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Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Review

Pros

  • Super slim
  • Brilliant screen
  • Camera has shutter button

Cons

  • Doesn't have a dual-core CPU
  • Almost too slim
  • Battery life still not great

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £399.95
  • 4.2in LCD screen
  • Android 2.3 Operating System
  • 8 megapixel camera
  • 8.7mm slimness

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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.

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.

With Android having a vast number of apps available in its Marketplace you can add an almost infinite amount of functionality to this phone and even tweak the interface by adding different keyboards and such like. However, what you get out of the box should be plenty to get you going.


The general messaging experience is excellent with a superb onscreen keyboard, a well presented simple SMS app, and comprehensive email support, as well as included Facebook and Twitter apps. Android’s continued inability to zoom in and out of html emails is still rather baffling and the keyboard isn’t quite as good as the iPhone but otherwise, this is a great phone for keeping up with all your world’s goings on – we particularly like the landscape email layout.

The web browser has Flash support ready from the off, so watching online videos and interacting with flash websites can be done straight away. What’s more, the speedy processor means said video plays back surprisingly smoothly. Otherwise, the browser is generally speedy and easy to use. Incidentally, there’s no new fangled connectivity on offer here, just standard 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Finding out where to go and how to get there is made easy by included GPS and Google’s excellent mapping and navigation services, and of course you can download fully fledged sat nav apps as well. Meanwhile, entertaining yourself en route isn’t so easy as the default video app doesn’t support much in the way of video files. Instead you’ll either have to convert your video files or download another video player. For storing all that music, videos and photos there’s a microSD slot, which should come filled with an 8GB card. Sadly there’s only 400MB of in-built storage but you can swap out the 8GB card for up to a 32GB one instead

Thankfully, making calls on the Arc throws up no major causes for concern though the speaker is a bit pathetic, with it distorting at full volume, which is slightly odd as it does a decent job when playing video and music. Contacts are also very easy to navitage and are auto populated when you sign into your Google, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Battery life is typical of a modern Android with it practically requiring an overnight charge every other day.

The final consideration for this phone is price, and again we can safely say it hasn’t tripped up. At around £400 SIM free, it’s pretty much on the money with contracts or £25pm getting you the phone for free.

”’Verdict”’

If you like your smartphones sleek and slim yet still packed with features, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc should be high on your list. It’s among the thinnest phones in its class yet packs in a large high quality screen, has a better camera than most – with a shutter button, and has all the connectivity you’d expect of a modern smartphone. Yes, it lacks a dual-core processor but it’s still plenty fast enough and is competitively priced. Simply put, it’s a great buy.



We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Performance 8
  • Design 9
  • Value 8
  • Features 9

General

Operating System Android OS
Height (Millimeter) 125mm
Width (Millimeter) 63mm
Depth (Millimeter) 8.7mm
Weight (Gram) 117g

Display

Screen Size (inches) (Inch) 4.2in
Screen Resolution 480 x 854
Touchscreen Yes, glass capacitive

Battery

Talk Time (Minute) 420m
Standby Time (Hour) 400hr

Storage

Internal Storage (Gigabyte) 0.4GB
Camera (Megapixel) 8 Megapixel
Front Facing Camera (Megapixel) NA Megapixel
Camera Flash 1 x LED

Connectivity

Bluetooth Yes
WiFi Yes
3G/4G Yes
3.5mm Headphone Jack Yes
Charging/Computer Connection microUSB

Processor and Internal Specs

CPU 1Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255 + Adreno 205 GPU

Misc

App Store Yes, 100,000+ Apps
GPS Yes

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