From a stylistic point of view, the Xacti VPC-E7 isn't the most adventurous of compact digital cameras – but while the design lacks originality, the Sanyo is a handsome handful.
General build quality is pretty good, the metal construction giving the E7 a robust feel – only the rather flimsy plastic battery cover lowers the tone slightly. As well as feeling sturdy, the E7 is comfortable in the hand, benefiting from a sensible and convenient control layout. However, we think Sanyo missed a trick by burying the exposure compensation within the menu and not giving it a dedicated button.
At the heart of the E7 is a 7Mp (megapixel) CCD (charge-coupled device) sensor churning out images a whisker over 3,000 pixels across. There's also a 10Mp option, but it's worth noting that the E7's sensor can't actually produce true 10Mp images – instead it interpolates (or resizes) a 7Mp photo. Obviously this results in a loss of definition.
In addition to still images, the Sanyo can double up as a camcorder, producing QuickTime movies with a resolution of either 320x240 or 640x480 (with audio).
In the lens department, the Sanyo turns out to be a bit less accommodating. While the 3x optical zoom (equating to 38-114mm in 35mm terms) is standard for a pocket compact, the f3.1-f5.9 aperture is rather restrictive. On the up side, the autofocusing performance was very good, and the Xacti features the novelty of an integrated Touch Sensor. This detects when a finger is approaching the shutter button, giving the E7 a head start on focusing.
Sadly, image quality wasn't quite so clever, despite showing the odd spark of promise. The main causes for concern were the significant levels of noise that overwhelmed finer detail (even on lower ISOs) and the automatic white balance. The camera tended to venture alarmingly deep into warmer tones if left unguided.