Sony's new Xperia E5 is unfeasibly handsome for a budget smartphone. With its matte finish and gently rounded corners, it's strangely reminiscent of Sony's brilliant miniature flagship, the Xperia Z5 Compact. The E5 doesn't have the Z5 Compact's metal frame, admittedly, but it’s great to see Sony’s flagship build quality trickling down to one its most basic, entry-level handsets. SIM-free prices start at £150, but you can also pick it up for just £100 if you buy it on Vodafone's PAYG service.
Design and display
The Xperia E5 is one of the smaller smartphones I've seen in recent months, and the combination of a 5in screen and 8.2mm-thick chassis make it feel nice and compact in the hand. Granted, the display’s 1,280 x 720 resolution isn’t that exciting now that other budget handsets such as the Moto G4 come with Full HD resolutions, but the E5’s IPS screen still looks pin-sharp from a normal viewing distance.
More importantly, the screen is exceedingly bright, with a peak brightness of 511cd/m2 – more than punchy enough to remain legible in direct sunlight. Viewing angles are great, too, and the contrast ratio of 996:1 helps the E5 to dig up plenty of detail in photos and videos.
Colour accuracy is less impressive, however, as the IPS panel is only able to display 83.9% of the sRGB colour gamut. This is a little below average, even for a budget smartphone, and the display’s tendency to exaggerate bluish tones leaves images looking rather too cold as a result. It’s not awful by any means, but skin tones and primary colours do look a tad unnatural.
However, it’s easy to overlook the flaws in the E5's display given just how nippy it is in daily use. It only has a quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6735 processor and 1.5GB of RAM, but Sony's stripped-down version of Android 6 feels exceedingly quick and responsive – the Xperia E5 positively flies through the menu screens in day-to-day use, and opening and closing apps feels sprightly, too.
It's certainly much faster than the WileyFox Spark, which also has an MT6735 chipset, and its Geekbench 4 scores put it more or less on a level playing field with the Moto G4, as the E5 finished with 500 points in the single-core test and 1,500 in the multi-core test.
That said, the E5 came undone slightly when I ran our GPU tests. MediaTek's chips have always struggled against their Qualcomm-based counterparts in the graphics department, and the E5 was no different, producing a score of just 186 frames in the GFXBench GL offscreen Manhattan 3 test. This equates to an overall frame rate of 3fps, making it more than twice as slow as the Moto G4. It can still handle simple games such as Threes, but the frame rate often took quite a tumble in more complex titles such as Hearthstone.
However, the E5's biggest flaw has to be its sub-par battery life. Despite Sony claiming you can get up to two days out of the Xperia E5, I managed just 8hrs 41mins in our continuous video-playback test with the screen brightness set to our standard measurement of 170cd/m2. That should just about be enough to get you through a day of heavy use, but anyone with a long day ahead of them will need to keep the mains charger close at hand.
I wasn't overly impressed by the Xperia E5's 13-megapixel camera, either. On the whole, the colours are quite rich and vibrant, but poor exposure control means that shadows look awfully dark even in bright, sunny weather. Enabling HDR in Manual mode doesn't really help matters, either.
There’s also a fair amount of noise present, as well as rainbow speckle effects in the sky and clouds – and these artefacts get worse when you go indoors. Despite its aperture of f/2.0, which is a fraction wider than your typical f/2.2 lens, each of my test shots was marred by fuzzy, hazy-looking shadows and a severe lack of fine detail.
The fur on our test scene’s teddy bear, for example, was very smeary and lacking in definition, and the ribbed edges on our felt tip pens were barely discernible. Switching on the flash helped bring back some of the lost detail, but pinkish overtones still ended up spoiling the final shot.
It's a shame the Xperia E5 isn't quite the full package, as its smaller dimensions would have made it a great alternative to the big-screened Moto G4. Sadly, terrible battery life and an underwhelming camera leave little reason to recommend it, and those serious flaws make the E5 feel decidedly average.
It's slightly better value if you're only paying £100 for it on Vodafone's PAYG service, but when you can get the Moto G4 for just £160 SIM-free, you might as well spend the extra and get an infinitely superior smartphone in the process.
£143.51 Buy now
Processor: Quad-core 1.3GHz Mediatek MT6735, Screen Size: 5in, Screen resolution: 1,280 x 720, Rear camera: 5 megapixels, Storage (free): 16GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Dimensions: 144 x 69 x 8.2mm, Weight: 147g, Operating system: Android 6.0.1