It’s easy to overlook the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc with all the hype the manufacturer is drumming up around the Xperia Play gaming phone right now. Give it a chance though: this is one of our favourite Android phones in a long while. Read on and we’ll explain why in our full Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review.
If Sony Ericsson was trying to come up with a flagship phone as cutting edge as it is cuttingly thin, it’s failed: you’ll be far more future proofed with an HTC Incredible S, or one of the dual core Android phones just around the corner. But as a smart, slim and attractive phone with multimedia chops, it’s a triumph. Let’s take a look.
Design and build
We can’t say the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is objectively beautiful in the same way the Nokia E7 or iPhone 4 is, but like the best models, it’s certainly striking. Its slab of a front face is almost all screen (4.2 inches, which is about as spacious as it gets), while the three physical buttons are almost sheer – a slight slope below makes them easy to press however. There’s a front facing camera above too, though you might never know it was there.
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In your hand, it certainly feels smaller than phones with a similarly sized screen, and that’s down to its profile: it’s worryingly thin, tapering down to just 8.7mm. And yet, while the plastic back panel feels a tad cheap and floats a little in its catch, it the whole affair feels reassuringly sturdy. It may be wafer thin, but it won’t snap like one.
We’re more puzzled by the arrangement of the ports on the Xperia Arc however, several of which have ended up on the thinnest sides of the phone for no clear reason. We’re not sure why Sony Ericsson thought placing the headphone jack on the side of the phone and the HDMI port on the top was a sound move: it’s as though no one in Sony Ericsson tried to use the phone to listen to music on the go. Likewise, the camera shutter button on the right hand side is a bit too close to the corner for comfort, and it can make getting a stable shot tricky.
Still, for the Tardis trickery Sony Ericsson has pulled off by making something so big seem so small, it’s a small price to pay.
The screen was by far the most disappointing aspect of the Xperia Play, but the Arc isn’t hampered by such problems, even if its screen doesn’t quite live up to the title of “Reality Display”. “OK in sunlight and quite sharp Display” would have probably been a more accurate moniker for it: the 854×480 screen is acceptably sharp and it copes quite well outdoors where smartphones with AMOLED screens fail miserably, though its colour reproduction on homescreens and web pages isn’t dazzling.
Its secret trick however is a mobile version of Sony’s Bravia TV image processing engine – it only kicks in on video and still images, but it works, sprucing up even YouTube videos with noise reduction and colour management. It’s a welcome addition, and makes the Arc a very appealing multimedia phone. You really have to see it yourself, but you can get a feel for how it works in this video below.
The Xperia Arc also comes with an HDMI-out port (A cable is included in the box) to mirror its screen on your HDTV. It works smoothly, but you may not use it all that much since the Arc doesn’t support many media formats natively. But for viewing back your own recordings, it’s handy.
What you’re looking at on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is a nigh on identical experience to that of the Xperia Play – minus the PlayStation Pocket hub of course, though it’s entirely possible the Arc will support the PlayStation Suite when it arrives later this year.
You can find out more about Android 2.3 itself in our Google Nexus S review, but in short, it’s feature packed and very fast. And if you caught our Xperia Play review last week, you’ll know we were impressed by Sony Ericsson’s subtle tweaks, and the fact that the company is first out of the gate with Gingerbread phones after Google itself. Everything runs extremely fast here – more so perhaps than on the Xperia Play, even – and we like the ability to zoom out and see all your widgets on one screen, as well as Sony Ericsson’s custom apps, tune recognition stalwart TrackID, and its media streaming DLNA service.
The one exception to this is still Sony Ericsson’s ambitious contact handler. Timescape, now relegated to the status of widget from full blown address book on the Xperia X10, is still ultimately unusable thanks to the long loading times. Thankfully, it’s no longer your contacts book as well, so you need never use it. The same goes for Sony Ericsson’s not-as-good-as-Google’s-so-why-did-you-bother on screen keyboard: you can always help yourself to one of many alternatives on the Android Market if you so choose.
There’s one other catch with the innards worthy of note: the Xperia Arc is packing surprisingly little on board storage. Around 512MB in fact, which is far short of what rivals can offer. It’s a bit of an issue for apps that don’t support SD card installation, and could mean you run out of space, but if you’re that much of an app obsessive, you’ll probably be wanting something a bit more powerful anyway, such as a Motorola Atrix or the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S 2.
As a still camera, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is excellent. The Arc’s “Reality Display” might be nonsense, but its Exmor R mobile sensor delivers crisp shots in daylight, and low light snaps with less noise than a library. It’s by far the best Android camera phone, and only surpassed by the Nokia N8‘s enormous sensor.
That’s when it comes to hardware anyway. On the software side of things, Sony Ericsson’s tried to make the settings easy to use with a new drag out menu, but if anything, it simply makes matters more complicated by switching around where you’d expect every feature to be.
Video meanwhile is a bit less impressive. We saw the odd bit of stutter while recording in 720p HD, and as you can see in the clip above, there’s a lot of compression going on. Still, it beats the puzzling VGA recording on the Xperia Play any day.
Performance and call quality
Though not bleeding edge, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc’s innards aren’t in question: the 1GHz Snapdragon processor gives excellent performance in apps and games. More surprisingly, we found that the sound delivered from such a thin frame was crisp and clear.
The 1500mAh battery doesn’t run for as long as the same cell on the Xperia Play however, and you’ll struggle to get more than a day and a half of use out of it. But of the clan of four-inch-plus phones on sale right now, it’s still one of the best performers, clearing a day of solid use with Sync and Wi-Fi on and some video viewing.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc isn’t going to blow minds, and some of its specs will seem somewhat archaic come the end of a two year contract. And yet, for those unfussed by the endless pursuit of Android upgrades, who just want an easy to use, attractive phone, with a decent camera, we can’t think of anything else we’d recommend right now. Oh yeah, except one thing.