Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S Review
- Slim design
- Good camera with shutter button
- Good connectivity
- Slim design is difficult to hold
- Only single-core processor
- Feels plasticky
- Review Price: £299.00
- 4.2in, 480x 854 pixel screen
- Android operating system
- 8 megapixel camera with shutter button
- 1.4GHz processor
Oh, you want to know more? Well, the Sony Ericsson Arc S is the company’s current flagship Android smartphone, sporting a large 4.2in display, a super slim design and an update to Android version 2.3.4. It arrives a mere six months after the original Arc yet is already available for under £300 – only a few tens of pounds more than its forebear.
This low price does have some consequences though, including mediocre build quality. Although the Samsung Galaxy S 2 manages to remain exceptionally popular despite its plastic chassis, it and the Arc S lack the satisfyingly premium feel that we’d expect for a high-end device, such as you get with the LG Optimus 2X, iPhone 4S, and BlackBerry 9900.
The problem is the Arc S is just a bit plasticky, with even the chromed strip running round the edge being chromed plastic rather than solid metal. The back plate also flexes and the plastic flap that covers the HDMI port on the top edge isn’t exactly classy. Of course you do pay the price in weight on these partially metal handsets and by sticking largely to plastic the Arc S is indeed among the lightest phones in its class (117g).
It’s also very slender at just 8.7mm and sports a tapered back that curves inwards towards the middle. We’re not actually too keen on how this feels as the edges of the phone become so thin in the middle it can be a bit difficult to keep a firm grasp on the thing.
The selection of colours and finishes for the handset also causes us to raise an eyebrow. Our glossy white one just doesn’t work, looking a little too messy to rival the cool serenity of the white iPhone 4. What’s more, most of the other colour schemes aren’t much better. In fact the pink one, at least from pictures, looks about the most appealing. Some nice matt, soft-touch (like on the HTC 7 Trophy) or textured (like that of the Samsung Galaxy S 2) finishes would’ve significantly raised the overall impression, and made it easier to grip.
Before we get too bogged down in the negative stuff, though, we should mention some of the Arc S’ good bits. For a start its screen is superb.
Dubbed the Bravia Engine Reality Display, it’s a 4.2in LCD panel with a slightly higher than average resolution of 854 x 480 pixels, and it produces a sharp, richly colourful picture. It’s not quite as sharp as the iPhone, or as dazzling as the Galaxy S 2 but it is a great compromise between the two. There’s a bit more colour shift when viewed at an angle than we like to see but this really wouldn’t concern us day to day.
The mere presence of a button for the camera is also a huge boon. The impact of this is diminished somewhat now that Apple has added the ability to use the volume button on the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 to take a shot – it used to be a nice quantifiable and genuine advantage of other phones over Apple’s devices – but it’s still good to see it present. Unlike the iPhones’ the button on the Arc S can also be used to launch the camera app. However, the button itself is so small and stiff that it’s actually a bit awkward to use, especially with the body of the phone being so thin, but as it’s there at all it’s still worthy of praise.
Similarly the power button is small and fiddly, and is on the top edge where it’s difficult to reach one handed, all of which makes locking your phone’s screen a little more awkward than we’d like. Thankfully the Home button underneath the screen can be used to unlock the screen so you can gain access to your phone quickly and easily with just one hand.
Just finishing off our tour of this phone’s physical features, alongside the earpiece are an LED indicator, to show when you’ve got a message or the phone is charging, and the proximity sensor for turning the screen off when you’re on a call. Below the screen are the three main navigation buttons (Back, Home and Menu) which are physical rather than touch sensitive. Their low positioning makes them a little difficult to reach but this does allow more room for the screen.
The right is home to a rather small volume rocker and the back houses the camera, noise cancelling microphone and mono speaker. Finally, on the bottom is a lanyard loop alongside the main microphone.
Moving onto this phone’s interface, it runs Android 2.3.4 which along with the faster processor is the only thing that currently separates it from its predecessor that runs 2.3.3. We say currently as there will be an update rolled out to the older handsets that will bring them up to date.
There aren’t a huge number of extra features or even stylistic changes in this new version but there are a few titbits.
Starting from the top, though, this is an Android phone so the first thing you’re greeted with is a host of homescreens ready to fill with shortcuts and widgets. You get five screens in total and when you get the handset you’ll find all of them have at least one example widget or shortcut, the majority of which we rapidly removed due to being a bit useless.
One such example is Sony Ericsson’s Timescape widget. This shows a stream of messages and updates from your social networking services as well as missed calls and text messages (you can even download extra plugins for it for such services as Foursquare). However, the presentation of Timeline has always been and remains poor. With the processor update it is at least slick and fast now but the whole vertical scrolling carousel styling is a pig to use.
Other widgets include a TrackID tool for quickly listening to the world around you to pick out what song’s playing, Music and Video Unlimited links for quickly accessing Sony’s music and video download and streaming services, a data usage monitor and the ever useful quick switches for turning on/off wi-Fi, 3G data, Bluetooth and switching to a low brightness mode.
