Undoubtedly one of the best things about the S312 is that it uses the standard Sony Ericsson Symbian-based operatins system that’s found on most of the company’s budget and mid range phones. This is very easy to use as its main menu has a familiar gird layout which makes all the key features quick and easy to find. The predictive text engine also works a treat and this combined with the large, responsive keys on the keypad makes it easy to tap out longer texts or emails. Also, although the handset lacks 3G support, Sony Ericsson has pre-installed the Opera Mini web browser (you’ll find it in the applications menu), which helps speed up browsing by using third party web servers to render and compress pages before firing them out to the handset.
Admittedly the S312’s two inch screen makes even simple webpages a bit of a chore to read as there are only 176x220 pixels available. However, the screen is nice and bright and unlike many displays in this price range viewing angles are pretty good too. But although the display’s mirrored finish looks very slick, it actually makes the screen very difficult to read when you’re using it outdoors on sunny days (not that we get that many of those in dear old Blighty).
As we’ve already noted, Sony Ericsson doesn’t include headphones with the handset. This is annoying not just because the phone’s music player is actually pretty good, but also because the FM tuner is only usable when a pair of headphones is attached. We tried both out with a pair of cans from a mid range Sony Ericsson handset and found that the sound quality from the S312 is actually rather punchy and we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that it’s output is a lot cleaner than many budget phone we’ve used.
As you would expect the 2.0-megapixel camera isn’t exactly amazing, but it’s actually not bad for a budget handset as images come out looking reasonably sharp and colours are pretty vibrant. The LED flash also helps the sensor out a little bit when working under low light, although you have to manually turn it on and off, as it doesn’t just automatically detect when it's needed.
If there’s one thing that’s crucial to get right on these types of budget phones its call quality and thankfully we have no complaints in this department. The S312’s ear piece is surprisingly loud and delivers crisp, clean audio. Callers also reported no problems with the performance of the mic. With the lack of 3G and other battery draining features like GPS, you’d expect the battery life to be pretty good and again the S312 doesn’t disappoint as we found we could get between four and five days from it before needing a recharge.
The S312 is certainly not without its problems: the mirrored screen can be an issue outdoors and it’s annoying it doesn’t come with headphones. However, we do like its stylish looks, easy to use interface, low price and decent line up of features. So while it may not be the best budget handset around right now, we do think it is one of the better ones.