Sony Starts Selling Unlocked, Beginner-Friendly Xperia tipo

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Sony's Xperia line of phones each seems to focus on a specific niche: the Xperia Play goes for gamers, while the various Xperia NXT series handsets target music lovers, Instagram fans and high-definition video zealots. But what if you're new to the smartphone scene and not looking for something quite so sophisticated? Sony's Xperia tipo and Xperia tipo dual sport a bevy of features designed to alleviate some of the frustrations of every handset usage.

The Xperia tipo family comes with a starting tutorial to help you set up your email and social networks out of the box, while a baked-in data monitoring app keeps the dreaded bill shock at bay. The Xperia tip duo has two SIM card slots for the folks who like to mix work and play; you can switch between them with a single button push as well as customize the ringtones and usage times for each card.

Sony's also promising an extended battery life from the 1,500 mAh battery. That's nowhere near as big as the Droid Razr Maxx's 3,300 mAh beast, but the Xperia tipo makes up for it in its more modest spec list. The phone measures in at 4.0 by 2.2 by 0.5 inches, with a 3.2-inch, 480 x 320 resolution display, a 800MHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a 3.2-megapixel camera and 2.9GB of onboard memory that can be expanded by another 32GB thanks to a micro-SD slot. Appropriately enough, "tipo" means "average" in Italian.

On the software side, the phones run Android 4.0 ICS and include apps for Sony's Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited stores.

The beginner-friendly features and pedestrian hardware are accompanied by a price tag that won't break the bank; Sony's already selling the unlocked Xperia tipo for $179.99 on its website, while the Xperia tipo dual is accepting pre-orders at $189.99. Both operate on HSPA and GSM networks.

Designing smartphones for novice users seems to be becoming a trend; earlier this month, Verizon announced the Samsung Galaxy Stellar, a low-cost 4G LTE phone with a tip-your-toe-into-Android Starter mode.