Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review:

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

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Typical Price: £430.00
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CNET Editors' Rating

16 user reviews

The Good Wafer-thin, curved case; gorgeous wide-screen display; 8.1-megapixel camera with innovative sensor.

The Bad Thin, plastic case seems delicate; no privileged access to PlayStation content or Sony's music and film catalogues; poor battery life.

The Bottom Line The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc offers a stunning wide-screen display and an excellent camera. It's the ideal Android smart phone for media lovers.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.3 Overall

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is a wafer-thin Android smart phone that brings Sony's Bravia Engine TV tech to your pocket. Thanks to an up-to-date version of Android and a thinned-down custom user interface, the Arc is by far Sony Ericsson's best Android smart phone yet.

The Arc won't be cheap. You can expect this high-end phone to cost around £30 to £40 per month on a contract, when it arrives in shops in spring of this year. You can also pick it up SIM-free now for around £430.

Small screen, big scene

Listing the Arc's specs makes us feel like kids in a sweet shop, but the biggest treat of all could be its 4.2-inch touchscreen. It's not the AMOLED kind flaunted by phones like the Samsung Galaxy S. Rather, it's an LED-backlit TFT LCD screen. This means that, although it doesn't offer the eye-piercing brightness of an AMOLED display, it delivers more subdued, accurate colours. The 480x854-pixel screen doesn't match the iPhone 4's 640x960-pixel display, but it's still sharp and beautiful to look at.

In our eyes-on tests, the screen's colours looked natural and bright. Compared to the 4-inch, 480x800-pixel Super AMOLED screen on the Google Nexus S, the Arc's display looked noticeably sharper and clearer.

The screen uses Sony's Bravia Engine image-processing technology. Sony Ericsson says that the Bravia system delivers optimal colour, contrast, noise reduction and sharpness on the Arc's small screen, and that it will work on any video. We've seen it in action and it looks impressive, particularly when smoothing out streaming video in the YouTube app.

But, when watching YouTube in the browser, video didn't look nearly as sharp. We're happy that you can actually do this, thanks to the Web browser's support for Flash, but, if you want to catch up on zany cat videos, we'd strongly recommend using the YouTube app instead.

The wide-screen aspect ratio of the screen is another plus. Movies play without any black bars. If you have small hands, you'll probably also find the long, thin handset is easier to grasp than other phones with similarly sized screens.

There's one final note in our love letter to the Arc's display. It looks effortlessly cool, because it sits so close to the surface of the glass. When the phone is off, you can hardly see the edge of the display, so the Arc has a pleasingly monolithic appearance.

Sony Ericsson flaunts its Bravia Engine software for mobiles in this promotional video.

We just wish the three buttons beneath the screen were similarly subtle. We prefer the Arc's proper, clicking buttons to the touch-sensitive type on many other Android smart phones, but their elongated, shiny design strikes us as being a tad '80s.

Two-dimensional experience

The Arc is one of the thinnest smart phones around, measuring 9mm at its thickest ends and curving to 8.7mm in the middle. That makes it feel like a big After Eight mint, and just as snappable. Sony Ericsson admits that its phones haven't been the toughest around in the past, and the Arc has a plastic case, rather than a metal one, such as that sported by the HTC Desire HD.

Still, it's hard to criticise a phone for being gorgeously thin, and Sony Ericsson does claim the Arc's screen is protected by a shatter-proof cover on top of the scratch-resistant mineral glass.

The plastic back flexes slightly, which detracts from the phone's expensive air. But there weren't any loose or wobbly parts on our sample. Overall, the Arc is definitely worth showing off, but, like most smart phones, we don't think it would survive a short drop onto concrete.

Ready for your close-up

The Arc boasts an 8.1-megapixel camera with an LED photo light and a good selection of settings for you to tweak, including face-detection and image-stabilisation features. But the dish of the day is the Exmor R CMOS sensor, which is so oven-fresh that it's only just arriving in compact cameras.

This back-illuminated sensor should take smoother, better-quality shots in low light than normal phone cameras. That's good news, since a phone tends to be the snapper of choice for late-night pub photos. We tested the Arc's camera by trying to capture the perfect MySpace mugshot in various lighting conditions.

The camera captures above-average photos in dim conditions with the LED light turned off. If you do use the LED light, you'll get better pictures but temporarily blind your subject. (Click image to enlarge.)

The Arc managed to capture decent photos even in a very dark room, with its LED light turned off. We found that the red-eye-reduction setting didn't have much effect, though. Although the LED light certainly improved the image in dark conditions, it's painfully blinding to look at. We'd stick to turning on the lights instead, if you can.

The Arc has a dedicated photo button on the side, but it's tiny and it sits right at one end of the phone, so it's hard to press. We found that pressing it could sometimes cause the phone to move, which can make photos blurry. We much preferred to take advantage of the option to tap the screen to capture a photo. You can tap anywhere on the screen, which makes it easy to take snaps quickly.

The Arc also shoots 720p high-definition video. We tested the video performance in darkness by filming a bobblehead Mountie toy trapped in a box. Check out the results below. The Arc was able to adjust to the darkness of the pitch-black cardboard prison, capturing the Mountie's ever-smiling face.

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