Sony Xperia E1 review: Enter Walkman
Xperia E1 runs on Android 4.3 out of the box
The Sony Xperia E1 comes with Android 4.3 out of the box and Sony's proprietary Xperia launcher on top. The most recent Xperia phones are already running Android 4.4 KitKat though. Sony hasn't shed light on its plans to update the E1 to KitKat just yet.
Here is a demo video of the Sony Xperia E1 to get you started.
The Xperia E1 gives you the option to add or remove homescreen panes (you start with five) and set any of them as default. You can't have more than seven panes at any given time though, nor can you change the order they're in.
The background for the virtual on-screen buttons is black when you are running an app and completely transparent when you are browsing homescreen panes and menus.
Adding stuff to the homescreen is done with a tap-and-hold on a blank area or using the pinch-to-zoom gesture. A context menu appears, allowing you to perform various customizations on your phone - add widgets or shortcuts, change the wallpaper and the theme. You can also add shortcuts from the app drawer by holding your finger over an icon and dragging it across to the homescreen area.
The Xperia E1 has a few custom-made Sony widgets for various social services, connectivity toggles, the Walkman player, etc. The widgets in the Xperia E1 do resize and re-arrange automatically when you're trying to place them.
The wallpaper menu offers both static and live wallpapers. As usual you can preview the live wallpapers before applying them.
Applying a new theme changes the lockscreen and homescreen wallpaper and the color of the system icons (toggles, menu icons, etc.).
Along the bottom, there are four docked shortcuts (two each side of the app drawer shortcut). These are visible across all homescreen panes and are user configurable: they can be either single icons or folders with multiple items, in which case you get smaller icons of the first four shortcuts in them.
The lockscreen has multiple panes, each containing one widget. The rightmost pane is special and fires up the camera.
The other panes can accommodate various widgets: Email, Gmail, Google Now, Calendar, Google+ posts, TrackID and Digital clock. You can download apps from the Play Store that add new widgets.
When the music player is on, the lockscreen will display the music controls by default, but they can be swiped out of the way. You can also enable Pattern, PIN or Password unlock, in ascending order of security.
The notification area features a few toggles (Sound, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Brightness by default). There's also a quick shortcut to the settings menu. This time around, the toggles are customizable. You can choose between 16 different quick toggles and have up to 10 of them visible in the notification area across two rows of shortcuts. You can even opt out of having the Settings key.
The notifications themselves have not changed - they can be expanded to reveal more info and collapsed to save space or dismissed with a sideways swipe. Sometimes they also have helpful buttons on them, such as "Call back" or "Send SMS" on a missed call notification.
The app drawer is laid out across multiple pages and you can sort the apps manually, alphabetically, by the most used or most recently installed. The menu with those settings is accessible via a swipe from the left edge of the screen and you can also search and even uninstall apps from there. If you tap and hold on an app, a green Add to Homescreen field will appear on top of the app drawer. Just drag the icon and drop it there and you will go back to your homescreen and place a shortcut.
The stock Android task manager is onboard. It lets you switch between recently opened apps, as well as terminate them with a side-swipe. Sadly, Sony's "small apps" introduced with the Xperia T aren't present on the Xperia E1.
Sony has added its own Backup & Reset feature for Android OS. It works for apps you've uninstalled and then reinstalled again, all of your multimedia content is saved too, and all system apps such as messaging, call logs, etc. get their data stored safely. Restoring is easy and if you lost something, you can easily bring it back.
Google Now at your command
Google Now gives you a short overview of information it believes is relevant to you right now. Going to work in the morning? Google Now knows this and lets you know if there's a big traffic jam on your usual way to the office, and offers you a re-route.
It can interpret a lot of things from your search history as well. If you've been searching for, let's say, your favorite football team, Google Now will prepare a card showing you the next match the team is playing and will provide score updates once the game begins.
Google has also integrated Voice Actions. They can handle stuff like sending messages (SMS or email), initiating a voice call, asking for directions, taking a note or opening a site. Google Now can also launch apps, check and manage your calendar and look for nearby places of interest and stuff like movie openings in theaters.
Google Now on the Xperia E1 gets activated with an upward swipe from a press-and-hold of the Home button. You can either type or talk to it and the app will give you one of its info cards (if available) and read you its contents aloud (you can disable this from the app settings). If there's no card to help with the answer to your question Google Now will simply initiate a Google web search instead.