeting and pickup conditions.

The Xperia X has a built-in answering machine - Sony Xperia E5  review The Xperia X has a built-in answering machine - Sony Xperia E5  review
The Xperia X has a built-in answering machine

Loudspeaker

The Xperia E5 is equipped with a single loudspeaker sitting behind a grille at the bottom. It scores Below Average score in our loudspeaker test. However, turning on ClearAudio+ in the settings boosted it to an Average mark.

Quality is okay with no distortions even at full volume (and that’s good since you’ll likely crank up the volume slider up and leave it there, it’s just too quiet otherwise).

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overall score
Apple iPhone 5c 66.5 65.5 66.2 Below Average
Oppo F1 Plus 66.3 66.2 65.9 Below Average
Sony Xperia E5 62.0 67.5 69.4 Below Average
Samsung Galaxy J5 (2016) 66.0 64.3 70.1 Below Average
Xiaomi Redmi 3 66.1 65.5 70.6 Average
Sony Xperia E5 (ClearAudio+) 63.2 68.3 70.9 Average
OnePlus X 65.9 66.3 70.7 Average
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 66.5 66.6 75.8 Good
Microsoft Lumia 640 70.6 65.2 75.9 Good
Lenovo Vibe K4 Note 74.7 66.6 72.3 Good

Messaging

The Sony Xperia E5 has a beautiful Material design messaging app. It feels like the instant messengers you might be used to, including conversations wallpapers and cute stickers you can send.

Ours came with panda stickers pre-installed, but you can download more (free and paid sticker packs are available). You can also send your own creations drawn in the Sketch (obviously, this changes the message type to MMS).

Messaging app - Sony Xperia E5  review Stickers are available, just like in chat apps - Sony Xperia E5  review Stickers are available, just like in chat apps - Sony Xperia E5  review Stickers are available, just like in chat apps - Sony Xperia E5  review
Messaging app • Stickers are available, just like in chat apps

For text entry, Sony picked the SwiftKey keyboard. It became popular for its swipe input, but regular tap-typing with text correction is available as well. Typing is quite comfortable and the narrow bezels didn’t lead to accidental presses.

The SwiftKey keyboard is highly customizable - Sony Xperia E5  review The SwiftKey keyboard is highly customizable - Sony Xperia E5  review The SwiftKey keyboard is highly customizable - Sony Xperia E5  review
The SwiftKey keyboard is highly customizable

The keyboard is highly customizable – you can change the layout, choose what characters are available (accented characters, emoji), enable a number row, resize the keyboard or even undock it. The Messaging app also handles voice input.

The excellent Sony Album app ticks all the checkboxes

The Sony Xperia E5 Album app is among the most comprehensive and feature-rich we’ve seen, it’s fast and easy to use, too! Photos are organized by month, and you can use pinch-zoom to change the size of thumbnails (then they smoothly animate into the grid).

At the very top of the list is a slideshow, showing off your photos, lower down, the first photo of each month is shown at twice the size of other images.

The Album app is both beautiful and functional - Sony Xperia E5  review The Album app is both beautiful and functional - Sony Xperia E5  review The Album app is both beautiful and functional - Sony Xperia E5  review The Album app is both beautiful and functional - Sony Xperia E5  review
The Album app is both beautiful and functional

You can instead browse photos on a map (you can manually add geotag info too) or by folder. This includes network storage so that you can view photos from a DLNA server (your home computer for one). Then there’s integration with online albums – Facebook, Picasa, Flickr.

Image editing is handled by Sketch. It lets you fingerpaint over a photo or a paper-like texture, add text, stickers, photos and so on. If you’re talented, you can share your creations on the Sketch mini-social network, and if you’re not, you can just browse what others drew.

Sketch is a fun image editor with a mini social network for sharing art - Sony Xperia E5  review Sketch is a fun image editor with a mini social network for sharing art - Sony Xperia E5  review Sketch is a fun image editor with a mini social network for sharing art - Sony Xperia E5  review
Sketch is a fun image editor with a mini social network for sharing art

Movie Creator is similar to the Assistant of Google Photos. It automatically creates short videos from the photos and videos you’ve shot.

You can do it manually too: pick photos and videos, change their order, add color effects and music (you get a small audio collection to start you off, but can use custom files too). Then tap the Share button and send out your animated slideshow.

The Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows - Sony Xperia E5  review The Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows - Sony Xperia E5  review The Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows - Sony Xperia E5  review
The Movie Creator can automatically or manually make shareable slideshows

Music app

The Music app feels like a part of the same software package as the rest of the custom Sony stuff. The contextual side menu offers much of the same browsing options – by folder, network folder and online services, in this case, Spotify (it’s just a link to the Spotify app though). You can share music from the phone to compatible players.

Music app - Sony Xperia E5  review Music app - Sony Xperia E5  review Music app - Sony Xperia E5  review Music app - Sony Xperia E5  review
Music app

The Infinite button as such is gone, but its functionality is still here in the menu. It can find the track’s video on YouTube, look up info about the artist on Wikipedia and search for lyrics on Google. Gracenote is used here too and it can automatically download information about your tracks and album art.

There are presets for Sony headsets and a number of audio settings. ClearAudio+ determines the best audio quality settings depending on the track you’re listening to. We liked how it changed the sound and carefully accentuated various details. You also get a 5-band equalizer if you want to do the tuning manually.

Dynamic normalizer evens out the volume differences across tracks, which is great if you’ve mixed multiple albums from multiple sources.

A fair amount of audio settings - Sony Xperia E5  review A fair amount of audio settings - Sony Xperia E5  review A fair amount of audio settings - Sony Xperia E5  review A fair amount of audio settings - Sony Xperia E5  review
A fair amount of audio settings

TrackID is Sony’s trusted song recognition software, which has since evolved way past that. It can now show you music charts by country, give you live updates on recent searches across the world, and store your search history as well.

TrackID - Sony Xperia E5  review TrackID - Sony Xperia E5  review TrackID - Sony Xperia E5  review
TrackID

FM Radio

There’s also an FM radio tuner with RDS. The app features multiple visualizations and integrates with TrackID to recognize the currently playing song. The interface is very intuitive and full of stunning animations. Possibly one of the best FM radio apps out there.

FM Radio with RDS and track recognition - Sony Xperia E5  review FM Radio with RDS and track recognition - Sony Xperia E5  review FM Radio with RDS and track recognition - Sony Xperia E5  review
FM Radio with RDS and track recognition

Of course, you would need to have your headset plugged in for the FM radio to pick up any signal.

Video

The Movies app is gone, a simpler Video app takes its place. The app is simpler to use – you pick a file from one of the local folders or your home network. You can also use the Search feature to look up videos on YouTube. The app is missing the HTPC-like functionality though, which pulled movie and TV show info automatically.

A chapter view lets you find a specific part of the video, by letting you scrub through a virtual timeline.

Powerful video player - Sony Xperia E5  review Powerful video player - Sony Xperia E5  review Powerful video player - Sony Xperia E5  review Powerful video player - Sony Xperia E5  review
Powerful video player

Videos can continue playing in the background (it’s an option), but you can’t view the video in a small floating window. At least you get full subtitle settings.

 

Audio output has its ups and downs

The Sony Xperia E5 started off well in our audio quality test. The smartphone achieved mostly excellent scores for clarity with the only average frequency response the only exception. . Its loudness was above average too, so it’s all in all a good showing.

The headphones test brought some intermodulation distortion and stereo crosstalk, so it’s not a faultless output, but as you can see from the table below it’s not too bad either. Volume drops notably though so we’d only call it par for the course for the entry level handset.

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