Sony Xperia Tipo review

What Mobile
September 20, 2012

Sony was quite slow off the mark to release smartphones running the Android 4.0 operating system, failing to get the new software on to its first range of Sony Mobile devices launched after its split with Ericsson.

However, it has recently done an admirable job in getting the newer version of the Google OS on to lower-end devices, starting with the efficient Sony Xperia Mini, and now with the even more wallet-friendly Sony Xperia Tipo.

The Xperia Mini was priced at around £200 SIM-free, and offered a lot of bang for your buck. But while the Xperia Tipo is offered at around half that price, it doesn’t provide quite such a good balance between cost and quality.

At first glance the Sony Xperia Tipo doesn’t look much like the rest of the Xperia family. It lacks the distinctive design traits commonly seen across the range, such as the blocky outline or colourful plastic strips below the touchscreen.

Instead the Xperia Tipo presents you with a fairly uninspiring chunk of black plastic around the screen and a matt backplate, highlighting its entry-level roots and appeal-to-all design.

It isn’t unpleasant to look at, however, and its use of smoothly rounded edges makes it a more comfortable device to hold and slip into your pocket than some of the sharper-edged devices in Sony Mobile’s wider Xperia range.

Mobility is enhanced by its diminutive profile. It measures just 103 x 57mm across its face, and even though it is a fairly chunky 13mm thick, it feels slightly thinner due to the ease and comfort with which it fits into the hand

At 100g the Sony Xperia Tipo is also no burden to carry. And while it certainly doesn’t feel like a premium device, the weight and above average build mean it doesn’t feel insubstantial either.

Of course a small phone means a small screen, and the Xperia Tipo’s 3.2-inch display is pretty tiny. Social networking on Facebook is painless enough as the pre-installed app has taken into account the device’s small screen and have been optimised to work very effectively.

However, this isn’t a device you’ll want to watch movies on and browsing the web requires constant scrolling in order to comfortably read even small amounts of text.

The onscreen keyboard is also quite small and its thin keys can make errors relatively common if you have large hands, so the Sony Xperia Tipo is definitely not a handset for the fatter-thumbed.

Sony Xperia Tipo smartphone chassis

Size isn’t the only problem with the screen. The pixel density of 180ppi isn’t atrocious, but it doesn’t make extended viewing especially pleasurable. Though reasonably responsive most of the time, there were also occasions when touch sensitivity was noticeably lacking.

However, these criticisms have to be seen in light of the Xperia Tipo’s low price. There are few smartphones at such a low cost that offer faultless screens, and there are also more expensive phones with far worse displays.

Another area where Sony’s budgeting shows through is in the Xperia Tipo’s 3-Megapixel rear-facing camera. Images even in good light lack crispness and focussing is a bit haphazard. Given the lack of a flash, you also may as well not bother taking photos in low light. None of those we tried produced clear enough results to make the image look as good as we’d hoped.

Sony Mobile has tried its best at tweaking its skinned version of the Android 4.0 operating system to mitigate the small screen size but there is only so much it can do on such a compact display.

There isn’t room for a plethora of apps on the homescreens, and Sony has opted to equip the device with a selection of widgets that prove to be something of a double-edged sword. The Top Contacts and Friends widgets arguably make it easier to keep track of social contacts on such a small screen and the Music widget is always handy.

But adding widgets such as News & Weather and Help to the selection takes up valuable space on the the homescreens when space is at a premium. Of course you can delete them, but it is a bit of a hassle if you want to have more than a handful of key apps accessible right out of the box.

Sony has also added a couple of interesting additional software tweaks to the Xperia Tipo. One is LiveWare Manager which allows you to set an app or task to start when the handset is charging, or it has a set of headphones plugged in. We used it to successfully launch Spotify when plugging in our headphones, saving us a couple of taps on the screen.

There is also xLoud software switched on by default, which is meant to make the handset’s speakers louder. The Tipo certainly is able to pump out surprisingly clear and loud music for such a tiny device, but we found it a bit difficult to detect more than a slight difference in audio quality between having xLoud on and off.

Both tweaks are welcome, but are less impressive than similar features found on other devices. Motorola offers a more fully featured automation system which lets you set a large range of presets. And HTC’s Beats Audio software packs a bigger punch, even if its contribution to music quality is questionable.

Sony Xperia Tipo smartphone camera

In terms of performance, the Xperia Tipo does pretty much exactly as you would expect for a device at this price. With just 800MHz of processing power under the hood it handles standard tasks reasonably well. We noticed only a small delay in opening up or switching between the most common apps.

But try loading even half-way demanding apps and games and that lack of power shows. We found even the always-popular Angry Birds took surprisingly long to load between levels.

During testing we recorded benchmark scores which put the Sony Xperia Tipo firmly near the bottom end of the scale and well behind rival handsets which were released more than two years ago.

That lack of power does have one advantage, however, enabling the Xperia Tipo’s 1500 mAh battery to run the device for well over a day under reasonable amounts of use without charging.

However, one area Sony certainly should have done better on is call quality. Voices sound muffled and it can occasionally be difficult to make yourself clearly heard.

Ultimately the Sony Xperia Tipo isn’t a bad handset and if you are keen to grab yourself an Android 4.0-equipped smartphone at a competitive price, it might be the right choice.

But whereas with the Xperia Mini, Sony Mobile produced a quality piece of kit for a surprisingly low price, the Xperia Tipo makes its lack of investment all too obvious.

The limited screen quality and poor camera performance, coupled with its underpowered processor mean this is a functional and well-priced device but one that is hard to love.

Sony isn’t alone in failing to come up with a truly compelling device at the bottom end of the market, with both Samsung and LG making similarly half-hearted attempts at this sector.

But that simply means the Xperia Tipo will sit alongside those devices as a mediocre handset created more for Sony Mobile to claim it offers something for every price point, rather than as a credible push to win new first-time buyers.

With the likes of Huawei, Alcatel and ZTE putting more effort into the entry-level market, you wonder whether Sony and other more established names should even bother. The lack of anything to mark the Tipo out from the crowd indicates it might be worth leaving the low end to those who are really fighting for it.

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