In addition to the communication essentials, Android brings ready access to a number of Google services, such as Gmail, Google Maps, turn-by-turn audio navigation, Google News, Google Places, and YouTube.
Sony Ericsson adds its own proprietary and third-party app selections as well. Our favorites are the FM radio and TrackID, an app that identifies recorded music. There's also LiveWare Manager, a postcard creator, the PlayNow store front, and the Let's Golf game. Of course, you'll also find basics like a handful of clocks and alarms, the HTML WebKit browser, a calendar, and a basic music player. For anything else your app-loving heart desires, there's the extensive Android Market with over 250,000 apps.
Thanks to its relationship with Sony, Sony Ericsson phones are known for having solid cameras, and the Xperia Arc certainly backs up the claim. The 8.1-megapixel camera contains Sony's Exmor R CMOS sensor, with flash, autofocus, and face detection. It does indeed take clear, colorful indoor and outdoor images with sharp edges. However, we did have a few modest complaints. The camera starts with a resolution of 6 megapixels by default, not 8, so you'll have to change that in the settings. Colors, while mostly true, seem a little overenhanced in some shots. While there are editing options like geotagging, a self-timer, and digital zoom, there are notably fewer tools and settings than other Android phones have.
The Xperia Arc is no slouch when it comes to video. The 720p HD camcorder delivered very smooth indoor and outdoor video playback without pixelation or jerkiness. In some situations, the phone's microphone didn't capture our subjects well, making them too hard to hear in the recording. While the lighting sensors were good, the results weren't perfect, and several indoor and outdoor videos looked a tad overexposed.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) and unlocked Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc on AT&T's network in San Francisco. Call quality was mediocre overall. Volume was high and voices sounded natural on our side, but our friends said words were often clipped and voices didn't sound as rich as on some other phones. A persistent white noise clouded the call on both ends, but we were able to carry on conversations.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc call quality sample
The speakerphone was also a mixed bag. Our callers said we sounded hollow, echoey, and distant when we held the phone at our usual waist level, and the background noise persisted. They also said voices were garbled to the point where they couldn't understand what was being said, and we had to turn off the speakerphone feature. It sounded much better to our ears, though. While the background noise soldiered on, we were able to understand our caller's voice, which sounded only slightly hollow.
Unlocked phones are often at a disadvantage during testing since they're not optimized for the carrier's network.
In terms of internal performance speed, the Xperia Arc's single-core, 1GHz processor kept things moving along efficiently. Apps opened quickly, scrolling was speedy, and there was no lag time bogging us down.
When it comes to data, however, the picture is less rosy. The Xperia Arc is a 3G-capable phone, and in San Francisco, it often latched on to AT&T's HSPA network. Most of the time, we were able to surf the Web, read e-mail, and update apps at normal 3G speeds. Strangely, there were several hour-long stretches when data cut out completely and we needed a Wi-Fi connection to log in to our Google Account or download anything. We could still make phone calls and send text messages to Google contacts, though. And yes, we were in areas typically covered by AT&T's 3G network.
To get to the root of the problem, we attempted switching SIM cards, rebooting the phone several times, returning to factory settings, and looking at the settings menu. We haven't experienced completely cut data coverage like this before and a Sony Ericsson representative told CNET that the company is unfamiliar with the issue and is looking into it. It may just be an isolated incident specific to our test device, so we're not ready to write the phone off yet.
Without a doubt, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is a looker--slim, attractive, and lightweight. It's up-to-date on Android Gingerbread and its Timescape UI has some nice, really useful features. While we appreciate the 8.1-megapixel camera, it's lacking some settings we're used to with Android phones, and the photo and video lighting sensors weren't always as spot-on as we'd like. Call quality also fell below expectations, especially when it came to constant background noise. If you can weather the drawbacks, the Xperia Arc is still a nice device that offers a well-rounded middle-tier feature set. However, its unlocked price--approaching $600--will be too much for most to stomach, especially with an upgraded model waiting just around the bend.