Sony Xperia E3 Review

Sony Xperia E3

Sony Xperia E3

Sony

September, 2014
4.5" display, Snapdragon 400 chipset, 5 MP primary camera, 2330 mAh battery, 4 GB storage, 1 GB RAM, Shatter proof glass.
EUR:€170
Rate It:User Rating: (Outstanding)


Sony Xperia E3 Review

Sony Xperia E3 Review


Introduction

Sony has come out with its cheapest LTE smartphone, something that is affordable to the most part of the market, and has the same quality and design that is so Sony – the recent releases of Z3 and Z3 Compact are followed on as design predecessors. The latest Android KitKat is present under the hood, and the Sony Xperia E3 has been rolled out in the standard Sony colors.

With the greater than expected improvement from its predecessor, the Sony Xperia E, Sony decided to give the latest release in the range a skip by one series to emphasize the improvement that has been made in the E3. And the Sony Xperia E3 is pretty good on the promise of a better battery life, something Sony has been promoting mainly for the Sony Xperia E3. With the 2,300mAh battery and the STAMINA mode options present, the battery will surely be a standout from the competition, especially with Sony claiming that the E3 can last two whole days where competition from the same category of smartphones barely runs through one day.

The Qualcomm 400 chipset promises an average performance, though that is what the price tag offers, and nothing below. The cameras too, with the main snapper being 5MP and the front facer being a VGA one, provide value for money. The memory available internally is at 4GB, though as an added favor, Sony has provided an expansion slot into the mix.

The add-on being the classy design, the exclusive software and enhancements curtesy Sony in addition to the LTE radio will of course stave off some of the competition mounting pressure due to the 720p display. Sony has the standard add-ons like the What’s New panel, Walkman, TrackID, Movies, Xperia Themes as some of the included apps on the otherwise stock Android.

Unboxing the Sony Xperia E3

While unboxing the Sony Xperia E3, you will get the standards inside the retail box, though the earphones are sorely missed.

  • Sony Xperia E3 handset
  • AnA/C adapter (will use the USB cable for charging)
  • MicroUSB cable connector for A/C adapter for charging

Display

The Sony Xperia E3 has a 4.5 inch IPS LCD display, with a sub-par display of 480 x 854 stretched to the limit resulting in 218ppi. While some may abruptly brand the display as poor, it is not as bad as it sounds – in fact, the display is pretty normal for its price range.

The viewing angles on the whole are pretty good, with some contrast loss at extreme angles, though that does not effect the colors, which are pretty good and properly saturated. The blacks are decent, with good contrast and brightness on the higher side, making for a pretty solid performer – though, the only lacking part seems to be sharpness, which would have made it a pretty good display. The sunlight legibility is above par, and the Sony Xperia E3 can easily be used outdoors, even though it is not the greatest.

Design

A combination of the Xperia Z3 Compact and Xperia M2 Aqua is used as a baseline for the design of the Sony Xperia E3, with the front pure Sony, bearing a clean flat look with no buttons involved. The bezels though, are on the larger side and could have been reduced quite a bit.

The main microphone and earpiece are both hidden under the speaker grille, along with the speaker, though just one and not the pair. The sides have rounded edges, and slightly rubbery, with the absorption of impacts meant to save the phone from damage. The edges are matte plastic, improving the grip over the other smartphones, where some of them use polished metal which is quite slippery. The back utilizes the exact copy of the Xperia M2 Aqua for matte, with the same feel. Still, with all these aesthetics in place, the sheer bulk of the Sony Xperia E3, raised by the large bezels, make it seem closer to a 5 inch smartphone than a 4.5 inch one.

The upside of the bulk is that it makes the smartphone look and feel pretty solidly built and sturdy. The edges are curved and these fall ever so naturally in the grip of the palm. The front and back surfaces, though, are prone to fingerprints and smudges.

The 4.5 inch IPS LCD display of 480 x 854px has 218 pixels per inch. The viewing angles are pretty decent as related to competition in the same price range, the benefits of IPS display evident. Above the display is the Sony logo, with the proximity sensor and VGA front facing camera, along with the earpiece, which resides under a grille. Under the display is another similar grille, this time home to the main microphone. The right side plays host to the power button and volume rocker, the left side home to the microUSB port, while there is no physical button for the camera, Sony opting to use the volume rocker as an alternate for snapping, though this way there is no half-press feature which allows for focus locking.

