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Sony Ericsson has made a huge splash with its Android devices this year, shrugging off the memories of the poorly performing Xperia X10 and delivering a handful of really attractive and unique smartphones. The Xperia Arc S is basically a re-release, however, pairing the features and design of the original Arc with a faster 1.4GHz processor and Telstra Next G compatibility.
Second verse, same as the first: Sony Ericsson hasn't touched a single element of the Xperia Arc in creating the Arc S, and our opinions of it haven't changed. The Arc S is slim, svelte and extremely desirable, but the Xperia range in its entirety is uniquely Sony Ericsson. In an industry where customers are asking just how many ways can you repackage the same combination of touchscreen, battery and chips, Sony Ericsson proves that it's not impossible to create phones that are instantly recognisable.
The phone's 4.2-inch display is worth taking a look at. Sony Ericsson packs a WVGA-resolution LCD directly under the glass, and the absence of an air gap between the glass and the panel means that there is no light bouncing between the two elements, making the image displayed appear richer looking. In addition, the screen looks absolutely black when switched off, instead of grey, making the Arc S a real fashion statement when on a table at the pub.
Of course, if there was a reason why you didn't like the look and feel of the Arc six months ago, then it's highly unlikely that you'll find anything to love about the Arc S. One element that we would have liked to have changed position was the headphone socket, found on the top left-hand side of the handset. Sony Ericsson knows that this is less than perfect, bundling headphones with a connection at a right angle to the cable, but these headphones are far from the best that you can use. If you plug in your favourite cans, expect the plug to stick out from the phone and spoil its slim profile.
On the plus side, Sony Ericsson includes a micro-HDMI port on the top of the handset, and a cable in the box to plug the phone directly into your TV. There's also an 8GB microSD card bundled, complementing 1GB of internal storage, but, as with the Sensation XE, we wish Sony Ericsson would try to compete with the iPhone's storage to some extent.
Sony Ericsson bumps up the processing power in the Arc S to 1.4GHz, from 1GHz in the original, and we've measured some impressive performance enhancements compared with the first Arc in a number of our benchmarks. Its result in BrowserMark was particular impressive, giving further credence to the suggestion that single-core chipsets outperform dual-core processors at some tasks.
Sony Ericsson's custom Android software continues to impress as it has done throughout the year. Its design is reasonably clean and attractive, and, above all else, it's fast. Some of Sony Ericsson's widgets, its Timeline widget in particular, can be a little sluggish in displaying data or launching after selection, but the option is always available to simply switch these off.
Also worth noting (reiterating, actually; we've raved about this previously) is the cross-integration of services between core apps in the phone. Sony Ericsson's Facebook integration is great, giving you multiple places to post to your wall within apps like the music player. But we also love the FM radio app on the Arc S — often an overlooked feature. Once you're listening to the radio, you have the option to discover the name of any track that you hear, using Sony's TrackID, which has been built in to the radio app. Once identified, you can then post track info (gleaned from Gracenotes) to your Facebook page.
Battery life is good, although the battery capacity hasn't been increased between versions of the Arc. We measured four and a half hours of continuous 720p video playback, which is on par, if a little higher, than the results we've seen from competing models. In everyday use tests, we easily got through a busy business day, and two days with moderate phone use and internet browsing.
As with the previous Arc, the Arc S sports an 8-megapixel camera with flash, and 720p HD video recording at 30 frames per second. The camera's software is supported by a Sony Exmor-R image sensor, which Sony believes excels in low light. Compared with our experience with the camera earlier in the year, we have found the camera in the Arc S to be a little more reliable and consistent, although there is still plenty of noise in the finished shots, and the image sensor does struggle with mixed colour temperatures.
The colour in this pic would be better if the sunlight in the background didn't wash it out.
Good colour for both the Arc S and the Sensation XL.