Identical to the Arc, the Arc S makes big features feel dainty. The massive screen dominates the design but it’ll still fit snugly in your skinny jeans
The usual customisability of Android, albeit with a Sony Ericsson twist. Easy navigation with plenty of widgets to personalise your experience
A faster processor and some 3D photography cred add to the already sound Arc reputation, which rests firmly in its brilliant 4.2-inch Reality Display
The 1.4GHz processor is an incremental step up but certainly nippier than its Arc predecessor
With a big media-friendly screen comes the need to charge, and often. It’ll last you the whole day if you’re doing bits and bobs but watch too many clips on YouTube and you’ll need to make sure you have a charger on standby
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,9/1/2011 10:56:38 AM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Reality Display holds up valiantly against Retina and Super AMOLED
Not a massive step forward for the Arc series
The Xperia Arc was a surprise hit earlier this year. While its more hotly-anticipated sibling the Xperia Play seemed to flounder despite its PlayStation kudos, the Arc emerged as the one to watch. Just a few months later Sony Ericsson has turbo-charged the Arc with a 1.4GHz processor, but is it worth the trouble? So what’s new? The most significant update from the Arc to the Arc S is the processor. The 1GHz Arc is now a 1.4GHz powerhouse. However, that chip is single-core, which may not endear it to those obsessed with all things dual-core. The Samsung Galaxy S II, Motorola Atrix and HTC Sensation have all set the trend towards dual-core chips, leaving the Xperia Arc S looking a little less than future proof. But in reality the difference between single- and dual-core is not as cut and dry as top-line spec information would have us believe. A few hours with the Xperia Arc S and you’ll wonder what all the to-do is about. Any niggles that might have been laid at the Arc’s door in terms of processing punch are swept away. Processor-heavy tasks such as playing games or streaming video are seamless, with no noticeable lag, so it looks like the Xperia Arc S’s CPU can handle pretty much anything you throw at it, within reason. While a phone’s shelf life is much less than its manufacturer would perhaps like to be, the current gen is doing rather well in terms of processor speed. You may find the decision short sighted, but with such a slick interface, fast loading times and so few niggles, the Arc S’s single-core chip is bound to win cynics over.
The camera on the Xperia Arc was one of the finest we have seen on a mobile at a massive 8.1 megapixels with a dedicated camera button for those who miss that satisfying click. As well as its already established photo-taking credentials, the Arc S also brings the new features of 3D panoramic photos to the table. This allows you to take sweeping photos, which can then be exported as 3D images to 3D-enabled televisions. In theory that sounds great, so long as you have one of those 3D-enabled televisions, but in practice that’s perhaps unlikely. It’s also quite fiddly to operate. The idea is that you press the camera button and when the icon appears you’re directed to pan the device from left to right in order to capture your image. Perhaps we were missing something but this doesn’t tend to work first time. Although it’s probably the kind of feature that comes into its own if you’re somewhere in the Great Outdoors with no one to walk in front of (and ruin) the shot. If you’ve got a short fuse, this feature might just grate, and it’s arguably redundant if you don’t have the right kit to view the images on. 2D shots are everything you’d expect from Sony Ericsson’s cameras by now: crisp, colourful even in adverse conditions and with a reasonably fast shutter speed for spontaneous snaps. You certainly get the most out of those 8.1 megapixels. It’s a pity there’s no front-facing camera, but I guess you can’t have everything.
When looking at the Arc S, Sony Ericsson decided not to mess with a winning formula. It’s identical to it predecessor and like the Arc, what strikes you first about the Arc S is that its build somehow manages to make big features feel dainty. The screen is a whooping 4.2-inches but at just 8.7mm thick, with that same elegant concave back panel, the Arc S feels like it’s been draped over your hand. It’ll fit into even the snuggest of jeans and at just 117g, you’ll barely register its presence. But this design is a matter of taste. The downside of its slight frame is that the plastic casing might seem a little on the cheap side to some. Look along the Xperia Arc’s sides and the usual suspects are there: A 3.5mm jack on the top left hand side (when in portrait orientation), volume rocker, and USB port on the top right with the camera button down low. The three main buttons (back, home and menu) are as far down the phone as they could possibly be, to the point that they’re almost tripping off the edge. But that’s the price you have to pay to make the most of that amazing screen.
As with the Arc, the Arc S’s killer app is its 4.2-inch, 854x480 resolution LED backlit screen, or Reality Display, which runs on the same BRAVIA Engine as Sony’s high definition televisions. It’s glorious in action, whether that’s viewing clips on YouTube or playing games, and that faster processor keeps things lag-free as much as possible. The capacitive touch-screen is also massively responsive and the roomy screen makes typing emails less fiddly. Browsing webpages, you’ll see crisp text and a lot of detail – the screen really doesn’t disappoint.
The Xperia Arc S runs on the latest version of Android, Gingerbread 2.3.4, and as with any Android-powered phone, it offers a great deal of customisability with five scrolling home screens to fill with widgets, apps and shortcuts wrapped nicely in Sony Ericsson’s own user interface. Navigating this interface is straightforward. As well as the three physical keys at the bottom of the phone, onscreen you have five fixed panels to aid navigation: media, messaging, apps grid, contacts book and phone. These root your phone to its main features, while you customise your home screens to the widgets and features you want even quicker access to. The default main home screen is dominated by the Timescape feature, which pulls all your recent messages, calls and emails as well as the very latest posts from your Facebook contacts and Twitter stream; whichever you choose to sync to the device. These all get blended together to form one stream, in the signature Timescape pack of cards display. However, Timescape is not quite as elegant as it likes to think it is, taking a long time to refresh and not really bringing much to the table in terms of the overall social media experience.
Like its predecessor, the Xperia Arc S is a stylish smartphone with a simply brilliant screen that holds its own against Apple and Samsung’s best. That said, it’s hard to tell if this is the phone Sony Ericsson wished it had released earlier in the year, or merely a rushed upgrade. Either way, something feels amiss. The Arc is, and was, a great phone but the Arc S doesn’t represent a massive leap forward. Not a wise handset upgrade if you already have an Arc, but if the Arc quite rightly caught your eye and you’re in the market for a gorgeous big screen to enjoy media on, then it’s going to be an easy decision.