The NXT line gave Sony the strong start they needed after returning to the smartphone game on their own. The Japanese then focused on filling the lower ranks and, yet again, we see them look for inspiration in the old Sony Ericsson scrapbook.
Sony Xperia tipo official pictures
The Sony Xperia tipo is right on time for the anniversary of the Xperia mini's launch. The little droid by Sony Ericsson is still a reasonably popular choice for bargain-hunters. But it's time it stepped down and made room for the new generation.
The Xperia tipo is also doing fairly well in terms of software. While some of the first Sony smartphones had to wait a fair while to upgrade from Gingerbread, the tipo launches on ICS. Attractive design and a modern OS are the key features of this entry-level Android smartphone with modest specs and an affordable price tag.
Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and dual-band UMTS support
7.2 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
3.2" 256K-color capacitive TFT touchscreen of HVGA resolution (320 x 480)
Android OS v4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
800 MHz Cortex-A5 CPU, Adreno 200 GPU, Qualcomm MSM7225AA chipset
512 MB of RAM
2.5GB of inbuilt storage
microSD slot (32GB supported)
3.15 MP fixed-focus camera, geotagging
VGA video @ 25fps
Wi-Fi b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot
GPS with A-GPS
Accelerometer and proximity sensor
Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
Stereo FM radio with RDS
microUSB port (charging) and stereo Bluetooth v2.1
User-accessible battery, Li-Ion 1500 mAh
Fixed-focus camera, No LED flash
Mediocre screen quality
No front camera
Non-hot-swappable microSD slot
Loudspeaker performance is so-so
No DivX/XviD support
Ice Cream Sandwich styled by Sony
The Sony Xperia tipo runs Android 4.0 out of box, and is among the first Xperia's that didn't have to wait to get Ice Cream Sandwich. The jump from Gingerbread hasn't been that drastic for Sony devices, particularly because the interface is still covered head to toe by the custom skin that Sony used to style Android ever since Gingerbread.
The Sony Xperia tipo has the usual five-pane homescreen configuration, without an option to add or remove panes. There are four docked shortcuts (two on either side of the launcher shortcut). These are visible on all five homescreen panes and are user configurable: they can be either single icons or folders with multiple items in them.
The Sony Xperia tipo UI
Speaking of folders, one of the differences is that they're now displayed a bit differently - they show thumbnails of the first four items in them. Not a major change, but gives you quick peek of what's inside.
The homescreen does a neat trick called Overview mode. Pinch to zoom out on any of the 5 homescreen panes and a new screen opens up with a cool transition. All active widgets are displayed in a type of floating cloud, and selecting one takes you to the homescreen where that widget is located.
The Overview mode helps you find the widget you are looking for
The Xperia tipo has some custom-made Sony widgets in addition to the standard set. Those include the Timescape widget (alongside its dedicated app) and a Mediascape-like widget for photos and videos (the actual app isn't there anymore, the standard gallery is back).
Adding a widget is done through a special scrollable interface which displays all available widgets. To browse through them, you have to scroll up or down and tap on the one you want, which places it on your currently selected homescreen. To remove it, simply hold and drag the widget to the trashcan icon which appears on the bottom of the screen.
The widget selector can be a little tedious if you're trying to go to a specific widget, but is a great way to see what you have available to you.
Widgets menu • Selecting and adding widgets
A cool new addition to the lockscreen missing from Xperia phones of old is the music player widget, which lets you control music playback without unlocking the phone. You can also enable Pattern, PIN or Password unlock, in ascending order of security.
The standard notification area is present and accounted for, although for some reason it isn't accessible from the lockscreen as it usually is on ICS (and on other ICS-running Xperia phones).
The lockscreen • Lockscreen options • The standard notification area
The visually customized phonebook of the Xperia tipo is virtually the same as on vanilla Android and can store extensive contact information. A tabbed interface allows you to access your contact list, recent calls, and info from social networking services.
The phonebook • The quick contacts can save you a click or two • the available options
The contact list can be sorted by either first or last name. There are two contact search options - a dedicated search field on top of the contact list, and an alphabet scroll to jump to names starting with a specific letter.
Quick contacts are enabled - a tap on the contact's photo brings up shortcuts for calling, texting or emailing the contact.
You can sync with multiple accounts, including Exchange and Facebook, and you can selectively show or hide contacts from certain accounts (you can fine-sift specific groups from an account), or set the phonebook to display only contacts with phone numbers or only contacts that are online.
Filtering contacts in the phonebook
If a contact has accounts in multiple services, you can "link" their details to keep everything in one place. Their Facebook photos and interests (part of the Facebook integration) will show as extra tabs.