The top is where the 3.5mm audio jack is present, while the bottom is bare. The removable back panel when removed, displays the microSIM and microSD cards and battery – the battery is non-replaceable, while the SIM and microSD cards are hot-swappable. The main snapper, 5MP, resides at the top left side of the back, with an LED flash and secondary microphone for noise reduction. The main speaker resides towards the bottom of the back.

Processing Power

Sony has wandered on familiar ground with the Xperia E3, coming out with the standard Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset supported by 1GB of RAM, and this contains four Cortex-A7 1.2GHz processors, along with Adreno 305. The performance overall was pretty decent, with apps loading in good time, though the quick consumption of RAM by apps was seen, there was not too much degradation in performance.

For processor based testing, the Sony Xperia E3 came up in the mid-range, in the Snapdragon 400 crowd, and with decent scores overall. The GPU performance, though, was on the lower side, scoring poor results in the process, with the expectations of course, set by high end competition. The gaming experience was below par due to the display quality, though the overall performance, since not being taxed too much by display, was actually pretty ok. The browser based testing for javascript etc. and HTML 5 scoring was actually on the better side, and we were really happy with this.

The overall performance of the Sony Xperia E3 is decent overall, though the Snapdragon 400, now quite old in terms of newer releases, is showing signs of being on the lower end of the spectrum – still, with a smartphone in the mid-range, this is one of the best options available as a chipset – additionally when the display is FWVGA instead of more taxing ones. The FullHD or UltraHD will not be available of course, but still, the smartphone will not be hanging due to load.

User Interface & Operating System

The Sony Xperia E3 comes bundled with Android KitKat 4.4.2 and the launcher is almost the same as that on other Xperia smartphones running KitKat.

The lock screen supports widgets (one widget allowed per pane), direct camera access, default widgets, while more can be downloaded, and the unlock method is also standard, the Face, Password, Pattern or PIN unlock.

The Homescreen is standard with five default panes expandable up to seven, while the normal options like adding apps and widgets are allowed – the pane sequence or default setting cannot be changed however. Wallpapers both static and live are present, as are widgets, shortcuts and themes.

Notification area gets a slight rework as the notifications and toggles get moved to separate tabs, with an easy access option to toggles by swiping down from top using two-fingers, instead of the standard one finger pull-down gesture for Notifications area. The App Drawer is managed in a paged manner, with multiple sorting options provided for ease. Additional settings are present in a menu, and can be accessed by sliding in from the left edge of the screen.

The generic Android task manager is on board with standard features. The “small apps” which were introduced in the Sony Xperia T and since seen on different Xperia releases are present, and similar to the Mini Apps on Samsung, can pop up like tiny applications on the home screen, and moved around like widgets without the need to be opened. One instance per small app can be run, but multiple different smart apps can be open at a time. Different small apps can be downloaded from the Play Store, while alternately, apps can be converted to Small Apps.

Google Now is present with the Sony Xperia E3, accessible by an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen while on the homescreen. Another addition that we recently saw with the Xperia Z2 also is the very classy What’s New app, and this displays the latest apps and multimedia, along with content from Sony PlayStation. Google Now has its own standard set of features available. The Xperia E3 comes with a reduced memory size of only 4GB, though microSD option is present and where all the media and most of the apps can be moved.

Sony Xperia E3 brings forward the standard phonebook application, which can contain information of and sync with multiple accounts. The standard features are all present here, like sync with multiple accounts which include Exchange and Facebook. The messaging app is very solid, providing all standard features, including managing MMS. For text input the standard QWERTY keyboard in present, and swype is added on for further ease – in portrait mode, single hand use is an added advantage. The email clients, both the generic one and the Gmail one, are present on board, and the Gmail client can only works on Gmail, while the generic one can cater to other accounts in addition.

The Google Chrome is the default browser on offer with the Sony Xperia E3, and has all the standard strengths that we have been witnessing recently, like the browser sync feature, control over JavaScript, images, cookies etc, and the Reduce data usage as well as the standard Incognito mode.

