Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc
It may not be among the dual-core, 4G superphones that have raised the bar these days, but even nine months after we learned of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc at CES, its specifications are strong and its in-hand use satisfying.
The smartphone's sleek, slim build, rich 4.2-inch touch screen, current Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, and generous 8.1-megapixel camera don't hurt, and we won't deny that it's a pretty phone to behold. Of course, specs can only get you so far. At the end of the day, the unlocked price puts the Xperia Arc far beyond most people's range, and there's already an update model waiting in the wings, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S, which is sure to please. Still, this Xperia Arc is a quality device in its own right, despite some flaws.
The Xperia Arc comes in Midnight Blue and Misty Silver; we reviewed it in blue.
There's no shortage of shiny black Android phones, but Sony Ericsson has once again worked its magic to make its design look fresh, clean, and interesting, and very Sony Ericsson in style. Worked entirely in plastic, the Xperia Arc nevertheless manages to keep from looking like a cheap toy. Sharp corners (perhaps a tad too sharp for some) combine with the illusion of contouring on the phone's thin, slightly flared sides to good effect.
The Xperia Arc measures 4.9 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.3 inch thick and weighs 4.1 ounces, which is neither too heavy nor too light. Much of the phone's face goes to its 4.2-inch TFT LED-backlit LCD display, which supports 16.7 million colors and a 854x480-pixel Reality Display resolution. The result is a clear, crisp display that uses Sony's mobile Bravia engine to create rich color and sharply rendered text.
We have to say, fancy rendering engines aside, Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus screen still takes the cake as far as we're concerned. When you hold the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Xperia Arc side by side, the Reality Display looks duller and more washed out, though it's still good on its own merits.
Over the years, manufacturers have made a case for skinning Android, and Timescape argues it well. Socialites will appreciate the (optional and movable) home screen widget that lets you see Twitter and Facebook updates, e-mail, and text messages on a stack of virtual index cards. We love the way the custom interface anchors three program shortcuts to the media folder located in the Xperia Arc's navigation bar. This makes it easy to access the photo gallery, the music player, and the FM radio. You can also create new home screen folders as you would on the iPhone, by dragging and dropping app icons on top of one another. Being able to sort the contents of the app tray not just alphabetically, but by favorites, install date, and manual preference is a nice touch.
Below the display, three narrow physical buttons inscribe a shallow arc; these take you Back and Home and open the menu. Thin as they are, the silvery buttons are very responsive and nice to use.
You'll find the Micro-USB charging port on the right spine, along with an indicator light for incoming messages, an overly short volume rocker, and a too-small camera shutter button. The sparse left spine is home to the 3.5mm headset jack. Up top are the dedicated HDMI-out port behind a cover, and a circular power button--also small enough to make it hard to press. On the back are the camera lens and LED flash. Below the back cover is where you'll find the microSD card slot. The phones come with an 8GB memory card already loaded and ready to go.
You're guaranteed a number of features with any Android smartphone: an address book size limited only by your storage capacity, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS support, and of course texting, multimedia messaging, and support for multiple e-mail accounts. You can read more about Android Gingerbread's expanded features here.
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 Listen now:
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.
The Xperia Arc has a rated battery life of 6.6 hours of talk time and 17.9 days of standby time. According to the FCC, the phone's digital SAR measures 0.51 watts per kilogram.
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.