Each contact can have a variety of fields (and repeat fields of the same type), there's an Add field button and the X button lets you remove fields as needed. The fields cover anything from names (including a field to write the name down phonetically) to addresses, nicknames and notes.
Viewing and editing a contact
There is an option to redirect calls directly to voicemail, and custom ringtones are enabled too.
Capable, but quiet telephony
Receiving and making calls on the Xperia tipo was trouble-free. Calls were reasonably loud and clear even in noisy environments.
The phone app features smart dialing which searches for matches in both the contacts' phones and names. The call log is integrated in the dialer - it shows a list of recently dialed, received and missed calls in the top half of the screen and the keypad on the bottom half. Once you start typing, the call log is replaced by the smart dial list. You can hide the keypad the make more room for the call log.
Smart dialing is available only for numbers
Thanks to the proximity sensor, the Sony Xperia tipo automatically disables the touchscreen when you lift it up during a call.
The usual messaging integration
Text messages and MMS use a standard threaded layout. Each thread is displayed as an IM chat session, with the most recent message at the bottom. You can manage individual messages (forward, copy, delete) and even lock them against deletion.
Search is enabled to locate a specific message in all conversations and you can also activate delivery reports.
The messaging app
Adding multimedia (photos, videos, sounds, etc.) will convert the message to an MMS.
Composing a message • Attaching an image automatically makes it an MMS
Moving on to email, the Gmail app supports batch operations, which allow multiple emails to be archived, labeled or deleted. The app supports multiple Gmail accounts, but there's no unified inbox for other email services.
Gmail app supports batch operations and multiple (Gmail) accounts
However, the generic email app can do that as well. It can handle multiple POP or IMAP accounts and you have access to the messages in the original folders that are created online.
The generic Email client has a combined inbox option
Google Talk handles Instant Messaging. The GTalk network is compatible with a variety of popular clients like Pidgin, Kopete, iChat and Ovi Contacts.
As for text input, the Xperia tipo offers a customized on-screen full QWERTY keyboard. Typing on the portrait keyboard is not as convenient as on some of the larger screens seen in the Xperia line, but is still fairly comfortable.
Flipping the phone to landscape gives you even bigger, easier to press buttons.
Xperia tipo keyboard
You can also try the so-called Gesture input if hitting those keys individually doesn't give you the desired typing speed. It works the same as Swype, and even if you've never used Swype input before, you'll quickly get used to it.
Two galleries for the price of one
Oddly, the Xperia tipo comes with the Ice Cream Sandwich gallery, but you'll also find the so-called Xperia Gallery, which brings back the good old Gingerbread app. The two offer very similar functionality, so it's a mystery why Sony decided to include the older version as well.
In the Xperia Gallery, the different albums and folders appear as piles of photos, which expand into neat grids of photos sorted by date. If you have online albums over at Picasa, those show up as separate stacks as well.
Facebook and Picasa albums are distinguished by the small logo of the corresponding service. Facebook pictures can be "liked" with the thumbs up button in the upper right corner.
The Xperia gallery
If you choose the native Gallery app, you'll find a similar arrangement by default - images sorted into albums. However, you can group photos by other attributes too (location, time, people and tags are the other available options).
When viewing individual images with this gallery app, you get a filmstrip of thumbnails at the bottom of the screen, which can be used to quickly jump between images.
The native ICS gallery is also available
Images in both galleries can be cropped or rotated directly in the gallery. Quick sharing via Picasa, Email apps, Facebook, Bluetooth or MMS is also enabled.
Video player leaves much to be desired
There is no dedicated video player app on the Xperia tipo and the phone has very limited video playback support as a whole. We only really managed to get MP4 files to play and ran into plenty of issues with large files.
Watching a video on the Xperia tipo
Depending on where you choose to play the videos from (either the regular or the Xperia version of the Gallery app), you end up with a simple video playing interface that really only lets you jump to various parts of video.
You can download a video player off the Google Play Store with support for more video codecs but chances of getting a video (one not shot with the phone itself) to play are pretty slim.
The solid music player
The Sony Xperia tipo uses the same old music player as the one from before the NXT series. The interface is laid out in four tabs for the available sorting options: all artists, all tracks, playlists and albums.
If you hit the menu key you'll get a search shortcut, as well as send and delete options.
The music player is decent-looking and snappy
The Now Playing screen offers nothing but the standard music controls, shortcuts to the library and the Infinite key. The latter lets you quickly look up a song on YouTube or browse for lyrics.
