In recent times, there’s been a larger uptake of consumers opting for mid-range smartphones as the contracts and prepaid prices for flagship variants continue to soar. That being said, low- to mid-range smartphones don’t just offer respectable pricing, but in some cases even offer performance and features on par with that of their, more substantial, big brothers. And, on the odd occasion, we even find a few gems within this range, the likes of the OnePlus One (and now OnePlus Two), or the Huawei Ascend G7. Even companies not prominently known in the smartphone space are doing well in this segment; the likes of Xiaomi and Micromax are proof of this.
Sony, too, is no stranger to a few offerings from the Xperia range to fit into these lower categories, previously releasing the Xperia C-range, Xperia M-range, and the Xperia E-range, for which we have been given the Xperia E4 for review this past few weeks.
Build and Design
The Xperia E4 looks like an ordinary smartphone, with not too many bells and whistles to set it apart. While the device fits the mould of a Sony smartphone of recent years, its mid-range trinkets aren’t as appealing. Then there’s the fact that there’s a seemingly abundant repertoire of low and mid-range devices in Sony’s locker at this point. The unit has a plastic rear cover that folds around the edges, which takes a bit of grip to loosen if you wish to add the SIM and microSD card. When swiping on the touchscreen, you’ll no doubt feel the E4’s plastic edges as the cover envelopes most of the phone. This is reminiscent of Nokia’s budget Lumia smartphones from a few months back.
In addition to the plasticky feel, the unit is quite bulky. The E4 measures 137×74.6×10.5mm. But it the weight that I have an issue with. At 144g it weighs more than 10g more than most flagships of 2015. Interestingly, though, it still weighs less than the Xperia Z3, but considering the latter’s large screen and glass build, this is understandable. While most of the ports, slots, and buttons form part of a standard layout, it’s the positioning of the volume rocker that I find quite bizarre. Instead of the typical above-the-power-button placement, it lies beneath the power button in this case. When holding the device in your right hand for one handed use, the rocker is almost always in your way, and only after a few days of use will you be able to be sensitive enough for it not to affect you. There are some positives, however, one of which is Sony’s choice to stick with its onscreen buttons we find on the more premium devices, as opposed to the capacitive buttons on the mid to lower ranges.
Screen and Display
Knowing beforehand that the E4 is a budget device, there isn’t a high expectancy of a great display. The unit is fitted with a 5” IPS LCD screen, which has a qHD resolution (or 540x960px). With a pixel density of just 220ppi, the clarity isn’t great. But the E4 may still have some saving grace in terms of its colours, contrast and brightness. Unfortunately, this, too, isn’t the case. The colour reproduction on the display is washed, while the contrast is faded. Then there’s the visibility under the sun, which is non-existent. Looking back at the E3’s 4.5” screen with 480x854px resolution at 218ppi pixel density, while the E4 does have a bigger screen, the E3’s screen is a lot more vibrant and holds up better under direct sunlight. Although it must be stressed again that this is a budget device, I can’t help but shake the fact that there are many budget offerings out there with a 720p display to boast about at least.
In terms of its specifications, there is quite a difference between the E4 and E3. The first is that Sony has swapped out the budget Qualcomm chipset for an even more budget MediaTek variant. The lower cost CPU does well, and the OS holds up well when everything works. The E4 has a Quad-core 1.3 GHz Cortex-A7 CPU coupled with 1GB RAM. Things take a turn for the worse after prolonged use with swipes mapping as touches and opening up unwanted apps and other actions that further slow the response time. The GPU, on the other hand, is where Qualcomm does a lot better, with many games almost unplayable on the MediaTek’s Mali-400MP2 GPU. The E4 does, however, have double the internal storage capacity of the E3, now with 8GB instead of just 4GB.
The sound reproduced on the speakers are both tinny, and very soft, which isn’t helped by the position on the rear of the device and flat plastic cover, which ends up muffling the sound further. Where the E4 really does well is its battery performance, eking out the most from its 2300mAh battery. Not only is it able to last a full day, it often lasts well into a second. Be it, however, that the lack of desire to run any games on the unit, it may even push for a third day.
If you already have the Sony Xperia E3, you may be better off keeping your current budget smartphone. The E4 does very little to stand out. Even at the lower range of the price scale, the unit could, and should, be more affordable than it is given the competition. Although most of the competition doesn’t exist on the shores of South Africa, if you’re able to source any, you may be better. These include the Moto G, Moto E, Lumia 535, and HTC Desire 526G. While the E4 does have a few variants in the form of a standard 3G, dual-SIM 3G, LTE and dual-SIM LTE, these aren’t enough to make things any better of what the final product has to offer.
There’s nothing more I enjoy than a budget smartphone, one that performs really well for all tests. There are so many popping up all over the place, one would expect the big players to do well considering their expertise and strong manufacturing capabilities, but the truth is that there’s little leeway given to small, innovative packages to satisfy customer demand. If this is anything to go by, the Xperia E-range may need a major shake-up going forward if it’s to exist beyond this iteration.