Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc 4 Stars

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The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc has been made by the user who wants three things from a smartphone – style, entertainment and fast operation. Despite its slim chassis, it still manages to sport a huge high-res display (called the Reality Display) as well as a camera boasting eight megapixels and Advanced Sensor. And it has the added bonus of Android Gingerbread 2.3. So has Sony Ericsson managed to produce a star?

Looking good

The Arc is stunning to look at and to hold. It’s incredibly slim – just 8.7m at its narrowest – and sports a dip in its back that enables you to hold it comfortably, despite the length and width of the body.

Most of that length and width is there to accommodate the Reality Display, which measures 4.2in. The TFT has LED backlighting, a Mobile Bravia Engine (a version of that used in Sony’s HDTVs) and 854x480 resolution.

The Mobile Bravia Engine has a number of treats in store – including sharpening, noise reduction, colour management, and contrast enhancing. To be honest we are sceptical about Sony’s claims of HDTV-style image quality, but having said that this really is an excellent screen. Look at it straight on and you’ll be rewarded with excellent contrast and bright colours – even outside on a sunny day you’ll notice little drop in picture quality. 

Having said that, the viewing angle is limited. View from anywhere other than straight on and you’ll see colour quality and contrast diminish. But to be fair, it’s not really an issue unless you’re likely to share the screen with someone else to watch movies or games. In our opinion the Reality Display is up there with the rival OLED screens.

The capacitive display offers haptic feedback and proves responsive but there are a few issues, which we’ll get to later. The usual Android buttons are there – menu, home and back – along the bottom of the handset and are simple to use. Volume buttons are on the right of the phone. So is the camera button, but it is very tiny and not that easy to push.

Other nice features are the USB port – for charging and data transfer – and a micro HDMI port on the top of the phone. Using this you can view your phone screen on a projector or HDTV (you will need to get your own cable). A 3.5mm audio jack is also included so you can use your choice of headphones for listening to music.

There’s not much in the way of onboard memory in the Xperia Arc, but the phone does come with an 8GB microSD card (it’s not hotswappable – you have to take out the battery to get to it) and the device is able to support cards up to 32GB.

Back to basics

The Xperia Arc’s OS is Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the latest version of Google's smartphone operating system, which has been wrapped in Sony Ericsson's skin. So, head to the home screen and you’ll see it is dominated by Timescape – this will amalgamate Facebook, tweets and texts into a ‘pack of cards’ stream, which you can then flick through.

It may well be a good idea but is not executed well, resulting in a sluggish, awkward operation. When browsing we found we often selected an entry by mistake and were powering up either the message screen or browser in error. You’ll also notice your contacts’ pictures are low-res and not sharp.

There are also four other homescreens, which can be customised with shortcuts, apps, and widgets, plus a bar at the bottom of the screen is where you can place shortcuts to up to four of your favourite apps along with one to the full app menu. It mostly works well.

It will come as no surprise that as the Arc is an Android phone, you can download your choices from thousands of apps on Android Market. We downloaded a favourite – Angry Birds – and it ran really well; the 1GHz processor may not pack as much power as some other smartphones, but it powered those angry avians with no problem – graphics were as sharp as we could imagine.

One issue that did arise though was that the virtual keyboard is not so easy to use, especially with the handset in portrait mode. Correcting a word can prove rather tricky – we prefer the iPhone's keyboard. Another issue we had in portrait mode was when the full stop button failed to register until we switched to landscape mode – odd.

Web and camera

The eight-megapixel camera is one of the best we’ve seen on a smartphone, mostly thanks to its Exmor R CMOS sensor. More sensitive to light than most other phone cameras, it also makes it less prone to camera shake – indoor snaps proved sharp even without the LED flash turned on.

Pictures take in decent light proved rich in detail and low on noise. The camera is good to use too. Sure, we would have liked a larger hardware button, but at least there is one, which is more than can be said for many other smartphones. Autofocus is achieved by half-pressing the button – press down fully to take a snap. You can fiddle with a number of settings too, such as white balance, smile shutter and scene modes, as well as the touch-focus mode, which lets you set your autofocus target where you want it.

We were also impressed by the 720p HD video recording, although it doesn’t view well on a large HDTV.

The main issue we had with the camera was that the autofocus proved itself somewhat unreliable and either didn’t lock or showed it was locked when it wasn’t. 

Surfing the net is easy and text and images are clear on that high-res screen. The handset also offers Flash support.

Like most other smartphones bursting with features, don’t expect more than a day out of a full battery charge if you’ve watched some video, made some calls, browsed the web and taken some pictures.

The verdict

While we can’t call the Xperia Arc the perfect smartphone, it is built well and benefits from three outstanding features – Android 2.3 Gingerbread, its screen and camera. Its build quality is not as good as the iPhone 4, Timescape disappoints and there are some software issues that need sorting, but even so Sony Ericsson has produced another great Android handset that can accomplish all kinds of tasks with ease.

Pros:
Top-notch sharp 4.2in screen, great camera, slim and light body, speedy Android Gingerbread operating system.
Cons:
Timescape fails to impress; lack of Mac compatibility; some minor issues with software usability.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 5 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 5 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 3 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice