Your budget is limited but you want a handset that keeps up with the Joneses. You want Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), and you don’t want to pay through the nose for it. Sony hopes that its new Xperia tipo will attract your attention, and it could well do (see our hands on photos). It is an Ice Cream Sandwich phone for not much over £100 SIM-free. Online, for example, Clove Technology is selling it as I write for £126 including VAT.
Everyone knows that for this price you are not going to get a phone to rival the Samsung Galaxy S III. But will you get a handset that’s good enough for what you need as well as let you keep apps in folders and do other fancy Android 4 things?
Well, not unsurprisingly, that rather depends on what it is that you need. On the plus side, the Xperia tipo is a small and light phone. It measures just 103 x 57 x 13mm and so fits neatly in a pocket. It weighs 99.4g (I do wonder what Sony shaved off to get it under the magic 100g mark).
Its size makes the Xperia tipo a phone ideal for smaller hands, but inevitably a bit of a challenge for larger ones. I found using the on-screen keyboard OK for tapping out emails in portrait mode if I moved fairly slowly. Zip around at what I would call my usual texting speed (which isn’t as fast as that of many people) and I made mistakes. It is more comfortable to type in landscape mode, but in that orientation you don’t get to see message threads.
The reason for this cramped typing is that the screen measures 3.2in. A knock-on effect of this is that the small handset doesn’t feel anywhere near as comfortable to hold in two hands and to type on, as a handset with a 4in or larger screen.
The screen isn’t just a bit hampered by its size. Its quality and resolution affect usability too. With 480 x 320 pixels on offer I found myself having to do plenty of zooming and panning to read web pages. I do a lot of mobile web. If you do too this sized screen might be difficult to live with.
Video streaming also suffers thanks to the small screen, and while the odd YouTube clip isn’t likely to be a problem, anything longer than five minutes is eye-squinting. The screen technology isn’t that great either. The TFT doesn’t have the most vibrant and rich colour reproduction as other displays, and it suffers a bit in bright sunlight too. And in yet another niggle at the screen I found it not as responsive under the fingers as I’d like.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. If you are a music fan then this could be a great phone for you.
Sony is pushing its xLOUD audio technology in the tipo and sound quality from the built-in speaker is really quite good. It tends to be tinny at higher volume levels, but the volume goes very high for such a small handset. Pop in a good set of headphones and the quality is improved slightly, though there’s an odd high-pitched squeal for a few seconds when you pause music.
You can expand on the internal memory and that’s a good thing for music fans, though the fact that the slot is under the battery is a pain for those of us that like side-loading content such as music. There’s ‘up to’ 2.5GB of built in storage available, says Sony. When I checked 2.1GB was free.
The phone did seem to take its time updating its music library from a microSD card, and it managed to mix up album art. I use a microSD card for phone reviews that’s crammed with files I use for testing phones, and I’ve not had that problem before so I’d be interested to know if others have the same experience.
The camera is another area where the Xperia tipo is limited. It has no flash and will capture stills at 3.2-megapixels, which is very much the entry-level these days. Video capture is set with a top resolution of 640 x 480, which is woeful. Quick snaps are probably OK but don’t expect to take photos or videos that you want to be keepers.
Sony also includes its LiveWare, which enables you to configure an app to start when you plug in a connector. You can make settings for the charger, headphones and a headset. You might want the music player to run when you plug in headphones for example.
The 800MHz processor and its 512MB of supporting RAM did a reasonable job, but there were noticeable lags while some apps loaded. To be fair if you’ve not experienced top-end multi-core processors then you might not notice this, but it is worth a mention.
The Sony Xperia tipo has good sound output and might therefore appeal to music fans. But the fact that it runs Android 4.0 isn’t such a big hook as to make me blind to a number of features that clearly mark this handset as one suited to its price.
Manufacturer and model
Sony Xperia tipo
GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100
800 MHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
3.2in, 480 x 320 pixels
103 x 57 x 13 mm