Sony Ericsson Xperia arc Preview

Introduction and Design
This is a global GSM phone. It can beused with T-Mobile USA andAT&T, but without 3G.


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.

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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.

Sony Ericsson Xperia arc 360-degree View:

Interface and Functionality:

The typical Sony Ericsson Android skin is called UX (from User eXperience), and includes the Timescape and Mediascape elements, which we have reviewed before. This heavily customized skin was rumored to cause all kinds of troubles when the time to update the company's Android phones to the next version came. As a result, the Xperia line was stuck for a long time in 2009, and is unlikely to receive any official updates to Froyo now.

With the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc the company said on its official Product Blog that it has changed the way it interacts with Android, simplified the UI by only including the Timescape element, and mentioned the updates will now be swifter because of these changes. The feature that has gone away is Mediascape, although it is present in a stripped down version called simply Media, which according to Sony Ericsson is a “customizable widget based media pane”, but looks more of a glorified shortcut to us now, than anything else.

Not that Sony Ericsson will need to update its arching handset soon, considering it will be one of the first phones out there running Android Gingerbread, but it's nice to hear we might be covered this time. Gingerbread doesn't bring many visible changes to the interface, most of the changelog is under the hood, but still, the ability to copy/paste or move the cursor with the large handles now, as well as the improved multitasking and process management, are welcome additions.

Moreover, the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc has the same second generation MSM8255 Snapdragon chipset that is in the HTC Desire HD, and the T-Mobile myTouch 4G. It carries the powerful Adreno 205 graphics chip, and on the Quadrant benchmark test we consistently scored 1500+ points, which makes it one of the fastest stock handsets this side of dual-core. When the unit is final, the performance will probably be improved even further, but for now we didn't experience lag or scrolling stutter, despite the prototype nature of our Sony Ericsson Xperia arc. The only chipset-related gripe is the 287MB ROM for installing apps, but ever since Froyo you can install apps on the memory card, so it is not really an issue; moreover, the handset still has 512MB RAM, which is the norm for high-end handsets now.

There were some blank spaces at the bottom from time to time - in the phonebook, for example – but again, this was most certainly due to the non-final software we had on our unit. Other than that, Sony Ericsson has dressed up Gingerbread in nice gradient blue and gray colors, with beautiful transitional animations everywhere – from unlocking the screen to the subtle white glow when reaching the ends of a list while scrolling (which is actually present in stock Gingerbread, but the manufacturer has tweaked the colors here).

The Timescape function is the biggest customization left. It is a card-based system for showing your messaging and social networking updates, flippable up and down with ease, but it's little more than eye candy. Social networking is present in the phonebook, but loosely integrated, and you are redirected to the dedicated apps if you want to lookup your contacts' Facebook or Twitter profile from the phonebook.

Some other elements of the UX interface are also preserved with a twist, such as the dock at the bottom, where now you have an app drawer in the middle, similar to stock Android, and four shortcuts or folders – two on each side of the app drawer. Pressing it calls up main menu, which has transparent background of the pages where grids with app icons are waiting to be rearranged alphabetically, by most used or most recently installed at the touch of a button at the bottom – another new UI element for Sony Ericsson.

The coolest function in the interface is the Overview mode – pinch the screen to zoom away, and all your current widgets gather on one homescreen, so you don't even have to swipe left or right between homescreens to find what you need - a nice touch, reminiscing the helicopter view in HTC Sense.

Browser, Connectivity and Software:

The stock Android 2.3 browser is an excellent mobile solution for accessing the Internets, and it makes no exception in the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc. Due to the speedy chipset, zooming, scrolling, panning around and multitouch work flawlessly (yes, Virginia we finally have multitouch). By default the browser didn't display Flash videos properly, but when we downloaded the latest version of Adobe Flash from Android Market, they showed, so it was probably due to the software not being finalized yet.

There is no Swype preinstalled on the prototype unit, but typing on the big screen with the new and improved Gingerbread keyboard is a joy. Placing the cursor and selecting text now is done with the help of large handles, which are much easier to grab and drag around than what we had in Froyo.