Music fans will appreciate the selection of equalizer presets but there's no customizable preset. You also get Silent mode, which mutes all other sounds except for alarms - great for uninterrupted listening.
The only available visualization is the album art.
The Now Playing interface • The equalizer
While the rest of the music player is the same as what we saw on Sony Ericsson handsets, this one adds music controls to the lockscreen. They replace the clock, which might be annoying if you just want to check the time. Still, the clock slides out of view, so you have about a second to see what time it is (or just look at the small clock in the upper right corner).
Music player controls on the lockscreen and notification area
FM radio with RDS and TrackID
The Sony Xperia tipo is equipped with an FM radio, which has a neat and simple interface. It automatically scans the area for the available stations and places "notches" on the frequency dial for easier scrolling to the next station. There's a Force mono option to use in case of poor reception.
The FM radio app • TrackID
The TrackID service is also available and works within the radio app. You can even like a song on Facebook.
Camera is as plain as it gets
The Xperia tipo has a 3 megapixel fixed focus and no flash whatsoever. It's capable of producing stills of 2048 x 1536 pixels resolution.
The user interface is not the pure Android Ice Cream Sandwich one we've seen in other recent ICS Xperias, but is instead a customized Sony interface. It's pretty basic as far as functionality is concerned, offering only a few options.
The new camera interface
The viewfinder takes up most of the screen, with a panel to the right of it for some of the controls: the gallery shortcut (which is a thumbnail of the last photo taken), the virtual shutter key and the camera mode switch.
The two remaining onscreen controls are located on the left, and are a quick scene selector and an exposure adjuster. The extra controls are semitransparent, so you can keep them on if you like, they won't block your view.
Pressing the contextual shortcut gives you access to a few more settings, such as white balance, geotagging, metering, and capture method. This last option lets you specify whether you want to be able to tap anywhere to take a picture, or use a dedicated onscreen capture button. Since the camera on the tipo is fixed focus, hitting on the screen image while in camera mode otherwise does nothing.
The resulting camera samples aren't the best we've seen from a 3MP shooter. Color rendering was slightly off, and there appears to be a software filter which removes much of the noise in the shots, but also removes a good amount of detail as well. The resulting images look almost like paintings - smooth and colorful, but with not much detail.
The fixed focus doesn't help much, either, as you can tell by our macro shot.
Sony Xperia tipo camera samples
Image quality comparison
The standard test shots from the Xperia tipo are in our Photo Compare Tool database. The noise reduction filter is very much felt here, as it has rendered the grass in our second chart into a gloopy green mush. There is also evidence of a slight pink spot in the center of the image, most apparent on the first chart. The third chart has accurate white balance and good colors under artificial lighting.
Sony Xperia tipo in our Photo Compare Tool
Okay video recording
The Sony Xperia tipo captures VGA video at around 25 fps, which is all we can expect out of a single-core processor and a 3MP camera.
The camcorder has the same interface as the still camera and some of the same settings.
Switching to camcorder mode
Videos are recorded in MP4 files with a bitrate of 1.6Mbps and stereo AAC sound (128Kbps, 48kHz). The resolved detail isn't great, as expected from a VGA shooter, but it seems as if the noise reduction is less aggressive to the video than it is to still images, as the videos look smoother than expected. Again, like in the still camera, the colors are slightly blown up, and the pink spot is apparent in the middle.
The Sony Xperia tipo has quad-band 2G and dual-band 3G. Mobile data speeds are boosted by 7.2Mbps HSDPA and 5.76Mbps HSUPA.
Local connectivity is covered by Wi-Fi b/g/n, and there's also Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP on hand.
The tipo comes with Sony's Smart Connect manager, which can be set to perform certain actions whenever a accessory is connected, or during certain times of the day. For instance, you can set it to start the music application whenever headphones are plugged in, or set the phone to silent at night.
Smart Connect gives you some cool automation options
One of the biggest advantages that the Sony Xperia tipo gets from running Android ICS is the updated web browser. This browser has a streamlined interface, incognito browsing and other cool features.
The browser interface is quite minimalistic; all you get is a URL bar with a tabs shortcut. Hitting the Menu key gives you more options - Refresh, Forward, Save to bookmarks, Share page, Find on page, full settings and a couple of more - Request desktop site (no more hunting for that "Desktop" option buried at the bottom of the site) and Save for offline reading.
The web browser has been redesigned
The full settings menu includes some really interesting options. For example, you can set your search engine to Yahoo or Bing, you can adjust text size and the level of which double tap will zoom in.
