Sony Xperia Tipo £100
7th Sep 2012 | 12:01
The baby of the Xperia range offers up ICS at a low price
The Sony Xperia Tipo is the latest addition to the Xperia smartphone range, and it's undoubtedly the baby of the family. It comes in at around £100 (around $160), with an 800MHz single-core processor, 512MB of RAM, 2.5GB of internal storage, a 3.2MP camera and a 3.2-inch 320 x 480 display.
It runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which in terms of its specifications is definitely the standout feature.
The Sony Xperia Tipo (also known as the ST21i) is priced at around the same level as the Huawei Ascend G300, Samsung Galaxy Y and LG Optimus L3. In other words, it's an entry-level Android smartphone.
But while its specs are mostly the same as its competitors - or even slightly weaker in some cases - it is one of very few handsets at around this price point that currently runs Android 4.0.
The first thing that hits you with the Sony Xperia Tipo is just how chunky it is, at 13mm (0.5 inches) thick. Conversely, its height of 103mm (4 inches) and width of 57mm (2.2 inches) are both on the small side, as you'd expect from a low-end phone.
The build quality isn't bad, though at 99.4g (0.22lbs) it's pretty lightweight. Rather than sporting a plastic back like most of its rivals, the Sony Xperia Tipo comes with a "premium rubber" coating on the battery cover. This is designed to wipe clean with a wet cloth, keeping your phone looking new and unmarked.
Though we didn't want to push our luck too much, these claims seemed true in our tests, with minor stains wiping straight off. The coating also makes it easy to get a solid grip on the handset. Shiny plastic covers have a tendency to feel precariously slippery in the hand, but this has no such problems.
The cover is quite easy to remove, which is just as well because the battery, SIM card and microSD card slot all lie behind it. There's a small groove at the bottom of the phone that you can use to pull it straight off, and replacing it is just as easy.
The microSD card slot and SIM card can only be accessed by removing the battery itself. It's an unfortunate placement, particularly in the case of the microSD card slot, since that 2.5GB of internal storage will quickly get eaten up.
Heavy users of media and apps may find the need for more than one microSD card to store all of their stuff. So it would be nice if they were switchable on the fly. Still, it can take cards of up to 32GB, which will likely be more than enough for most users.
The top-left corner of the Sony Xperia Tipo houses the power key, which can also be tapped to lock or wake the phone. Along from that on the top-right you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack.
On the right edge of the handset near the top there's a volume rocker, which can also be used to zoom the camera. There's also a strap hole near the bottom.
On the left-hand side all you'll find is a micro USB slot, which is used primarily for charging the phone and connecting it to a computer. It's not an ideal position, since it gets in the way and makes it unnecessarily awkward to operate the phone while it's charging. A better position would have been the top or bottom edge. It also doesn't help that the charging cable provided with the phone is very short.
The camera lens is on the back of the phone, as you'd expect, as is a speaker. Finally, the front of the phone has the ear speaker at the top and three soft touch keys at the bottom. These are specifically the back key on the left, the home key in the centre and the menu key on the right.
Running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the Sony Xperia Tipo should be a joy to use.
It enables you to drag and drop apps on top of each other to create folders, swipe sideways across an app to close it or a notification to clear it, view widgets before you place them, and more. It's a great interface that brings Android close to the slickness of iOS.
From the lock screen you can go to the home screen/currently opened app or launch the camera, you can pull down the notifications screen and act on any texts or missed calls.
That's a welcome addition, and quick access to the camera is always a nice feature, but it's a shame there's no direct access to things such as contacts or messages.
As is standard with Android, the Sony Xperia Tipo's notifications bar lives at the top of the screen, and a downwards swipe will pull it open. The settings screen and any un-cleared notifications are accessible from here, while it also tells you the date.
There are only five home screens, which even with folders will quickly fill up if you're using many widgets, but there is also a bar at the bottom that's visible from every home screen and can house up to four applications or folders (in addition to an unmovable icon that takes you to the application list).
Widgets also come in various shapes and sizes, so if you opt for small ones you can add quite a few to a single home screen. Pinching any home screen will bring up a floating display of all your widgets - it can look a bit messy, but it enables you to quickly access the one you want.
