Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S review: Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S

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MSRP: $499.99

The Good The Sony Xperia Arc S flaunts a slim, attractive design, comes in multiple colors, runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, boasts a powerful camera, and records 720p HD video.

The Bad Many of the phone's buttons are tiny and hard to press, plus its unlocked sticker price is pretty steep, especially for a single-core handset that lacks Ice Cream Sandwich.

The Bottom Line Sony Ericsson follows up its ultrastylish Xperia Arc with the Xperia Arc S, a slightly faster version of the posh European model that runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread and rocks a powerful camera. Its high price, single-core CPU, and slow data speeds will leave Android experts wanting more.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6

The first Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc turned heads with its fashionable design, razor-thin good looks, and Android Gingerbread software. Now Sony Ericsson has launched a flashier replacement, but oh, what a difference a few months makes. Despite a faster processor and two exciting new color options, splurging on the unlocked $439.99 Xperia Arc S is an even tougher argument to make.

A splitting image of the Xperia Arc, the Xperia Arc S sports the same ultrathin design and seductive curves that helped it stand out from typical boxy Android devices. Also identical to its predecessor, the handset measures a svelte 4.9 tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.3 inch thick, and weighs in at a light 4.1 ounces. These trim dimensions make the Arc S just as compact as the first Arc and its smooth yet premium plastic exterior slips into tight pockets easily. My hands also wrapped around the phone comfortably in contrast to other monster-sized devices like LG's Nitro 4G that boast a larger 4.5-inch screen.

Perhaps the S in its name stands for style since Sony Ericsson has added even more pizzazz to this already fashion-forward smartphone. The device now comes in three additional colors (pure white, gloss black, and sakura pink) which complement the original two hues that the first Arc shipped with (misty silver and midnight blue). My Arc S came crafted in pure white, which coupled with a sliver plastic band running around its edge lends even more sophistication.

The front face of the Arc S is dominated by its 4.2-inch, 854-by-480-pixel resolution LCD screen. Even though it's not a fancy HD screen now available in a few premium smartphones, image quality was excellent. Watching HQ YouTube movie trailers was a real treat with crisp details and colors that looked pleasingly accurate. To be fair, blacks weren't as deep as I've seen on phones with AMOLED displays and viewing angles weren't as wide either.

Above it are the proximity sensor and the earpiece, but no front-facing camera, unfortunately. Under the display sit three thin physical buttons for basic Android operations (Back, Home, and Menu), which are attractively curved to match the contour of the device's bottom lip. On the right side are a trim volume rocker, a Micro-USB port, and a tiny, dedicated camera button. Meanwhile the phone's left edge holds a headphone jack. Up top is a minuscule power key that's extremely tough to press, often requiring the use of both hands. In fact I found that all of the Xperia's buttons were tricky to operate, especially for big mitts like mine. Opposite the power key is a Micro-HDMI port to output video and pictures to HDTVs and other compatible peripherals.

The Xperia Arc S uses a basic virtual keyboard that's close to the one found in stock Gingerbread. Keys are large and well spaced both in portrait landscape orientation. Unlike other phones, buttons don't double as shortcuts to often used punctuation marks but there is a dedicated symbol key. Haptic feedback is enabled by default and is nice and light, just how I like it. Swype can be activated too for quick one-handed texting. It all adds up to a comfortable and accurate typing experience.

The back of the Xperia Arc S houses its 8.1-megapixel camera and LED flash and single speaker. The phone's plastic battery cover is just as thin and flimsy-feeling as the first Arc, but it's a snap to pry it off and uncover the 1500 mAh battery. You'll have to remove the battery, though, to get at the included 8GB microSD card and SIM.

Sure, the Xperia Arc S lacks Google's freshest flavor of OS, Ice Cream Sandwich, but Android devotees should find plenty to satisfy them here. Running Gingerbread version 2.3.4, the phone has the usual messaging and mobile communication skills found on an Android device. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS connectivity are on board and users can sync contacts, calendar, and e-mail via their Gmail profiles. The Arc S also supports multiple email accounts for both personal and corporate exchange along with standard texting. Typical Google services such as Google Maps, turn-by-turn navigation, Google News, and YouTube are bundled here too.

Like some other device manufacturers, Sony Ericsson tries to differentiate its Android experience with its Timescape social networking interfaces. First premiering on the Xperia X10, Timescape is similar to Samsung's Social Hub and HTC's Friendstream software by aggregating Twitter and Facebook updates, e-mail, and text messages in one handy location. Timescape also displays updates on virtual index cards you can efficiently flip through rather than by scrolling vertically.

As a UI, Timescape, like Samsung's TouchWiz interface, is clean and relatively unobtrusive. Android purists, however, used to interacting with their handset without any special software skins confusing them will no doubt prefer unadulterated Gingerbread. Still, some users will certainly appreciate the usability tweaks Sony Ericsson made.

Another departure from stock Android is a navigation bar running along the bottom of the screen that has convenient shortcuts including the handset's multimedia folder. It puts the photo gallery, music player, and the FM radio just a few taps away. Like on other Android phones you can add home screen folders easily by dragging and dropping app icons on top of one another. What's more, power app users will appreciate having the option to sort the app tray alphabetically, or by favorites, install date, and even their own preference.

Sony Ericsson loads the Xperia Arc S with a selection of its own apps too. Sure, its bloatware for some, but there are a couple of standouts including the FM radio and TrackID, an app that tags recorded music. Sony Ericsson also installed are the PlayNow store, the Let's Golf game, and LiveWare Manager, which automatically loads personalized apps when you connect peripherals like headphones, a postcard creator. Other staples include a few clocks and alarms, the HTML WebKit browser, a calendar, and a bare-bones music player. And of course, the phone also connects to the latest version of the Android Market with access to more than 250,000 apps plus Google books and Music for purchase.

Sony Ericsson handsets have traditionally boasted quality cameras, and the Xperia Arc S is no exception. The phone's 8.1-megapixel camera is built around Sony's Exmor R CMOS sensor and features options such as autofocus, and face detection that were once limited to point-and-shoot cameras. There's also an LED flash, and even a Smile mode that automatically snaps the shutter when grins are detected.