Choosing what you want from a smartphone is almost more important than actually picking out the exact device you want. Do you want one with a particularly good camera or one that's sleek and stylish? Do you want one that's pocket friendly or has a movie ready large screen? Should it be a power house with the fastest CPU going or is just enough speed to provide ease of use all that matters? It's precisely the potential mind-melting muddle all these decisions cause that makes the Xperia Arc a tempting proposition for many: you don't have to choose – you can have it all. Sort of.
Here's how it stacks up. It doesn't have a new super-fast dual-core processor but it does have a very nippy single-core 1GHz model that keeps it zipping along nicely. It doesn't have the best camera in the world but it does have one that's better than many and crucially has a shutter button for more easily taking shots. It doesn't have either the smallest or largest screen, but it has one that manages to remain small enough to easily touch yet is large enough for comfortable viewing. And finally, its design is sleek and slim, so those more fashion conscious among you won't be put out either.
Starting with that sleek design, the Arc is a mere 8.7mm thick, making it one of the slimmest available. Helping to emphasise this sleekness is the eponymous arced-back that tapers in towards the middle. This curvature also helps handling of the phone with it sitting snug in the hand. That said, the slimness does make the phone a tad difficult to hold securely – sometimes you want the assurance of thick sides you can get a firm grip on.
Most of the body is built from plastic but it feels solidly put together and thanks to the glass screen, it maintains a premium feel. Only the battery cover lets things down as it's thin enough to flex easily – the sightly cheap looking two tone, silver to black, colour scheme on our review sample doesn’t help the phone in this regard. We'd suggest a solid colour, preferably of the matt/soft touch variety, would be best, if you can find one.
Most striking after noting the slimness or the Arc is its screen. The 4.2in LCD panel fills almost the entire of the front of the phone with its inky blackness. As noted before, its glass finish adds a premium quality and the true black (rather than grey) background it reveals when off adds further to this. Turn it on and the 480 x 854 pixels look splendiferous. Colours really leap out while overall brightness is impressive and the strong contrast adds real depth, especially to video. There is a bit of contrast and colour shift when you view from more acute angles but this is never a distraction in normal use.
In truth, we were exaggerating slightly earlier on, as this phone's large screen does make the device itself a little large and unwieldy, but not enough that it's a major concern. What's more it strikes a good balance between being large enough for comfortable viewing and small enough to remain looking sharp (even bigger screens of the same resolution can start to look a bit grainy) in general use.
Sony Ericsson hasn't slipped up when it comes to connectivity, at least not majorly. The headphone socket being on the side is a bit of an oddity as it will more often cause headphone jacks to snag on pockets but otherwise the standard microUSB socket for charging is welcome, and the real bonus is miniHDMI for piping out video straight to your TV. You do need a none-included cable to make this work but it's otherwise a plug and play process, and given Sony Ericsson's reputation it's a somewhat unexpected addition.
Also to be found lurking on the edges are a volume rocker and shutter button for the camera, and the power button up top. All are a little small and fiddly at first but you do get the hang of them. Just three buttons sit below the screen, with the standard Android search button being omitted. Otherwise the three slim, slivers or silver are responsive and easy to use. Tap the home button, swipe the onscreen slider or input your unlock code and the phone's ready to roll. Sadly locking the screen is rather more of a stretch thanks to the power button being so high up.