The Sony Xperia Tipo's applications list can quickly get quite long as more and more applications are installed, so thankfully it's easy to manage and can be sorted alphabetically, by most used, by how recently things have been installed or in your own custom order.
You can launch any application from here, while long-pressing one will enable you to place it on a home screen, or when applicable share it by email, MMS or various social networks and cloud storage spaces.
Long pressing an icon on a home screen enables you to move it around, add it to a folder or delete it.
Android 4.0 works reasonably well on the Sony Xperia Tipo, is well laid out and looks good. Anyone coming from another Android handset will be right at home, but even those new to the OS should be able to pick it up quickly.
Scrolling between home screens is smooth, and operating the phone in general is smooth and responsive.
Android 4.0 isn't quite the joy it is on some handsets, though. This is mostly down to the small screen size, leading home screens to feel cramped - particularly when widgets are added to the equation.
It also means the keyboard is awkwardly small and easy to make mistakes on, though in landscape mode it's not too bad.
On top of that, elements of the UI sometimes overlap. For example, when first signing in to Google Play the password entry box overlapped with a back button, causing us to accidentally back out to the previous screen when attempting to enter our password.
There was also slight occasional slow down and jerkiness.
Despite launching with Android 4.0, the Sony Xperia Tipo also features hardware home and back keys, which is unnecessary when Android 4.0 is built around the concept of a buttonless UI.
These buttons both spoil the aesthetics of the phone and - more importantly - take up space that could perhaps otherwise have been used for a bigger screen.
Contacts and calling
The Sony Xperia Tipo has separate icons for contacts and the dial pad. Though both of these screens can be accessed through either icon, they simply dictate which screen you start on. You can also access a call log, contact groups and favourites from here.
By default, the dial pad icon is the only one on a home screen, and this can be found at the far right of the bottom bar. Of course, this being Android, either icon can be moved and placed wherever you want.
The phone features smart dialling, and once you enter a number it also presents you with the option to send a text rather than call it. Similarly, selecting a contact from the phone book gives the option of calling, texting or emailing them, which is a great way of keeping all the communication functions together in one area.
If anything, it's a shame the Sony Xperia Tipo's main SMS inbox isn't available from the contacts and call screens.
There also isn't much in the way of social network integration. You can sync contacts with Facebook, and all the major networks are well served with apps from Google Play, but it would be nice if contacts could be messaged on these platforms from the main contacts screen.
This is one area where Google could definitely learn from Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.
Calling a contact takes more button presses than it should. Once on the contacts screen you have to tap once to select a contact, and then again to choose whether to call or text them. It's not a big deal, but could have been avoided by using swipes.
For example, swiping left across a contact could have called them, while swiping right would bring up the messaging screen, thus cutting down on button presses. Even once added to favourites it still takes the same number of button presses to call a contact.
Adding a contact to the Sony Xperia Tipo is done by tapping an icon on the top-right of the contacts screen, and a decent amount of information can be added to each contact.
From multiple numbers and emails, to their address, related websites, notes, nicknames and more, there's just about everything you could ask for. Not to mention the ability to add them to a group and assign a custom ringtone.
Call clarity is good, and even the speaker phone works quite well. In our time with the phone we did experience one dropped call, but that was in a very poor signal area.
Options from the call screen are fairly standard - you can access the dial pad, toggle speaker phone on or off, mute the call and end the call. You can also hide the screen altogether and navigate the phone without cutting the call.
Like most things, the messaging application on the Sony Xperia Tipo can be placed anywhere on any of the home screens. Launching it will bring you to the last message thread you were in.
Each thread contains every message between you and that contact, laid out like a conversation. You can type a new message, send pictures, videos or sounds, or add additional recipients.
Long-pressing a specific message enables you to delete it, copy it or forward it, while long-pressing a thread enables you to delete an entire conversation.
Options such as message notifications and push settings can be accessed with a tap of the menu button when on the main messaging screen.
Just as you can text a contact from the Sony Xperia Tipo's contacts screen, you can also call a contact from the messaging screen.
But again this could be simplified by adding swipe gestures, or even just giving you the option to call when long-pressing a contact.
