The A230 shares its new body shape with Sony's other recently-launched lower-spec models the A330 and the A380. It's sleeker, lighter and slightly more compact than the previous body shape as exemplified by the Alpha A350. It's an attractive enough design and the build quality and finish are certainly up to a decent standard, however it feels a lot less substantial than the Pentax K-m or the Nikon D3000, and some parts of the body feel distinctly hollow. I'm also not too keen on the new shape of the handgrip. It's too skinny to grip comfortably, and the position of the shutter button on top of the body is comparatively awkward.
Even by entry-level standards the A230 is a very simple camera, less complex in fact than some high-end compacts. This means that the controls are also very simple and easy to understand, so its target demographic of first-time users and those graduating from a point-and-shoot camera will have an easy learning curve. There are separate buttons for exposure compensation, ISO, drive mode and flash mode, which is always good to see. The main mode dial has program auto, aperture and shutter priority and full manual exposure like all DSLRs, but also has half a dozed scene programs as well as full auto and a "flash off" mode.
Other frequently used options are controlled via a simple six-panel shooting menu activated by the function button. These include autofocus mode and area, metering mode, the Dynamic Range Optimizer (sic) feature, white balance and the Creative Styles options. This consists of seven tone pre-sets, all of which can be customised for contrast, saturation and sharpness. All of these have helpful explanatory notes which pop up after a couple of seconds. This doesn't leave many vital functions for the main menu apart from image size, aspect ratio and quality, which includes standard and fine JPEG options, as well as Raw and Raw + JPEG.
The 2.7-inch 230k monitor is a bit small and low-res by recent DSLR standards, and its shiny plastic cover is very reflective in bright sunlight, but since the A230 has no live view mode the monitor is only used for the menu and image review, so this doesn't really matter too much. The viewfinder on the other hand is excellent, far better than the otherwise very similar A330. It has a large bright screen, clearly marked AF points and a good easy to read data display.