Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

Style and handling summary for Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review
The Xperia Arc is a delicious handset that feels great to hold and slips easily into a pocket. Its standout feature is its high-quality, sharp display
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

User friendliness summary for Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review
We’re not fond of Timescape and the keyboard could have been better, but the responsive touch-screen and Android interface ensure that most tasks are accomplished easily

Feature set summary for Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review
Excellent snapper, very decent media offerings and a choice of thousands of Apps from Android Market

Performance summary for Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review
There are quicker handsets on the market but the 1GHZ chip still packs enough power for the built-in functions and to handle most apps you might want to run

Battery power summary for Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review
You’ll get a good day out of a full battery charge but if you’re away for the weekend you’ll definitely need your charger

Full Review and Specification for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is aimed at those who want three things from their smartphone – speed, entertainment and style. It may be slim but it manages to squeeze in a massive high-res screen (the Reality Display) and an eight-megapixel snapper with Advanced Sensor. Plus there’s Android Gingerbread 2.3 too. So has Sony Ericsson managed to produce a big screen star?

First impressions

This is a stunning handset to look at and to have in the hand – it’s really slim (8.7mm at its narrowest) and the concave dip in the back ensures it fits comfortably in the hand, even though it’s quite a wide, long chassis.

The Reality Display screen takes up most of that width and length. It’s a 4.2in TFT with LED backlighting, 854x480 resolution and Mobile Bravia Engine – that’s a version of the technology Sony uses in its HDTVs.

The Mobile Bravia Engine offers sharpening, colour management, noise reduction and contrast enhancing – and while we take Sony’s claims of HDTV-style image quality with a pinch of salt, we can’t deny that this really is a top-notch display. View it straight on and you’ll find excellent contrast and bright colours – and even on a bright day outside there is little drop in the picture quality.

But that viewing angle is somewhat limited – look at the screen from anywhere other than dead on and you’ll lose contrast and colour quality – mind you it’s not much of an issue unless you’re sharing it with a friend to watch games or movies. We’d say that the Reality Display certainly rivals OLED displays.

The capacitive screen has haptic feedback and is responsive (there are some problems, which we’ll deal with later) You’ll find the usual Android hard buttons – home, back and menu – along the bottom edge of the phone, and they’re easy enough to use. You’ll find camera and volume buttons on the right side – although we found the camera button tiddly and not easy to press.

Other nice touches are the proprietary USB port for both data transfer and charging, and a micro HDMI output on top which will let you view whatever is on the screen on an HDTV or projector – you’ll need a cable though. There is also a 3.5mm headphone jack so you can use your favourite headphones when you’re listening to music.

The Xperia Arc has very little onboard memory, but the handset comes with an 8GB microSD card (you can’t hotswap it – you’ll need to take out the battery to get to it) and the phone can support cards up to 32GB.

Back to basics

The Xperia Arc runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which is the latest version of Google's smartphone OS. Sony Ericsson, however, has wrapped the OS in its own skin. So you’ll find the main home screen is dominated by Timescape – this brings together text messages, Facebook and tweets into one "pack of cards" style stream that you can flick through.

It’s a good idea, but as on Xperia handsets in the past it just seems rather slow and clunky. We found that if we were just browsing we’d mistakenly select an entry and end up firing up the browser or message screen accidentally. Also, the pictures of your contacts are not sharp and are pretty low-res.

There are another four homescreens, to which you can add apps, widgets and shortcuts, as well as a bar along the bottom of the screen where you can put shortcuts to four of your favourite apps as well as one to the full app menu. All in all, it works pretty well.

Of course, because it’s an Android handset, you can download your choice from thousands of apps from the Android Market. We downloaded Angry Birds – it ran perfectly; while the 1GHZ chip isn’t that powerful compared with some other smartphones, it certainly handled those angry avians with no problems – and the graphics looked pin-sharp.

We did notice one issue, though – the virtual keyboard can be a bit tricky in operation, particularly in portrait mode. It can be fiddly to correct a word – let’s just say the iPhone's keyboard is far superior. Strangely, we had a problem in portrait mode when the full stop button wouldn’t register until we turned the handset into landscape mode.

Snapper and internet

The Xperia Arc's eight-megapixel snapper is one of the best smartphone cameras around – and that's mostly down to the Exmor R CMOS sensor. It’s more sensitive to light than most camera sensors, so it will be less susceptible to camera shake – you’ll get sharp indoor photos, even without the LED flash.

In decent light, the camera produces images that are rich in detail and have little in the way of noise – and it’s a joy to use too. As we mentioned earlier, a larger hardware button would have been nice, but having one at all is a bit of a bonus. You can autofocus by half-pressing the button, before executing a full press to take a shot. There are plenty of settings to fiddle with, including smile shutter, white balance, scene modes such as portrait and landscape as well as a touch-focus mode that allows you to set the autofocus target wherever you want it.

The 720p HD video recording also impressed us, although it doesn’t hold up if you play it back on a large HDTV.

Our main problem with the snapper is that the autofocus is rather unreliable and fails to lock on, or registers that it’s locked when it’s obviously out of focus.

Browsing the web is simple and that high-res display makes both images and text clear; there is also support for Flash.

As with most other feature-heavy smartphones, the battery probably won’t last more than a day if you’ve made a few calls, taken a few snaps, surfed the web and viewed a bit of video.

The verdict

While we can’t say the Xperia Arc is the perfect smartphone, it is well made and has three standout features – Android 2.3 Gingerbread, its display and its snapper. It’s not built as well as the iPhone 4, Timescape is a tad disappointing and there are a few software issues that need sorting out, but on the whole Sony Ericsson has come up with another great Android handset that can handle all kinds of tasks with style.