As things stand, to call someone from the main message screen you have to tap their name, then once in the conversation screen tap their name again, then tap the call button.
Despite the Sony Xperia Tipo's small screen size, reading and scrolling through messages is fast and easy.
However, as soon as you start typing a message the keyboard and text entry box will take up the whole screen, and at that point you can't read any previous messages.
Writing a message can be a little awkward thanks to the cramped keyboard, but typing in landscape gives you a little more room to manoeuvre, and haptic feedback helps make typing feel responsive. All in all it's not terrible, but if you tend to write long messages then this might not be the phone for you.
As with the contacts and calls screens, there is no social networking or instant messaging integration in the messaging application. This is a bit of a missed opportunity, but isn't uncommon on Android handsets.
One feature it does include is a small flashing indicator light for unread texts and missed calls. It's a useful addition that we'd like to see become more of a standard feature on phones.
The Sony Xperia Tipo sports both 3G and Wi-Fi b/g/n, and both seem pretty fast. Wi-Fi loads mobile optimised pages in around two to three seconds, while even desktop pages full of pictures tend to load in around six to eight seconds.
Browsing over 3G is obviously slower, but generally only seemed to add a couple of seconds to those times.
It comes with the stock Android browser, which works fine. But of course, this being Android, there are plenty of other browsers available from Google Play if you don't get on with it.
The stock browser enables you to pinch or double-tap to zoom and easily switch between tabs and bookmark pages.
It also has all the basic features you'd expect from a mobile browser, such as being able to share pages, save pages for offline reading, auto fill in forms, enable text reflow and block pop-ups.
Most of these options are available by pressing the menu button.
The Sony Xperia Tipo's bookmarks screen shows both images and names of bookmarked pages.
When adding bookmarks they can be sorted into different folders, which is a great way of keeping things tidy when you've got a lot of bookmarks.
Navigating around on the browser is fast, intuitive and smooth. Other than a bit of scrolling, the small screen size poses little problem, as long as you're happy to stick to mobile versions of sites. And zoomed-in pages look clear and very readable.
However, zoomed out pages are pretty much unreadable, and we did occasionally find pages would get cut off at the bottom, as if they hadn't fully loaded.
Also, as with everything else on the phone, as soon as you want to enter text, things get a lot more cramped. So while browsing is generally handled reasonably well, posting to forums and social networks can be a bit of a pain.
The Sony Xperia Tipo has a 3.2MP rear-facing camera. There's no camera on the front of the phone, which means that video calls are more or less off the menu, as is the gimmicky face unlock feature that most Android 4.0 devices include.
Even the camera on the back is quite basic. 3.2MP isn't too bad for an entry-level smartphone camera, but bear in mind that there's no flash on it, so it doesn't fare well in poor light conditions. Even in well lit areas, results are mixed.
There are at least quite a few settings to play with - scene modes are limited to night, sports and beach and snow, but you can manually adjust the exposure value, white balance and metering.
These can all easily be changed with a menu that pops up over the camera display, which enables you to see the effects of any changes you make as they happen. There's also an option to geo-tag your photos. All in all, while the camera isn't great, it's about the standard you'd expect on a phone of this price.
Beach and snow mode isn't brilliant at dealing with reflective surfaces. Ripples and details are evident in the water nearest the camera, but more distant water isn't handled so well, with reflections washing out the colours and detail.
On standard settings, dark environments are very noisy, and appear almost black and white.
Night mode brightens things up considerably and retains a little bit of the colour, though the resulting image is still quite washed out.
Outdoor photos are blurred and washed out, even in relatively shady areas.
Sports mode did an adequate job of shooting moving vehicles, which showed little more blur than static shots.
Brightly lit photos lack detail, and the colours become even more washed out.
Close ups come out slightly blurred but don't suffer too badly in comparison to other photos.
Landscapes suffer as the detail drops dramatically on distant objects - the trees and tower in the background are little more than coloured blobs.
The Sony Xperia Tipo's camera fares better in more closed in spaces.
The video camera on the Sony Xperia Tipo largely mirrors the stills photo camera in both features and performance - which is to say that it's a mixed bag at best, but not too bad for the price.