Sony has introduced another custom app labeled Smart Connect, which allows the Sony Xperia E3 more functionality, like setting off an alarm, opening a default app etc. whenever a peripheral device is connected to the Xperia E3 – this however, does not unfortunately work with NFC tags. The Sony Select app is similar to the What’s New app, with a reduced set of functions and a different UI.

The Sony Xperia E3 comes with the Track ID TV, an app which when pointed to what is being watched on TV, will identify the show. The calendar, calculator, clock, Sketch and File Manager apps are all provided out of the box with standard features. The Notes app is missing from the mix though. Office Suite 8 is available by default, with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files view and edit features, while PDF file formats can viewed only.

Sony PlayStation app as seen last on the Xperia Z2 is present with the Xperia E3 and can display the PlayStation profile and related information, and allows connectivity with PlayStation and pull related content from there directly.

The Power Saver app from Sony is now a part of settings, and this option helps expand the battery time by managing toggles for different services and display settings being consumed by the smartphone. Once the threshold level is crossed, the modification in toggles settings become applicable.

The Backup and Restore app can utilize the memory card, the internal storage or attached USB devices to backup or restore data , and not only the apps, but the system and the app related data, all can be backed up and restored, including media.

Media

The signals were very loud and unwavering on the Sony Xperia E3, producing good call performance and audio levels, while the audio quality was pretty good and easily audible. The audio was clear enough though the clarity could have been improved. Loudspeaker performance though, was only average at best – the ringer is okay too so there will be very few missed calls coming your way.

The custom Sony gallery app, labeled Album allows multiple sorting options and the ability to change thumbnails size by pinch-zoom. The additional menu that we saw on the app drawer is present here to help us out. All online and offline albums can be accessed from this app. The connectivity to social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, is present, as is the same for locally available devices. Maps and Globe albums use the geo-tags on images. Basic image manipulation actions like cropping and rotating can be done through the app, while a quick share option helps sharing easier and quicker.

The Walkman music player is now part of all latest Sony devices, and has Music Unlimited integrated, though this part can be hidden if it becomes too irritable. The Music Unlimited features include access to music news, charts and channels. The Walkman app allows for the standard music player features like sorting music by album, artist, playlists among others. The swipe-in menu is present here also, providing sorting options along with the ability to see which songs friends are playing at the time, though this feature works when connected to Facebook. The Infinite option present on the Now Playing screen shows information regarding the track on play from multiple sources. Gracenote is present as a backup too.

The ClearAudio+ audio settings are again present on board, similar to the Xperia Z2, providing great audio quality, understanding the best settings as per the track, switching the settings to the best output scales, and audio is accentuated very delicately to enhance the fine details. The Dynamic normalizer tends to remove the audio kinks in between records. An equalizer with multiple presets and manual tweaking option is on board too, and is labeled ironically as Sound. The Surround sound feature is included with standard presets, and this can be further taken up a notch by the Clear mode settings. The speaker can use Clear Phase to improve the audio quality, while xLOUD increases audio levels.

The FM radio is available with multiple visualizations, uses TrackID to identify the current played song, and this can be directly posted to Facebook.

The video player has been labeled Movies and has a pretty good UI and connectivity with Gracenoteis present here again, for more information regarding the media content, along with other additional information. The Gracenote though, had some issues in pulling information for individual episodes of different series, and had minimal info in general, related to TV series. The player did manage to play 1080p videos, through codec issues exist. The player does not have subtitle support, though it can adjust video speed and allows video trims.

Sony produces yet another pretty consistently good audio performance with the Sony Xperia E3, on par with its high-end compatriots like the Xperia Z2 among others – even though the audio levels are not nearly high enough. The frequency, the excellent signal-to-noise levels, awesome dynamic range, and minimal distortion portrayed a very good outing with an amplifier plugged in. the headphones increased the crosstalk and added distortion and impacted the frequency to a slight extent, however, this does not hamper the overall performance a lot to reduce the score drastically.

Camera

The Sony Xperia E3 has video capture ability of 1080p at 30fps – fairly decent, though not impressive there are others out there who cannot even get up to this level. The UI has two panes, one for imaging, and the other a unified one for both imaging and recording.

The Manual mode provides additional controls like exposure slider, white balance, ISO, metering and focus, and toggle ISO, though some of these are present in the settings menu. Still, it does make up for a good detailed level of control.

The AR effects allow for layering on different virtual worlds on the capture, and user can move around in the virtual world added over too. The creative effects include a bunch of effects that are reflected in real-time to see the impact made on the capture. The Social live puts out a live feed from your smartphone straight to Facebook, while Timeshift takes a burst of images. Panorama is the standard.

The imaging quality from the Sony Xperia E3 is not really that of high quality, with average detail amount, though the noise levels are on the lower side, and no sharpening issues arise. There are some soft patches though, meaning the lens quality is below perfect. The colors and exposure are great, though the colors are on the slightly duller side, and dynamic range is limited – the image focus and capture is at a decent speed as compared to others.

The macro shots are pretty good on the Xperia E3 camera, with no lens issues visible, good detail, and get decently close to the subject. The HDR shots does bring the details in the shadows back a fair bit, though the overall contrast does get somewhat damaged in the process. Sweep Panorama shots are at 5MP, not enough resolution and dynamic range limitation even more on display here, though the detail is pretty good as is stitching, the overall shots are being compared to some of the highest in the market, and in that case, pretty low down the ladder.

The videos fare even worse than the shots did for the Sony Xperia E3 even in the 5MP league. The FullHD videos appear close to 720p ones scaled up to 1080p. However, with the competition showing only 720p videos, and those too being very poor quality ones, this actually is a bit better. The blotches and reduced detail, and on top of this the artifacts present in videos make for poor viewing. The frame rate moves between 24 and 22 fps, so recording produces some choppy results. The bitrate though, stands at a decent 21Mbps, and we assume Sony will be picking up the quality a bit with further Xperia E3 roll outs in the near future.

Connectivity

The Sony Xperia E3 has 2G, 3G and 4G LTE connectivity. Local connectivity includes Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct, along with Bluetooth 4.0 and allows for GPS and GLONASS. An FM radio is on board with RDS support. NFC with Android Beam support is onboard and aids in files transfer. IR port is missing.

The ANT+ low energy mode helps in power consumption and used as a connectivity tool for different sports accessories. MicroUSB is present, and is used for charging and PC connectivity purposes, and allows USB On-the-go support. The TV-Out is not enabled on the microUSB port, through, the Miracast protocol or Connectivity Throw option from Xperia can be used in some cases where TV is compatible.

Battery Life

The Sony Xperia E3 has come out with a non-replaceable 2,330mAh battery, which provides a pretty good life time, as promised by Sony.

For the performance, the endurance rating is 75 hours, meaning an hour per day for browsing, media play, calls and gaming will still take the phone to more than 3 days. The talk time is at 14 hours, pretty good, while the browsing and video play are at almost 10 and over 8 hours, respectively. By our standard testing, even a decent amount of usage will still have the battery last for 2 whole days easily, which says a lot about the battery and its utilization.

Disadvantages

As is visible from the above review, below are some of the shortcomings that the Sony Xperia E3 does possess:

  • Display resolution is quite low
  • The thick bezels make the smartphone look larger than its same-size peers
  • Battery cannot be replaced
  • Camera quality is on the low end side

Should I Have to Buy the Sony Xperia E3?

The recent release of Sony is here to make a splash in the market, as an affordable smartphone from Sony for the masses. Sony does not want to hurt its own market being targeted by its own mid-range offerings, and we feel Sony has done just enough to target its perspective market, and only create a hint of doubt towards the mid-range market that its own releases are targeting.

Sony targeted the oft-used value for money with the E3, and the Sony Xperia E3 does just that – though the under-720p display hurts its chances in the market, the other offerings more than compensate for this. The best in these counter-offerings is the large and fully utilized battery. The battery on the Sony Xperia E3 easily outlasts most of its competition and that too with a wide margin. The Sony apps as well as LTE work ideally, and the build quality earns some bonus points. The camera unfortunately is not much good either.

With more and more competition entering the market with the likes of Oppo, Qmobile and others, Sony Xperia E3 will face a stiff challenge. Still, with the lots of offerings that are around, we feel that if the display and camera are not too much of an issue for you, the Xperia E3 should definitely be on your shortlist – otherwise, well, there are many others that have the camera and display but lack in other aspects where the Sony Xperia E3 is pretty strong.