The browser borrows several features from its desktop counterpart. For example, when searching for something, if the browser is confident you'll click on a certain search result, it will start preloading that page right away so that it opens faster if you do click it. You can set this feature to work over Wi-Fi only to preserve data.
The other trick is Incognito mode - there's no global setting, but you can open individual Incognito tabs.
Speaking of tabs, the tab switching interface looks exactly like in the Recent apps list. You can even close tabs by swiping them off the screen.
Quick controls (available from the Labs settings) reveal five controls (New tab, Tabs, URL, Bookmarks, More) when you slide your finger in from the side. Those really improve the browser experience. Another cool feature from Labs is Full screen, which squeezes out a little more screen real estate by hiding the status bar.
The Quick controls
Flash support on the tipo browser was a mixed bag. YouTube videos were able to play in the browser window, but the experience was far from smooth. Most Flash ads showed up as well, although Flash games did not run. You may be able to side-load the Adobe Flash apk if you find it from the dev forums but just don't count on in running trouble-free.
Playing YouTube videos in the browser
Great organizational tools
The Sony Xperia tipo comes with a solid set of organizing options, including a document viewer.
The app in question is the OfficeSuite viewer and it has support for viewing document files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF, including the Office 2007 versions). If you want edit as well as view, the Pro version (a $15/€13 update) can do that.
The OfficeSuite document viewer
Reading documents is reasonably comfortable and panning is blazing fast. There's built-in file browser and cloud storage integration (Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and SugarSync).
Tap on the Manage my files button and you get into the full-blown file browser. It can do all the basic stuff (new folder, copy, delete, etc.), plus batch operations, search for files and ZIP multiple files and folders.
The calendar has three different types of view - daily, weekly and monthly. The lower section of the screen is reserved for a list of upcoming events. Adding a new event is quick and easy, and you can also set an alarm to act as a reminder.
The organizer centerpiece - the calendar
The Calendar also pulls info on upcoming events from your Facebook account. Facebook events appear just like regular calendar entries but you can't edit them on the phone, they are read-only.
There is also a calculator aboard. It is nicely touch optimized - the buttons are really big and easy to hit. You can expand advanced functions (trigonometry, logarithms).
Regular Calculator • Scientific Calculator
The alarm clock app supports multiple alarms, each with its own start and repeat time. The Alarms app can also work as a desk clock - you have a big toggle for the brightness, as well as weather info and shortcuts to gallery slideshow and the music player. There's no world clock, stopwatch or timer though.
The Clock • Creating alarm
Finally, the Sony Power Saver app lets you automate certain power saving functions for your device, such as whether to dim the display or disable certain connectivity features when the battery falls below a certain level.
The Power Saver app
Offline Google Maps and navigation
The Sony Xperia tipo comes with a GPS receiver, which took about a minute to get satellite lock upon a cold start. You can use the A-GPS functionality to get near instantaneous locks. Alternatively, network positioning will do if you only need a rough idea of your location.
Google Maps is a standard part of the Android package and we've covered it many times before. It offers voice-guided navigation in certain countries and falls back to a list of instructions elsewhere.
3D buildings are shown for some of the bigger cities and you can use two-finger camera tilt and rotate to get a better view of the area.
Google Maps uses vector maps, which are very data efficient. The latest version has an easy to use interface for caching maps - you just choose "Make available offline from the menu" and pan/zoom around until the desired area is in view (there's an indicator showing how much storage caching that area will take). You can later view cached areas and delete ones you no longer need.
Note that there's a limit to the size of the area you can cache - you can't just make the entire United States available offline, not even a single state. We managed to fit New York and some surrounding area before Maps told us the area is too big. Also, there's no address search in the cached maps and you can only cache map data in supported regions of the world.
Making an area of the map available for offline usage is very easy
You can plan routes, search for nearby POI and go into the always cool Street View. The app will reroute you if you get off course, even without a data connection.
Google Play meets all your needs
The Sony Xperia tipo runs ICS, so it has access to the latest apps (like Chrome), but the limited amount of app storage means you'll need to be careful with large apps (again, like Chrome) or move a lot of the apps to a microSD card.
The Store is organized in a few scrollable tabs - categories, featured, top paid, top free, top grossing, top new paid, top new free and trending. The in-app section is untouched though and it's very informative - a description, latest changes, number of downloads and comments with rating. There are usually several screenshots of the app in action, and oftentimes a demo video as well.
The Google Play Store
There are all kinds of apps in the Google Play Store and the most important ones are covered (file managers, navigation apps, document readers etc.), so if you wish you could do something more with your phone, odds are it's in the app store.