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The Xperia Arc is a gorgeous phone that feels lovely in the hand and barely registers when slipped into a jeans pocket. Its sharp, high quality screen is a particular highlight
Timescape doesn't impress, and the keyboard could be a little more finger-friendly, but the Android interface and responsive touch-screen make most tasks a breeze
A fantastic camera, great media capabilities and access to thousands of Android Market apps
It isn't the quickest phone around, but its 1GHz processor is beefy enough to handle the built-in functions and pretty much any app you can throw at it
The battery will give you a good day of heavy use per charge, but probably won't serve you for a whole weekend. Make sure you keep the charger handy
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/18/2011 4:43:22 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Beautiful, sharp 4.2-inch screen, top class camera, slim, lightweight design, speedy Android Gingerbread software
Some software usability niggles, Timescape doesn?t live up to its billing, lack of Mac compatibility.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is pitched at those seeking speed, style and entertainment: despite a super-slim profile, it packs a huge hi-res screen dubbed the Reality Display and an eight-megapixel camera with an Advanced Sensor. Oh, and there's Android 2.3 Gingerbread to boot. So is Sony Ericsson's latest a star of the big screen or a skinny wannabe?
This really is a beautiful phone to look at and hold: it's thin (just 8.7mm at its narrowest point) and the concave curve of the back panel makes it sit nicely in your hand, despite the fairly large width and height of the handset.
Most of that length and width is taken up by the Reality Display screen, a 4.2-inch TFT with an 854x480 resolution, LED backlighting and Mobile BRAVIA Engine, an adaptation of the technology used in Sony's range of HDTVs.
Mobile BRAVIA Engine features noise reduction, sharpening, colour management and contrast enhancing elements, and while we're a bit wary of Sony's HDTV-style image quality claims, there's no doubt that the Xperia Arc possesses a top class screen. When viewed dead on, the colours are vivid and the contrast is punchy, and quality doesn't drop too much when you venture outside on a sunny day.
The viewing angle is limited - contrast and colour drops off significantly if you view the screen from anything other than straight on - but that's not a huge issue for a phone screen as you're unlikely to be sharing your gaming/movie sessions with a friend. All in all the Reality Display certainly gives OLED screens a run for their money.
The screen is capacitive, comes with haptics and is nicely responsive to the touch (although there are some issues which we'll come to in the next section). There are also the usual three Android hardware buttons running along the lower edge of the front: back, home and menu, and these are easy to prod. Volume and camera buttons are located on the right side panel; the latter is tiny and not particularly finger-friendly - we'd have liked something a bit easier to press.
Other design highlights include a 3.5mm headphone jack, a proprietary USB port for charging and data transfer and a micro HDMI output at the top allowing you to mirror the Xperia Arc's screen on a projector or HDTV (via an optional cable).
There's only a tiny amount of built-in memory but the phone comes with an 8GB microSD card (not hotswappable - you have to remove the battery to get to it) and supports cards up to 32GB.
The Xperia Arc comes with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the latest version of Google's smartphone OS, but Sony Ericsson has wrapped it in its own skin. That means your main home screen is dominated by Timescape, which draws together text messages, tweets and Facebook into a single "pack of cards" style stream that can be thumbed through.
It's a neat enough concept, but here as on previous Xperia phones it feels clumsy and sluggish. Sometimes when you're simply trying to browse through the stream you end up selecting an entry and opening the web browser or messaging screen by mistake, and the pictures of the relevant people (which appear in the background of each entry) are blurry and low quality.
You have four other home screens with which to populate shortcuts, apps and widgets, plus a bar that runs along the bottom and features shortcuts to four of your most popular apps, plus one that takes you to the full app menu. All in all, it's a perfectly acceptable arrangement.
Of course, at its heart the Xperia Arc is still an Android phone, which means you have access to thousands of apps from Android Market. We downloaded Angry Birds and found that it runs like an absolute dream on the phone: the 1GHz CPU isn't massively powerful by modern smartphone standards but it handles the avian physics without a hitch, while the visuals look stiletto sharp on the screen.
One software issue we noticed is that the on-screen keyboard is a little tricksy, especially in portrait mode. It often takes a bit of back-pedalling to correct a word and the iPhone outperforms it significantly. We also experienced an issue where the full stop button wouldn't register at all until we flipped the phone to landscape.
The Xperia Arc's eight-megapixel camera is one of the best smartphone snappers around – and that's thanks mainly to the Exmor R CMOS sensor, which is more sensitive to light than most sensors and therefore suffers less from camera shake: even without the LED flash you can take usable, sharp indoor photos.
In good light it produces beautifully detailed shots with very little noise, and it's pleasant to use too: as we said above we'd have appreciated a larger hardware camera button, but just having one on a smartphone these days is a bonus: a half-press sets the autofocus and a full press fires the shutter. There are also a full range of setting to play with, including scene modes (landscape, portrait etc.), smile shutter, white balance and a touch-focus mode that lets you set the autofocus target wherever you wish.
The 720p HD video capture is also pretty impressive, although don't expect your movie sharpness and clarity to hold up too much when played back on large HDTVs.
Our main camera gripe is the fact that the autofocus sometimes fails to lock onto something that you'd think it should do, or registers a focus lock when it's clearly out-of-focus.
The web browser is similarly impressive: thanks to the hi-res screen text and images look clear, and Flash is supported.
Battery life is as you'd expect from a feature-rich smartphone: you'll probably need to charge it once a day if you make some calls, use the browser, take a few pictures and watch a bit of video.
While it certainly isn't the perfect smartphone, the Xperia Arc is beautifully made handset with three killer features: its screen, its camera and Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The build quality isn't as high as, say, an iPhone 4, Timescape doesn't match its promise and there are a few software niggles that need ironing out, but overall this is another fine Android phone that tackles a multitude of tasks with aplomb.