It has exactly the same scene modes as the photo camera (Night, Sports, and Beach and Snow), and the same options for adjusting exposure value, white balance and metering.
Shooting in VGA, the results are mediocre, as you might expect.
Given the rather limited 2.5GB of internal storage in the Sony Xperia Tipo, you might think that media wasn't a big priority for it - and you'd be right.
Obviously the storage is expandable, but that requires an additional investment, and even then this is unlikely to be your media player of choice.
The tiny low resolution screen is useless for watching videos on, and while photos look OK on it, they lack the crispness and depth of colour that higher end phones display.
Of course the Sony Xperia Tipo is a low end phone, so it's expected that some corners would be cut, but the similarly priced Huawei Ascend G300, for example, has a substantially bigger screen, making videos much more pleasant to watch.
It's not a total write off, though. Being so small and light, it's comfortable to hold for extended periods, so at least if you dare commit to watching a film on it you won't be uncomfortable.
Also, while it doesn't come with much in the way of built-in video playing options, it does include a pretty good music player.
Simply called 'Music', you can add this to any home screen or use it as a widget for even easier access.
It enables you to create playlists, sort music by artist, album, track or playlist, and set songs as ringtones.
You can also search for artist information or song lyrics directly from the application.
There's an FM radio on the Sony Xperia Tipo, too.
This is quite basic and doesn't enable you to record, but it will auto-tune stations and gives you the option to play the music through the phone's speaker.
It also has a built-in TrackID feature, which works a lot like Shazam and can be used to identify the song that's playing and then search for downloads of it or play it on YouTube.
DLNA streaming is also supported.
A solid selection of sound and video formats are supported - specifically MP4, H.264, WMV, MP3, eAAC+, WMA and WAV - and in our tests these all worked.
The sound quality is reasonable, too. It features Sony's 'xLoud' technology, which boosts music volume by up to 30 per cent, though only when played through the speaker, and doesn't cause any distortion in the process.
The end result is that music can reach a decent volume even through the handset's small speakers, though you're still a lot better off using headphones.
Photos and videos are accessed from the Xperia Gallery app, which is a fairly standard gallery application that shows thumbnails of your files and sorts them into folders.
You can also share photos from here, set them as your wallpaper or a contact picture or play them in a slideshow. The only editing functions on offer, though, are cropping and rotating.
Options for videos are even more limited - you can share them and play them, but that's about it. Video controls on the Sony Xperia Tipo are limited to play, pause and jump forwards or backwards.
It's worth noting that unlike higher end Xperia handsets, such as the Sony Xperia U, the Sony Xperia Tipo doesn't feature Bravia engine support.
Given the low price of the handset, this isn't particularly surprising, but it's further evidence that Sony didn't have much interest in making media a focus for the phone.
Battery life and connectivity
Sony reckons it can manage up to five hours talk time, 30 hours of music, three hours of video and a whopping 470 hours of standby time.
With light use (about 90 minutes of talk time, 45 minutes of web browsing, sending a few texts and Wi-Fi always on) the battery was still at 17% after around 30 hours.
Heavier use obviously drained it a lot faster, but we think most users could easily get a day of use out of it before it needs a charge.
As for connectivity options, the Sony Xperia Tipo offers GPS, Wi-Fi b/g/n, HSDPA at 7.2Mbps, HSUPA at 5.76Mbps and Bluetooth connectivity.
This is all pretty straightforward to set up and use - in fact the phone even comes with a widget to toggle them all on or off.
If you delve into the settings menu you can even turn the handset into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.
Media can be downloaded straight to the phone from Google Play, the internet or any number of other apps. But if you want to you can connect the Sony Xperia Tipo to a computer using the supplied USB cable.
Managing content with your computer is a simple case of dragging and dropping in much the way you would with any other storage device.
Maps and apps
Like most Android phones, the Sony Xperia Tipo comes with Google Maps out of the box.
For a free service it's fairly full-featured, with detailed maps, the ability to search for nearby cafes, ATMs and more, directions for drivers and pedestrians, public transport information and even a basic sat nav service.
Maps and related functions are all very easy to use, too, but for those wanting a more comprehensive sat nav, there are also paid options available to download from Google Play.
