Monday, September 12, 2011

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc. A device that wow-ed people at it’s announcement for its design. Given Sony Ericsson’s infamous history with Android updates and laggy user interfaces (regardless of how nice-looking they were) people were skeptical. Then came the launch, and people started buying this phone in droves. It’s a testament to Sony Ericsson’s design and user interface tweaks if value-conscious Indians are buying the Xperia Arc instead of the slightly more expensive, but dual-core processor toting Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Sensation. What some of you might be wondering though would be – is the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc just pure good looks or does it deliver on the performance and usability front as well? We spent some time with the Xperia Arc, and our full review is just past that “Read More” link.

Hardware

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Right

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc has been beautifully designed. In today’s world of Android and Windows Phone 7 devices which all look extremely similar, Sony Ericsson has gone the distance. They’re pulled off a really different design that just works. If you’ll jog your memories a bit, we praised the Google Nexus S for it’s curved screen design which made us feel really good holding it; the Xperia Arc takes it two steps further – it makes us fall in love with the design. Folks who saw the phone just couldn’t keep their hands off it; they had to take it, touch it, feel it, snap a few photos and just keep swiping left and right on the homescreens. The materials used here are all plastic, but they feel quite solid. It’s not just a feeling – during our review, we inadvertently dropped the phone from about six-feet high – the back cover and battery came apart from the phone, but no damage was sustained by the phone in its exterior, or in its functionality. The phone is well-built. Period.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Box contents 01 Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Box contents 02 Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Box contents 03

The box contents consist of a USB wall charger, a pretty sturdy micro-USB cable, an HDMI connector cable, a pair of in-ear headphones and accompanying documentation. All these components have a premium feel, and you don’t feel let down in spending that much money on the phone.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Right side

Going around the phone, you have the 3.5 mm headset port at the top-left corner of the phone, the Power button and the HDMI port (with a pop-out flap) along the top edge, the top-right corner houses the micro USB port – which is left open – and an extra-bright green notification LED. Slightly below that arrangement is the volume rocker which is a little too thin for our liking, but not too hard to press at all. The right lower edge of the phone has the camera shutter button, which is a little difficult to press at times. The bottom part of the phone contains the eyelet for a lanyard strap, if you want to attach one to the phone and the microphone. The lower portion of the front face of the phone houses the trademark three buttons that are carried over from the Xperia X10; and like the implementation in the X10, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc designers seem to have missed something really important – the LED lights light up through the gaps between the three buttons. Here’s why this is a problem: in a dark room or a dimly lit restaurant, you won’t be able to see which button is which since the icons above the buttons don’t light up. Thankfully, Sony Ericsson changed the layout for it’s smaller phones such as the Xperia Mini, Xperia Mini Pro and Xperia Ray.

The rear of the phone houses the 8 MP autofocus camera which can shoot 720p HD video and the speaker grille, which is placed just above the bulge towards the lower portion of the phone. This speaker placement is brilliant; unlike Samsung’s phones, the Xperia Arc doesn’t drown itself out when placed on slightly non-hard flat surfaces – or even tight pockets. Overall, we would rate the Xperia Arc really high on the hardware design and build quality; the only reason we can find to reduce points would be the plastic construction – but that’s more of a specification on paper, rather than an issue in everyday use of the phone.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Top left Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Top Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Top front Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Right top Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Right top, HDMI outSony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Right top, LED off Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Right top, LED on Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Front lower buttons Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Bottom Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Rear

 

Software & Performance

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Quadrant performance

The Quadrant benchmark scores that our unit churned out were consistently in the 1350+ range. Considering that this is a phone with a heavily customized UI, we were well pleased with its performance. The new and updated Xperia User Interface is actually a treat. It has fluid animations for dropping items on the homescreen, and regardless of the number of items in the App Drawer, the pages scroll fast enough. The previous Sony Ericsson Android flagship, the Xperia X10 struggled a bit when it came to daily functioning of the User Interface. The Xperia Arc handles everything with aplomb. That 1 Ghz Scorpion processor with the Adreno 205 GPU does wonders. We were able to download and play Adobe Flash and Adobe Air content to our liking. If you buy this phone, you won’t be complaining about the performance easily.

Apart from the animations and effects that make the User Interface of the Xperia Arc pleasant to use, the feature of double-tapping anywhere on a homescreen to get all the widgets of all the homescreens on one page has been managed quite well – there’s no discernable lag at all. Every item that comes or moves away seems to have a ripple (watery) effect which looks really cool. And Sony Ericsson daringly decided to split the Settings widget into individual icons – so you get to decide which settings icons you want, and where you want to place them. If you like this setup, believe us when we say that you’ll while away a good deal of time just dropping and placing these individual Settings widgets (for on/off of Wi-Fi, data, sync, bluetooth, GPS) all over the homescreens.

