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Sony Xperia Arc S Review: In Depth

The Good

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The Bad

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Sony Ericsson has revamped one of its best phones in years, the Xperia Arc, with a faster processor and a fancy 3D panoramic picture mode. Rechristened as the Xperia Arc S, it’s virtually the same phone as the original on the outside.

It’s got the same 4.2-inch screen, the same distinctive curved body and the same powerful camera unit – 8.1-megapixels, HD video recording and the Exmor R back-lit sensor, allowing for better shots in the dark.

The processor speed has been bumped uyp to 1.4GHz on the Arc S. When we had some quick hands on time with this earlier, we immediately felt a degree of slickness and smoothness that was absent in the original Arc.

So while its overall a better phone than its predecessor in terms of general operations how will it stack up against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S2 and more importantly, phones like the phones due to hit the shelves over the coming months?

 


Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S design and build

Everything we said about the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc applies here. The design is exactly the same. When we say exactly the same we mean it; compared to an Xperia Arc of the same colour (they’re available in white, black, silver, blue and pink) there’s no way you’d be able to tell the difference between either at a glance.

You’ve got a wide 4.2-inch screen on the front (854×480 pixels) and a super thin body with a distinctive curved back. That inward curved look isn’t just for show;

we think that it actually makes for a comfortable fit in the hand, something that’s most apparent when you’re making or taking a call.

There are three mechanical buttons down at the front for back, home and menu. The lack of a search key will miff some, but overall we’re glad that there are physical hard keys here instead of soft touch keys.

On the right hand side there sits a shutter key for the camera and a small volume rocker next to the micro USB charging port. A HDMI port sits up the top next to the power button and round on the left hands side there’s a 3.5mm audio jack.

The HDMI port is a definite plus, as you can hook the Arc S up to an HDTV straight away. A cable came bunged in with our review model, meaning no having to fork arou

nd for a separate adapter, like you’d have to with the Samsung Galaxy S2, which requires an MHL adapter if you want to indulge in any HDMI-out action.

Some supplied headphones with replaceable rubber earbuds came included and are pretty good as free phone headphones go. They’re snug and their inner-ear nature means that they’re not terribly leaky either. Sadly, as is often the case with proprietary headphones, we found that they didn’t want to play nicely with other MP3 players or our PC speakers.

Though the spec sheet lists 1GB of internal memory (and 320MB of free space) we found that we got just over 200MB to play with. Not a huge amount, but at least there’s the option of microSD.

Still, you’ll want to be careful about how many apps you install, even with the ‘move to SD’ option of Android.


Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S interface

The Xperia Arc S is an Android phone and comes with Sony Ericsson’s bespoke user interface bolted on. This is the latest version of the UI and features Sony Ericsson’s Facebook Inside Xperia enhancements as well.

This allows you to sync your Facebook profile information with your phone. The most useful examples of this can be seen in the calendar, which becomes populated with Facebook Events that you’re attending, and the photo gallery, where pictures you’ve uploaded/been tagged in get their own separate folders.

There’s also the Timescape feature, a social networking aggregator which blends Facebook and Twitter information into one constantly updating stream.

This is something we’ve seen since the days of the Xperia X10 and though its running more smoothly and better than we’ve ever seen it (thanks no doubt to the faster processor) we’re still not convinced of Timescape’s usefulness. We like Facebook and Twitter but we like pizza and popcorn as well – we just wouldn’t ever mix the two. No doubt some people will relish being able to check Facebook and Twitter all from one feed, but whatever your preferences, you can easily customise the Xperia Arc S to your liking.

This is an Android phone after all (2.3.4 Gingerbread to be exact) and you can pretty much do whatever you want here in terms of installing custom launchers and rejigging the layout as you see fit.


Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S browser

The built-in browser of the Xperia Arc S is basically the same WebKit-based stock browser that you get on unskinned Andorid phones like the Nexus One and Nexus S, with a slight Sony Ericcson graphical twist.

You can have up to eight windows open in the browser at any one time. Though tabbed browsing isn’t supported, a quick tap of the menu key will bring up an option to quickly jump between pages.

As it’s Android 2.2+ and the processor is up to speed you can bet that the Xperia Arc S munches through Flash content on web pages like without breaking a sweat. The big 4.2-inch screen comes into its own here; it’s big and roomy, web pages look great and there’s tap to zoom (which resizes text columns) and pinch to zoom (which doesn’t; better for zooming in on pics and thumbnails) which works beautifully.


Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S multimedia

As we mentioned above, the design of the Arc S follows that of the Arc right down to a T. It’s the same story with the camera as well. For reasons of space we won’t waste time going on about how good it is; the short answer is it’s very good indeed. Great colour fidelity, perfect for night shots. Check out our original Xperia Arc review and our recent camera comparison for a more detailed run down.

The 3D panorama mode is a new feature not seen in the Xperia Arc, but one that we understand is in the pipeline as part of a future update. It’s a pretty impressive party trick but we found that it works best if you’ve got the Arc S mounted on something stable like a tripod. Seeing as the 4.2-inch screen isn’t a glassless-3D one like that of the HTC Evo 3D, the effect will be lost on you unless you hook it up to a compatible TV set. And even then, it’s not that impressive.

3D video technology is clearly still in its infancy and this is more of an extra value-added feature rather than the main event. It’s not like the Arc S is being sold on it’s 3D credentials.

We like that the Mediascape widget (that’s pre-installed on the first homescreen to your immediate right) allows you to pause and skip tracks without opening up the music player itself. There’s a digital equalizer (sadly all presets, no custom option) and the ability to do a lyrics/Wikipedia search for the song/artist you’re currently listening to.

We like the effort that’s gone into doing something above and beyond the standard Android music app (which is very boring) but its lacking something that other music apps on the Market have, such as a lock screen widget and a customisable equalizer.


Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S performance

The speed and general operations of the Xperia Arc S are smooth as silk. Its noticeably faster than the original Xperia Arc in just about every capacity, from loading up the camera and browser to simple things like swiping left and right between screens.

Everything that the Xperia Arc is able to do comfortably (but not without some apparent effort at times) the Arc S is able to do with a flourish.

In terms of fluidity and presentation its easily up there with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S2 and HTC Sensation. It doesn’t quite have the hardware oomph of some of it’s dual-core counterparts, with games like Dungeon Defenders: First Wave struggling a bit when the polygon count piles up, but otherwise looking fantastic.

Call quality is pretty good, nothing bad to report here at all in terms of clarity and volume. Calls to and from landlines and other mobiles (on a number of networks) were all good, with only the occasional dropouts, due to things like signal/reception issues (which plague every phone) or when we went under a tunnel on the train.


Verdict

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S is an excellent phone, boasting an incredible camera, slick design and fast performance. Compared to phones of a similar price like the Galaxy S2 (to which it is currently similarly priced) it’s not quite as powerful when it comes to things like gaming, but its perhaps a more stylish (if slightly less beefy) alternative.

The Facebook Inside Xperia features are nicely integrated and will appeal to those who want a phone primarily for Facebooking on the go. Our only major criticism of the Xperia Arc S is its rather paltry amount of internal memory. The processor got an upgrade from the original, so why not stick 8GB or so in there?

Though microSD cards are much cheaper these days, we’d prefer it it we had a healthy amount of storage to play with right out of the box. Otherwise, the Xperia Arc S is another feather in the cap for Sony Ericsson; slick looks, slick performance, slick camera. We like this a lot.

Specification

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