More useful additions from Sony Ericsson include the ability to take a screenshot by holding down the Power button and selecting the option from the popup.
The Swype-like trace-to-type keyboard is also very welcome. It works by predicting what word you were aiming for by tracking the movement of a single finger as it vaguely moves from letter to letter in one motion. It doesn’t have quite as good prediction as Swype but we actually preferred it as it doesn’t otherwise interfere with the normal two-handed typing experience – Swype uses a slightly different keyboard layout and can be thrown off if you type at speed with two thumbs.
Perhaps the two most crucial additions, though, are the Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services. These tap into Sony’s huge entertainment divisions to provide music download and streaming services for music and movies. Setting up Music Unlimited is cumbersome as you have to go to the Music Unlimited website to create an account before you can use the app, and you have to be a premium subscriber too. Once done the interface is slick and easy to use and the selection is impressive, as it is for the video selection. However, with many new movies costing £11.99 to download, it’s not quite the revolution in streaming media one might have hoped for.
Boosting the processor speed of the Arc S from 1GHz to 1.4GHz hasn’t resulted in a hugely noticeable improvement in performance over its predecessor but it’s just about enough to keep tabs with the competition. General navigation is snappy and apps open promptly, with just a little less pause for thought than the slower model. However, it’s notably not on par with dual-core models so if you’re looking for the snappiest performance then you’re better off with those handsets.
Part of the problem, however, is Android, which still doesn’t feel quite as slick and integrated as iOS, Windows Phone or even the latest BlackBerry OS. It is actually faster than many of these as it does away with some of the fancier animations as you move from one task to the other, but equally some of these animations are what make for a smooth journey through using your device. It’s all subtle stuff but especially now that iOS 5 is out, the arrival of Android 4.0 can’t come soon enough as it should bring smoother graphics and even tighter, more integrated features.
Still, Android and the Arc S does have some distinct advantages. The web browser supports Flash so can play back videos embedded in webpages, and the extra processor speed means playback is generally smooth. You also get an FM radio and much easier multimedia file management than iOS. Well, it’s easier if you’re prepared to just drag and drop your files onto the device rather than use iTunes.
Video playback support on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S is only decent compared to other Androids, with only our MP4 files playing back in the default media player, and divx, mkv and mov all failing to play – you can of course download other players but hardware support for these is variable. In contrast the Samsung Galaxy S 2 will play most video file types straight out of the box. Those that do play do look amazing, though, thanks to Sony Ericsson’s Bravia video playback enhancements – colours pop, dark detailing is good, and motion is smooth.
If you want to shoot your own video, the camera will oblige with 720p HD Ready footage running at 30fps. This is a step down from the 1080p offered by some of the most high-end phones but it’s plenty enough resolution to capture the moment. In terms of quality it’s a little better than average with a decent level of detail and steady smooth action. It does, however, lack dynamic range and can get pretty noisy pretty quickly, though both these are typical problems with phone cameras and the Arc S copes better than most with no really distracting artefacts.
Likewise the camera is good but not amazing. With 8 megapixels on offer, it’s on par with all but the Nokia N8 in terms of raw detail level, and shots are generally well exposed with vivid colours. However, we’re not talking about a revolution in quality – shots are still very compressed looking with even modest pixel peeping revealing inadequacies as compared to proper compact cameras. These are just particularly good for a phone.
Also, thanks to an excellent camera app that includes options for exposure metering, white balance, self timer and various scenes, it’s easy to get a good shot in most situations (we do wish more phones would offer the ISO control that Windows Phone does, though). There’s also a really easy panorama mode where you just pan the camera around and the phone automatically stitches the image together. You can also do 3D panoramas, though you can only view the resultant images on a 3D TV via the HDMI output.
Also good in most situations is battery life. Well, more like adequate actually. You should get a day and a half to two days of average use. As per usual, you can extend this greatly if you reduce much of your data usage or you can zap it in a day if you play games all day.
Call quality, meanwhile, is excellent. Noise reduction is employed to keep noise around you from overpowering your voice while the earpiece delivers powerful, natural sounding vocals. The loudspeaker, though, is rather weedy.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S isn’t a phone that blows us away. In fact, considering it’s Sony Ericsson’s current top of the line, it’s a bit disappointing. There’s no dual-core processor and the build is underwhelming. However, just as with the original Arc, the Arc S packs in the essential features, has a nice screen and a great camera. What’s more it’s available for a decent price, making it a sound investment if you’re not after the absolute biggest and best.
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We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Score in detail
|Operating System||Android OS|
|Screen Size (inches) (Inch)||4.2in|
|Screen Resolution||480 x 854|
|Internal Storage (Gigabyte)||320MBGB|
|Camera (Megapixel)||8 Megapixel|
|Front Facing Camera (Megapixel)||Yes Megapixel|
|Camera Flash||1 x LED|
|3.5mm Headphone Jack||Yes|
Processor and Internal Specs