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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.
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