Xperia Arc S
- Distinctive design
- High-quality still camera
- 4.2-inch screen is a TFT wonder
- New features are niche, bordering on gimmicky
- Not enough here to recommend itself above the original Arc
The Xperia Arc S is a minor technical upgrade to the original Arc. Although the hardware here is still sound, there are better phones available if you're willing to pay just a little more.
The Xperia Arc S sticks with the convex profile, virtually identical to the smartphone that came before it. It's a relief to see a stylish phone that's actually distinguishable from the mostly black oblongs we stare at each day. Our model arrived in a white finish, which helps to a reinvigorate a phone design that's already done the rounds once. We did notice that the (slightly) flimsy backing seemed slightly more rigid on the refresh, though this could just be the fresh out-of-the-box condition. However an occasional creak does remain in the battery cover, a shame considering the more solid feel of its smaller stablemate, the Xperia Ray.
It's a relief to see a stylish phone that's actually distinguishable from the mostly black oblongs we stare at each day.
With Android Gingerbread, you get a similar slice of Google to the Xperia Arc S' predecessor. Nudged up to Android 2.3.4, it also brings with it Sony Ericsson's Facebook layer, conveniently adding status updates, photos and more to your contacts that are linked to Facebook. There's also a screen grab function embedded into the power-off screen - a convenient time-saver that means we can now avoid more complicated third-party solutions. The web browser ably displays, scrolls and zooms on the 4.2-inch screen - shrugging off a bit of vigorous scrolling with no need to catch its breath.
The native keyboard has also gained an upgrade, with a distinctly Swype-ish typing function that can be switched on and off from the keyboard settings. "Swipe to write" works by picking up letters as you slide your finger from key to key, and taking your finger off the screen finishes the word. In action, it's pleasantly responsive, with a stylish highlighter trail mapping the letters on the screen. Sony Ericsson have also included a simpler keypad layout for those used to nine-key typing, a welcome addition to anyone finding those QWERTY keys just too small. While there are a handful of incremental changes, there's nothing major here that we hadn't seen on the original, aside from the pre-installed 3D sweep panorama, a feature proudly emblazoned on the back of the box.
Given the single lens, the camera actually doubles-up on itself to create the 3D effect, and you'll need to be in possession of your own 3D-capable screen; no parallax 3D screen here. But how does it look once you get it up on the big-screen? Well, it works -- to an extent. Sadly, the picture, similar to three-dimensional stills from those 3D-capable Android phones, stutters as it scrolls across your huge screen. Pictures also seem to lose some of their clarity in the process; and the camera sensor won't adjust to lighting differences (check out the brightness flare in the sample seen here) and due to the motion of "sweeping" your phone to capture, expect to see detail lost.
The panorama capture setting didn't like it when we scrolled too slow, but speed up too much, and it didn't like that either. Keeping up with the phone also means that you'll often get undulations on straight edges like buildings and roads - the only solution for this is a tripod. If you haven't bought into the three-dimensional revolution just, you may find the panorama sweep for 2D images just as useful - it's pre-installed, though it suffers the same juddering motions. We're skeptical that the feature will see much use outside of its first showing, and its arrival on all 2011 Xperia devices in a firmware update very soon -- not to mention the high chances of inclusion within Ice Cream Sandwich -- means its chance to differentiate the Arc S from its forebear is all but non-existent.
The improved processor makes itself known in several benchmark tests. Its Qudrant score bested the original Arc's by 200 points, while it notched an average score of 14.2 in Nenamark 2, up from 13.3 with the first-gen Arc. Whilst the newer phone consistently scored higher than the first, we were hard-pressed to notice any meaningful difference. As we noted, if you're prone to visiting graphically intense sites, or have an itchy scrolling finger, the Arc S is generally more than capable of keeping up with you. For media-streaming apps, the Arc S was also several seconds ahead of its ancestor, as were start-up times from off. Within the curved silhouette, Sony Ericsson have crammed in the same 1,500mAh battery found on the original Arc, and (despite the minor hardware and software changes), battery life seemed roughly equivalent. We managed to push six hours of non-stop video playback, and the phone also managed to last a day of standard use which included connecting several times to WiFi networks, occasional web browsing about two hours of music playback alongside push email and a medley of social network notifications. Using the phone's built-in battery monitor, we found that it was that rich Reality Display that was drawing on most of the battery and that toying with the brightness settings helped eke out a little more life from the dying cell. Call quality was superb, with due praise going to the secondary mic, which was able to cancel out a good chunk of ambient noise when making calls.
Whilst the newer phone consistently scored higher than the first, we were hard-pressed to notice any meaningful difference.