teasing posters at CES in January, it confounded us with a ridiculously thin (8.7mm / 0.3in) profile and an unorthodox concave rear, whose sighting was followed up with the revelation of a potent mix of internal components as well. The same 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 processor and Adreno 205 graphics that you'll find on brandmate Xperia Play are present within the Arc, and are backed by 512MB of RAM (320MB available to apps), 8GB of MicroSD storage, an 8 megapixel Exmor R image sensor, an HDMI output, and a 1500mAh battery. That tightly packed interior is then topped off with a 4.2-inch Reality Display capable of accommodating 854 x 480 pixels. Throw the latest mobile build of Android, Gingerbread, into the mix and you've got yourself a compelling list of reasons for riding aboard this Arc. Nonetheless, spec sheets tell only half the story and we're here for the full disclosure -- what's the Arc like to use on a daily basis, how are its talents harnessed by Sony Ericsson's tweaked UI, and, most importantly, do people think better of us for carrying such a stylish phone? Keep reading to find out.
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Xperia Arc review
- Great camera
- Thin, light and beautiful
- Attractive UI atop Android 2.3
- Iffy ergonomics
- Disappointing video quality
- Some software issues
The Xperia Arc's physical design is very clearly targeted at fashion-conscious buyers. It's not ergonomically broken by it, but form has clearly led the way ahead of function (as illustrated by the camera lens being attached at the very top of the handset, its thickest point), but you know what, we don't really mind that. It's about time we admitted to ourselves that we buy phones as much for what they look like as for what they do, and we laud Sony Ericsson for having the audacity to pursue its target demographic with a highly distinctive design. Few things curb our enthusiasm as much as overly generic phones that try to be all things to all people and the Arc is commendably distant from that group.
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Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc detailed hands-on
Contributing to the diversity of Android key configurations, Sony Ericsson has opted for a trifecta of physical buttons on the Xperia Arc (the Back and Menu keys have swapped positions from the X10 arrangement), which are thankfully wide, easily identifiable, and highly intuitive to use. Aside from the good clicky responsiveness of each button, that's in large part down to the omission of the Search key, which we can't say we missed at all. Its absence paves the way for SE to center the Home button (a good thing) and generally simplifies a user control scheme that hardly needed to be quite so complex to begin with. The only downside to the Arc's buttonry is one we spotted with the Xperia Play as well -- there's no illumination for the key labels in the dark. You get a pair of lights marking the division between each key, but their purpose is basically indecipherable when the phone's used in the dark. An easily forgivable little foible, we'd say, on what is a very satisfying keypad.
The rest of the Arc's exterior is mostly uneventful, consisting of flowing, pretty lines, broken up by a volume rocker and MicroUSB port on its top left shoulder, a 3.5mm headphone jack directly opposite on the right, and an HDMI output and a rather tiny power / lock key at the top. There is a physical shutter button here, but it's positioned at the extreme bottom right of the handset, almost at the corner, which leads to awkward operation at times. Overall build quality feels robust and durable, though we're again under the impression that Sony Ericsson wasn't spending too richly in obtaining the construction materials. Nothing wrong with that for the most part, we don't begrudge manufacturers making savings where they don't cost the end product, but we did manage to induce a little creaking from the frame, particularly around the volume rocker.
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Xperia Arc camera samples
Let's get the big news out of the way first, the Xperia Arc takes some really beautiful and detailed shots. It's able to focus quickly even under challenging conditions (in our side-by-side testing, the Arc managed to focus in a low-light situation where the Play could not) and its biggest antagonist is color noise when there's not enough light around. Sharpness is retained very well by the Exmor R sensor and there's no reason to fear noise reduction software will blast away the tender detail in your images. If there's one thing to bear in mind with the Arc's output, it is that SE is doing a little bit of its own post-processing to boost colors on every shot, resulting in occasionally oversaturated pics. We understand the reasoning behind this, as it most often improves images by making them appear more vibrant and less drab, but we would have liked the option to toggle this function off.
There's plenty of softness in that video, in spite of the almost ideal lighting circumstances of a rare sunny London afternoon. Ironically, whereas stills are handled with little noise reduction by the Arc's software, there's clearly a very aggressive noise suppression algorithms at work when it comes to video. It's used in an effort to make the picture appear "smooth" -- something we saw with the Xperia Play as well -- but it leads to the unsatisfying outcome of killing fine detail and replacing it with a smeared appearance. This could again be excused by the fact the Arc's intended for a casual audience (and the videos do indeed look quite spectacular on the phone's own display), but there's an HDTV-loving HDMI output among this phone's ports and you won't be best pleased with the results once you decide to look at them on an actual big screen television. Wind noise also figured its way into the equation, but that's mostly owing to an unfortunate angling of the phone that allowed wind to channel its way to the mic; we've yet to encounter a phone that's not susceptible to that issue.
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Xperia Arc software
There's little on the Xperia Arc that we haven't already discussed in our Xperia Play review. It features Android's finest mobile build to date, skinned with Sony Ericsson's mostly successful aesthetic tweaks and performing smoothly and responsively. For the most part. As highlighted in the camera section above, the Arc benefits from a customized camera app, which is certainly an improvement over the default in terms of functionality, but managed to crash on us a couple of times. Moreover, the Timescape widget can be a real spoiler with all its resource consumption, forcing the occasional stutter in UI navigation, however given that it's merely an optional extra you can remove within seconds of turning the phone on, we can't bemoan it too much. The onscreen keyboard, particularly in portrait mode, would've been better left in its stock Gingerbread form, though we really like Sony Ericsson's changes in the messaging, contacts, and applications subsections. All three work spectacularly, with nary a hint of lag, and look splendid. Additional, though entirely superficial, marks are earned for the neat ghosting animation you're treated to when tapping the unlock or mute sliders on the lock screen.
All that said, we liked the Arc and we think it has a lot to offer to the right sort of buyer. If you're obsessive about display technologies and vanilla Google software like we are, we'd advise looking at the tried and tested Nexus S. But if you just fancy an uncomplicated, big-screened phone to enjoy movies on during your daily commute, the Xperia Arc might just be your perfect candidate. It doesn't really lack anything on the feature front, but it's Sony Ericsson's execution and occasionally odd design choices that hold it back from being a triumph.