It’s no secret that Sony Ericsson had a bit of a rocky start with its first generation of Android phones. Its 2010 Xperia models have been criticized for shipping with an outdated version of Android, as well as lacking some basic functionality like multitouch out of the box.
Fortunately, it looks like the manufacturer has fully overcome these teething problems with the release of its flagship phone for 2011, the Xperia Arc. The Arc is a device which compares well to similar offerings from other manufacturers, and brings to the table some outstanding multimedia features, including a very high-quality camera.
Read on to find out our initial thoughts after our first few days with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, along with video footage of the device in action.
The Arc is a deceptively large phone. With its 4.2-inch screen, it’s certainly towards the upper end of the smartphone size spectrum. However, despite this it’s extremely lightweight, and its sleek, curved back give it a slim profile, while helping it sit easily in the hand. It’s a big phone that doesn’t feel like a big phone.
The Arc’s chassis is mostly black plastic, which means it doesn’t feel quite as solid as other aluminum-based devices, and also results in the phone becoming something of a magnet for fingerprints and smudges. However, this makes the Arc much lighter, and is a trade-off we’re happy to make if it gives us a 4.2-inch phone that weighs just over four ounces.
Sony Ericsson has opted to stick with physical buttons in the Xperia Arc, rather than the increasingly popular capacitive keys seen on more and more current Android phones. While the lack of a dedicated search key is a minor niggle, the remaining three buttons work well, and don’t require much force to use. There’s also a dedicated camera button on the right side of the phone, which is great to see, given that the Arc’s 8-megapixel camera is one of the phone’s major features.
Another notable addition is the Arc’s HDMI port, which is located on the top of the device, next to the power button. Used with the bundled HDMI cable, this allows easy TV connectivity -- simply plug the phone in, and it outputs a 720p signal to your TV, and helpfully locks your apps in landscape mode.
Inside the Arc you’ll find the standard 1GHz second-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and 512MB of RAM. So, certainly fast enough for a smooth Android experience. There’s also 512MB of internal storage, of which 380MB is available for apps. This is definitely a little on the low side considering many manufacturers are shipping handsets with 1GB or more, however the ability to move apps to the SD card means this isn’t as big a deal as it might’ve been in the past.
The Arc is almost up-to-date with the latest version of Android right out of the box. It’s running Gingerbread -- Android 2.3.2 Gingerbread to be precise. So, not quite the latest version of Android, but it’s still Gingerbread, and it still includes the all-important SMS fix that arrived in 2.2.2 and 2.3.2.
On top of Android you’ll find Sony Ericsson’s custom UI. This is a sleek and unobtrusive interface that matches the aesthetics of the phone’s physical design. It’s also nice and fast -- sure, there’s eye candy to be had, but not at the expense of performance. We were particularly impressed with the speed of the launcher and TimeScape app compared to earlier Xperia phones.
Many of the stock apps are only lightly skinned too, which will please users looking for a more “pure” Android experience. The browser is pretty much the stock Gingerbread browser, and the same goes for the calendar, gallery, dialer and messaging apps too.
Sony has packed some extremely impressive camera capabilities into the Arc’s slim chassis. The phone takes stills at up to 8 megapixels in 4:3 orientation, or 6 megapixels in 16:9 orientation. Photos look great, and the camera app offers some advanced features for more experienced users to tweak away, along with simpler options like image stabilization. The Arc records video at up to 720p too, and at that resolution you’ll get a flawless 30 frames per second, even in low light thanks to Sony’s Exmor R camera technology. As previously mentioned, there's a dedicated physical camera button on the side of the phone, though there’s also the option to tap the screen to take pictures.
After playing around with the Arc’s camera, we were confident enough in its abilities that we used it to capture all of our photo and video content at the recent HTC Roadshow. You can see the results here.
The Xperia Arc combines some great aesthetics with a speedy software experience, great multimedia connectivity and an excellent camera. We’re looking forward to spending some more time with Sony Ericsson’s latest handset, and we’ll have a full review up soon, so keep watching. In the meantime, enjoy the photos below, and be sure to check out our hands-on video if you haven’t already.