Specs and design
With a 'premium rubber' backing, rather than the standard plastic usually found on low-end devices, the Xperia tipo feels of a high build quality to the touch. It's comfortable to grip and is easy to wipe clean of blemishes using a damp cloth.
As you might expect, it is something of a minimalist offering. A headphones input lies at the top of the device alongside a power button, while volume controls reside on the right and a charging socket on the left. Our only issue with the phone's physical design is that access to the microSD storage slot requires the removal of the battery. With just 2.5GB of internal storage on board, having it within easy reach would have been an advantage.
Under the hood, the Xperia tipo packs a 800MHz single-core processor, 512MB of RAM, a 3.2-megapixel camera and 3.2-inch 320 x 480 display. This puts it more or less in line with rival devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Y and the LG Optimus L3, but its standout feature is the inclusion of Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system - quite a coup for a budget handset.
The Xperia tipo's 3.2-megapixel camera isn't going to help you win any photo of the year contests. With no flash to speak of, it performs under par in poorly lit areas, and is hit and miss in brighter conditions. The option to tweak exposure value, white balance and metering does help - plus there are at least a handful of scene settings to play with - but grainy images and washed-out colours are almost unavoidable.
The phone packs a 1500mAh battery, an impressively sizable power source for such a small device. With light usage, we got between 30 and 40 hours run time out of the phone. This dropped considerably with heavy web browsing and app usage, but the average customer will likely get a good day and a half's worth of power.
Interface, operating system and software
There are few general performance issues with the Xperia tipo. Menu navigation is smooth and responsive, most apps run surprisingly well and there are no problems when it comes to making calls. The limited screen size does hamper its messaging capabilities as the display becomes very cramped when the virtual keyboard pops up. Typing can be uncomfortable, particularly if you have large fingers like this reviewer, so it may not be the phone for social networking fanatics or those who spend a lot of time emailing on the fly.
The phone comes with your standard stable of Sony and Google apps preinstalled. Users can take advantage of something close to the full Google Maps experience, though we found the accuracy of the GPS features hit and miss. There's also Sony's own Voice Dialler app, that would have been a novel inclusion if it actually worked. Other first-party apps include the Shazam rivalling TrackID, which fares much better, and LiveWare Manager for promoting specific applications to open when the earphones or charger are connected.
Gaming apps fare surprisingly well on the handset, despite some graphical concessions. It's more than capable of playing host to extended Angry Birds sessions, but we also had high-end shooter Dead Trigger running smoothly enough.
The headline feature of the device from a software standpoint is the inclusion of the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. It may not be Google's most recent offering any more, but you won't find many other phones at this end of the spectrum running it. Users will benefit from something close to the full Ice Cream Sandwich experience, with the limited screen space hampering only the widgets feature.
With a bargain price tag of around £100, the Sony Xperia tipo is good value for anyone looking for a bare-bones offering. It's not the most feature-packed phone on the market, nor is it the best equipped for media, but it's reliable when it comes to meeting your basic needs, and the inclusion of Ice Cream Sandwich sweetens the deal.