Sony Ericsson Xperia arc Preview
After the relative disappointment that the Xperia X10 was, Sony Ericsson really needed a new product that could put the company up there when it comes to high-end smartphones. Officially introduced at CES 2011, the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc represents the next big thing in the manufacturer's line-up.
Sony Ericsson seems to be learning from its mistakes, as the handset comes not only with breathtaking design and hardware, but finally with the latest version of Android – 2.3 Gingerbread – right out of the box. As a matter of fact, the handset has a unique shape, thanks to the world's slimmest smartphone mid-section, hence the “arc” moniker. Will those perks be enough to mend the broken heart of Sony Ericsson fans worldwide? Read on our preview to find out...
Did we mention this thing is slim? We did, and we can't take out eyes away from the exterior of the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc. It is just 0.34” (8.7mm) thin in the middle, which gradually becomes 0.39” (10mm) at both ends. The overarching ambition (pun intended) has been to arm the company with “the thinnest” punch line, and the result is beautiful.
Everyone we showed the handset to loved how slick it is, and even we seasoned veterans couldn't help but agree that this is the way to go with big screen handsets. The size of the huge 4.2” display is barely uncomfortable at 0.34” thickness, and the arched profile makes it more comfortable to hold and handle.
You can compare the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.
The 4.2” screen is of Sony's own Super LCD variety, with 480x854 pixels of resolution and LED backlighting. Just before CES 2011 phones with such resolution were aiming for silver medal, trailing only the iPhone 4's Retina Display, but with the announcement of the qHD screens in some of Motorola's new handsets, Sony is looking at bronze here. What sets it apart, though, is that it is graced with Sony's BRAVIA engine that the company uses in its award-winning flat screen TVs. With the addition of the Mobile BRAVIA Engine to this screen type, Sony has come up with a new marketing title – the Reality Display. What it does in actuality is to rev up the contrast and sharpness of the picture when displaying photos or playing videos.
We can attest that there is a difference, although it is not as strikingly significant as the one between the Super LCD and Super AMOLED screen technologies, for instance. We still prefer the punchy colors of the Super AMOLED. The display of our prototype unit was bright enough for comfortably operating it in broad daylight, which is all fine and dandy, but the viewing angles, for that matter, are pretty poor. Contrast and color degradation when looking at an angle are almost akin to the older generation of LCD displays, and far from those of the Retina Display, or the NOVA display in the LG Optimus Black, which use the IPS-LCD technology. Still, this is the part of a screen review we care least about, and when looked straight, the screen delivers more saturated colors than the Retina Display.
Under the screen are three thin Android navigational buttons – back, home and menu, which form an arc (we wonder why). They are reminiscent of what we have on the other phones in the Xperia line, and are illuminated with white LED light. The three keys have a nice rubbery feeling to them when pressed, instead of annoying clicks, and are very easy to operate, even in the prototype unit we had.
We had the “Midnight Blue” version, which is so dark that it seems almost black, if it wasn't for the nice gradients on the back cover. There is also a “Misty Silver” version, which looks even more stunning. The whole design is made of quality plastic, which some sniff at, but with a 4.2” screen we'd rather keep the weight under control than ask for metallic elements, which will make the phone bulkier and more unwieldy to handle (cough, HTC Desire HD, cough). The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc clocks in at 4.12 oz (117grams), which is a tad less than the Samsung Galaxy S, but this one here has an 8MP shooter with LED flash, whereas the Galaxy S doesn't sport any flash module, and has a slightly smaller screen.
The camera sensor is placed in the only space the engineering team could fit it, considering the 0.34” thickness in the middle - near the upper edge on the back - which means you have to be careful not to place your finger over the lens when shooting. Combine that with the rather smallish and somewhat hard to press shutter key on the right near the lower edge, and you definitely need to hold the phone with two hands when taking a picture, unless you use the touchscreen. This is not a bad thing, since holding such a light phone steady is paramount to obtaining sharp snaps.
The other design element that classes up the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc is the chromed band surrounding it, which encompasses all the rest of the buttons and openings – the volume rocker and microUSB port up right, the 3.5mm audio jack up left, as well as the cover of the microHDMI port and the power/lock button at the very top.
The power/lock screen key at the top is where we would love to see changes in the final unit. It is slightly protruding to make it easier to find, but it's still the size of confetti, so just for checking what time it is, you have to fiddle with your fingers at the top, until you find and press it. The best solution would be to move the screen lock on the sides.
An ambient light sensor or front-facing camera were lacking in our prototype unit, but there is a marked spot top front, and Sony Ericsson recently said it is for the light sensor, so no front cam for us - something obviously had to go in such a slim design. Nevertheless, the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc is such a looker that we are willing to forego much more nuisances than the lack of frontal video calling.