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Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Camera and Interface

By Edward Chester



Our Score:


On the back sits the 8megapixel camera with its accompanying LED flash. As ever, for true photo excellence we'd prefer a Xenon flash in addition to the LED (which is still useful for video) but it's still such a rarity as to not concern overly.

The camera's sensor uses Sony's Exmoor backside-illuminated technology for improved low-light sensitivity, as well as taking advantage of Sony's general photography expertise. The result is a camera that is a cut above most smartphones (HTC, we're thinking of you) when it comes to general image quality, though as ever is still some way behind most basic compacts. Check out our sample shots at the end for more of an idea of its abilities.

The addition of the stepped (one level for focus, one to take the shot) shutter button also aids ease of use, though because it's so tiny it's not as easy as it could be. Other niceties include the fast interface, surprisingly effective face detection, touch focus, and several scene modes.

720p HD video is also on board and again its quality is a notch better than most phones and a notch below most dedicated compacts. It did seem to be a bit temperamental at auto focussing on closeup objects but in general use it held up well.

Being an Android 2.3 smartphone, the Arc's general interface is instantly familiar, though Sony Ericsson has made a few tweaks.

Starting of with the standard stuff, you get five homescreens to pack full of widgets, apps and folders, while below these sit static shortcuts to the most oft used apps. As always, we found we removed most of the widgets as they tend to suck up power and speed. Indeed, we've rather fallen out of love with widgets in general and tend to just open the full apps. That said, the large clock display, google search bar and quick switches for turning on/off things like Wi-Fi and the backlight are always useful.

The static apps along the bottom can also be customised to be any of your choosing – just pick an app from the App Launcher and drag it to the bar.

Sony Ericsson hasn't changed the standard notifications drop down to include a task manager or such like – it's just the standard selection of notices about new emails and such like.

Open the App Launcher and rather than a long vertical list of all you apps, Sony Ericsson has split them up into pages, which isn't a problem but doesn't really seem to aid usability. What is useful, though, is that you can choose to have the apps appear in alphabetical order, most used, recently installed or an order of your own choosing – just drag the apps around to the page you want.

Sony Ericsson has also added Timescape, which is a social network stream. Simply add Facebook and Twitter accounts and from one app you can see updates and messages from those services, as well as messages and calls from your contacts. It works well enough but the floating card interface simply isn't practical, making it far more difficult to see what's going on than it should be. Frankly, we didn't bother using it.

Sitting at the heart of the Arc is a Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon processor that runs at 1GHz. It's an upgrade to the old Snapdragon as found in the likes of the HTC Desire, with improved graphics speed being its main advantage. This is manifested in the general speed of the phone's interface, where there's seldom a pause of stutter in the various animations that greet you as you move round.

Firing up a few games proved the processor is more than capable of showing the latest mobile games off at their best. To put this into perspective, Sony Ericsson felt confident enough to use the same chip to power it's gaming-centric smartphone, the Xperia Play. That said, with dual-core phones now available, the Arc is technically behind the times. We're yet to see how many apps take advantage of these dual-core processors, though.

Carrier pricing updates & information supplied by WhistleOut


April 28, 2011, 10:38 pm

I've had my Arc for a month now, having received it on the day of release. My favourite aspect of the phone is how it manages to pack such a large screen into a relatively small frame. The 16:9 aspect ratio also makes the phone easier to handle, as it cuts down on the phone's width. The camera button is a bonus, but frankly I don't take photos often enough to care that much.

Personally, I would have swapped the camera button for a search button any day. If I had a search button, I wouldn't need Google's search widget on the home screen as a button would make the widget redundant.

And why is the power/sleep button on the top of the phone? It's used constantly, it should be more accessible. The Galaxy S2 appears to have gotten this right by placing this button on the side of the phone, right where your thumb would be.

On the whole though, I'm rather chuffed with this phone.

P.S. @Ed: 'Exmor' is a technology used by Sony in their CMOS sensors. 'Exmoor' is a national park in Somerset and Devon. Just saying :)


April 28, 2011, 11:51 pm

now that phones are being used as mp3 players more and more, I was wondering if you would consider mentioning the sound quality from the headphone jack, like you already do with the built in speaker.
It doesn't have to be anything fancy only a sentance or two, what would be important though is to use some dedicated decent quality earphones (ie not the headset that comes free with the phone), then the overall sound quality from the phone, ie is there any 'white noise' from the phone (like the n95 has),
and finally is it better or worse sound quality than an ipod/iphone (a well known yard stick).

as I say with phones being used as a persons sole mp3 player and the industry actively moving people away from a dedicated mp3 player to a mobile phone mp3 player (apple switching the iphone to the ipod event?) this information would be vastly useful to the review,
then in future you can look to putting a dedicated headphone jack sound quality score exaclty like you do with a mp3 player review.


April 29, 2011, 2:13 am

I've occasionally plugged my SE530s into the Arc. The sound quality is better than I expected from a smartphone, and comparable to my iPod Classic. The equaliser options do a pretty good job of shaping the sound to your tastes. There may be a little more background noise present than what I would expect from a dedicated player, but it shouldn't ruin the experience. By comparison, the background noise generated by my HTC Hero effectively rendered the thing useless as a media player.


May 4, 2011, 2:14 pm

I've had the Arc for about a week now, to replace my HTC Desire. What I like the most about the Arc is the available screen estate vs the phone size. The phone is by no means bulky, and the screen size is awesome. Surfing and typing on the bigger screen is a much better experience than the HTC Desire.

The camera + battery life are other strong points. The decent camera actually makes the phone an excellent pocket camera, if you have good lightning. Battery life is quite good as well, it can last a full day of heavy usage.

The HDMI output is an excellent idea as well. My phone package in France has an included HDMI cable, and it makes the phone a media player in a pinch.

Now, the points of concern:
- The Bravia engine *eats your battery alive*. Turn it off if you care at all about battery life. The engine does make pictures more vibrant and less edgy, but the battery cost makes it hard to justify.
- Wifi reception is weaker than the HTC Desire. My access point's wifi power is on low (less radiation, blah blah); and the Arc has trouble connecting in my bedroom (distance = 15m, through 3 plaster wall). The HTC Desire and my laptop has no trouble connecting, while the Arc occationally loses wifi signal.
- Shiny plastic body means that wiping finger prints off the phone would be part of your usage pattern.

Voila. For me, the phone is a satisfying package, a worthy replacement for my "aging" HTC Desire.


May 4, 2011, 9:58 pm

Screen looks a bit wishy washy, or is that just me?
And does anyone understand what I'm talking about? ...

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