 

Camera & Display

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - 8 MP Camera

The 8 MP camera is a supposed improvement on the 8 MP shooter that was present in last year’s Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc. And boy – what an improvement. If you have an Xperia Arc on you, you can leave your point-and-shoot digital camera at home and proudly walk around with this one. True, the provided flash isn’t anything to get wild about. But the camera itself performs admirably. The only niggling worry for us was – the Macro mode wasn’t good at all. We love macro shots; you can easily guess that by the number of Macro shots we keep taking of the products that we review. We even posted a few sample ones from the Google Nexus S in our review. Sadly, we couldn’t get the Xperia Arc to perform in the Macro department. That being said, we have no qualms about the overall camera quality – photos and videos are well shot. Friends around us were extremely amazed with both the images captured and the display.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Camera settings

We have to note here that the usual Android Camera app has been completely revamped by Sony Ericsson. You’ve got plenty of options and tweaks to fiddle around with. If you’re expecting that straightforward point-and-click experience, don’t count on it. You would need to work on a few settings to get the optimum balance and enhancements for your shots.

A big negative point that keeps coming up is – the Xperia Arc doesn’t have a front-facing video camera. Yes, hard to believe but true. This phone, the Xperia flagship for 2011 from Sony Ericsson, does not have a front-facing video camera even though all of the other Xperia phones released in 2011 except the Xperia Active and the Xperia Mini have front-facing video cameras. Frankly, we are disappointed. We must note though, that it didn’t make too much of a difference during our review. We did miss the feature, but it’s not something we would die for. We guess it’s upto you to decide whether the front camera is more important, or the design and style of the phone is more important.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Mobile Bravia Reality Engine display

The display is gorgeous. It may not have the pure blacks that a Super AMOLED Plus screen can provide, but it packs a punch when displaying varied colours. Bright colours like red, yellow and green make the screen *pop*. It is a veritable feast for our eyes to watch hi-definition videos played on this phone. Whatever technology Sony Ericsson borrowed from Sony’s Bravia department has benefitted their flagship Android phone.

 

Audio, Music, Video

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Rear

A trend that we’ve seen in many modern smartphones is – poor audio. Not so with the Xperia Arc. The Arc delivers where it should when it comes to the audio department. The provided headphones, the built-in speaker and the music player are all working together with a certain well-oiled efficiency that makes you wonder why other companies phone manufacturers can’t get this right. The speaker isn’t something that would blow you away completely – but it’s one of the best we’ve heard from, in modern smartphones. As we noted previously, the placement of the speaker is quite strategic; you wouldn’t drown out all the sound from the speaker by inadvertently placing a finger on it while holding the phone (something that happens quite easily with Samsung’s Galaxy phones, except the Galaxy S II).

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Music player

The music player is simple and effective. It gives you what you need – a decent App to play your music. As for videos, the Sony Ericsson Mobile Bravia Engine really makes the videos look sharp and clear. There’s really nothing negative we could say about the Xperia Arc in the audio and video department. It has everything you would expect from a modern smartphone. The included 8 GB microSD card is an added bonus for music and video buffs – it costs you less to use an 8 GB memory card when it comes free with your smartphone purchase, doesn’t it?!

 

Battery life, Connectivity & Sensors

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - Battery consumption

Ask anyone who has used an Android phone and they would tell you that the battery life is a drag. That may be the case with most phones, but the Xperia Arc was surprisingly long-lasting with its 1500 mAh battery. Normally, we tend to run through the battery of a full touchscreen phone within a day’s moderate usage. The Xperia Arc lasted a little longer than that. You would still need to charge it before heading out to work the next day, but that extra battery life means that you don’t need to be watching every single aspect of the phone to conserve battery life and try to squeeze as much juice out of it as possible. Just go about your business, and the phone will last you the whole day. For a high-end phone providing moderate usage of data, downloading, picture-snapping and video-watching – this is a sight for sore eyes. This definitely can’t come close to the iPhone 4 and its phenomenal battery life, but of all the phones we have reviewed, this is the best.

In the connectivity department, there really isn’t much to say for the Xperia Arc. We put it through the normal paces of Bluetooth file transfers, Wi-Fi browsing, GPS (mapping and directions) and the phone handled each of these tasks with ease. As far as the Bluetooth transfers were concerned, there seemed to be a slightly faster transfer rate compared to our other phones – but we could be mistaken. The sensors (proximity, ambient light, accelerometer) are also all present and accounted for. We did not have a single issue with any of them during the length of our review.

Final Thoughts

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc - SE and Xperia logo

The Xperia Arc is a worthy and well-rounded successor to the Xperia X10 from last year. However, with more powerful dual-core processor powered high-end phones available for a marginal price increase and with newer Xperia flagship phones around the corner – this may not be the right phone for you. If you are in the market for a phone under Rs. 28,000/- and you simply must have a gorgeous phone that turns heads, has a brilliant display and good sound with decent-enough processing power packed in, then yes, this is the phone for you. If not, either look to the LG Optimus 2x, the HTC Sensation, the Samsung Galaxy S II or wait for Sony Ericsson’s next big device (No, we’re not talking about the Xperia Arc V).

Many thanks to Amritha Vidyasagar for her contributions to this review.

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