GPS performance seemed a bit suspect, though - we found that it sometimes took a while to lock on, at times leaving us waiting for over a minute before it found our exact location.
Applications can be downloaded from Google Play, and though there aren't quite as many on offer for the Sony Xperia Tipo as there are for Apple devices, the selection is still huge, and growing all the time.
Google Play is very simple to find your way around, with apps split into categories and sub-categories.
Plus, new apps and editor's choices are highlighted on the main page.
It's worth noting that, despite the fairly humble specs of the Sony Xperia Tipo, most games ran without a hitch.
Sony has bundled a few apps with the phone, including Voice Dialler, which works a little like Siri, enabling you to give voice commands. That's the idea, anyway; in practice it almost never did the right thing.
More usefully, the Sony Xperia Tipo also comes with TrackID, which works much like Shazam - identifying songs and linking you to places where you can purchase them.
A power saver tool is also included, which enables you to set specific profiles for screen brightness, screen timeout and more, and activate them automatically when the battery level drops to a certain point.
Another useful tool is LiveWare Manager, which enables you to toggle specific applications to start automatically when headphones or the phone charger are plugged in.
Finally there's a Music and Videos app, which highlights music and videos that friends have shared over social networks.
Beyond those you get standard apps on the Sony Xperia Tipo such as a calendar, calculator and alarm clock.
By and large these are fully functional, though the alarm clock only enables you to set alarms - you can't, for example, set a timer or use it as a stop watch.
Hands on gallery
We were fairly impressed with the Sony Xperia Tipo. Barring the occasional slowdown or judder you wouldn't know it had such modest specs. It's generally fast and responsive, it's got solid battery life and it's one of the only low-end handsets to currently be running Android 4.0.
On the other hand, its screen is uncomfortably small for typing, it's also pretty poor for videos and the contacts and messaging side of things could use some work.
Android 4.0 is definitely the headline feature of this little handset, bringing with it a wealth of improvements and a general level of slickness and polish that has previously been absent on Android. A lot of higher end phones have Android 4.0 anyway, but most low end devices have so far been left out.
The battery life is good enough to easily get a day's use out of it, and if you don't go overboard on media it may even stretch a good way into a second day. There's a decent selection of applications pre-loaded on the phone, and if you don't want them most of them can be uninstalled.
Most importantly the Sony Xperia Tipo just works, there were minimal performance issues and for general use - be it navigating the home screens, using apps or browsing the web we didn't come across many frustrations.
We really wish the Sony Xperia Tipo's screen was just a little bit bigger. As it is home screens look cramped, bringing up the keyboard often obscures the whole screen and typing on it can be awkward. We know it's a low end handset, but so is the Huawei Ascend G300, and that packs a 4-inch display. We don't need 4 inches, 3.5 would be fine, but the Sony Xperia Tipo is just that little bit too small for comfort.
It's also low resolution, so there are no crisp images here. The contacts, calls and messaging screens are all slightly disappointing, they're not as unified as they could be and it takes an unnecessary amount of taps to call someone. It's not a big deal, but they could definitely use a bit of an overhaul.
Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich review
The Sony Xperia Tipo does a lot right, from its solid battery life to its responsive and smooth performance. It's not perfect though - the screen is small and low resolution and the camera won't be winning any awards.
Given the price tag of around £100 (around $160), we can live with that, and the Sony Xperia Tipo stands up well to most of its competitors, easily matching the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Y and the LG Optimus L3.
But while it matches many of them, its only standout feature is Android 4.0, and with the Huawei Ascend G300 supposedly due an upgrade to it before the end of the year and some other handsets likely to follow, its software lead will probably be short lived.
At the same time, while it's a good all-round performer it's already being beaten in some areas. For example, both the Huawei Ascend G300 and the Orange San Francisco 2 have a better camera and a bigger screen, and both of these phones carry a similar price tag. It's a good phone that doesn't really do anything wrong, but unless you need Android 4.0 now there's better out there for the money.
Despite being cheap, the Sony Xperia Tipo works well, and - typing aside - it's rarely frustrating to use. Ice Cream Sandwich is a very welcome addition, but that's really its only standout feature.