As far as connectivity goes, the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc has it all but 4G – 7.2Mbps HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, A-GPS, FM radio with RDS, and DLNA for media streaming. The DLNA function has its own app called Media Server, or you can also use the microHDMI port to stream movies from the handset to your big screen TV.

There is no other GPS software but Google Maps, which in its 5.0 version offers precaching of maps for offline use, and 3D view of the buildings in selected cities. On the phone we still had version 4.7, but this will surely change in the final release. When cold-started, it took the GPS about 4-5 minutes to locate us, which is average, and if we had a data connection it locked us in for seconds, as is already the norm.

A new twist is the LiveWare app – it allows you to start an application of your choosing when something is connected to the phone, be it a headset, headphones or a charger. Thus you can start the music or video player each time headphones are connected, or automatically go into the desktop clock mode in Android, while the handset is charging.

Camera and Multimedia:

The 8MP camera on the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc is with the new Exmor R sensor we wrote about. It is back-illuminated, like the one on the iPhone 4. This feature, combined with a novel arrangement of the photo diodes, tailored to the fine pixel structure, should bring high sensitivity and less noise in low-light situations. Its 1/3.2" size is a far cry from the 1/1.83” on the Nokia N8, but we have to tell you the pictures are still very good.

The color representation is extremely accurate, detail is plenty, and the only issue we saw is a tad harsh noise suppression, which slightly smeared the details when light was scarce, but there is still time to fine-tune the camera algorithms. Otherwise the low-light snaps came out above average, probably thanks to the back-illuminated sensor, and the yellowish hue that we observed in all indoor photos with the iPhone 4 was present here only in one of four snaps. The LED flash is no Xenon, but does the job up to about ten feet, without casting weird shadows on the objects.

It also does a good job illuminating night video scenes, especially in Night Scene mode. Video is smooth at 30 fps, and the same good looking colors and fine detail are observed as in the stills, but the camera skipped a frame here and there, maybe because it was cloudy, or because the software needs some more fine-tuning. The 16MP version of this sensor, present in the Sony Ericsson Cybershot S006, allows for full HD video at 60 fps, so this 8MP shooter might also be able to do 1080p, the way Xperia X10 was hacked to do HD. For now, it is clocked at 720p and 30fps on the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc, which is the current norm for single-core phones.

Sony Ericsson Xperia arc Sample Video:

The camera interface is unobtrusive, but touch-friendly, with big enough buttons for finger operation. There are six focusing modes – single autofocus, multi autofocus, macro, face detection, infinity and touch focus. Center, spot and average metering modes are covered as well, and for manual white balance setup incandescent, fluorescent, daylight and cloudy options are available. There are also an image stabilizer mode and four flash modes – auto, fill flash, no flash, and red eye reduction. The extensive capabilities of the 8MP shooter are rounded up with a bunch of scene modes such as Landscape, Portrait, Night Portrait, Sports, Beach and Snow, Night Scene, Party and Document. The smile detection algorithm can even be set to track a faint or a big smile.

Obviously a lot of Sony’s Cybershot expertise has gone into the camera interface, but a notable exception is the lack of any effects on the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc. No Negative or Sepia, nothing, which is puzzling, considering the wide range of other capabilities, but they might very well appear in the final software build. There is a vertical strip with the latest pictures and videos captured on the right, and you can pull it left to reveal the rest in thumbnail view, which resembles the concept in WP7.

The music player is the same as in the other iterations of this UI, with flashy, but minimalistic interface, ten equalizers, the song recognition service Track ID, and the option to show related YouTube videos. There is no Dolby Mobile or SRS surround sound, but we have to tell you the loudspeaker is outstanding. Strong, with deep base sounds and very clean and pure output, even at the highest volume. The last time we heard such a speaker was in the Sony Ericsson Xperia mini, and it is great that Sony has managed to fit a similar experience in the slim body of the Xperia arc.

The video player and the gallery are of the stock Android flavor, and the handset doesn’t support DivX/Xvid, so we had to download a free player from Android Market to watch our ripped TV shows with subtitles. The Mobile BRAVIA Engine can be turned on and off manually from the Display settings, but we can’t imagine a reason for it to be off, as it adds color and sharpness to the pictures and videos on the handset.


We had a prototype unit, so we will abstain from final conclusions, but from what we tried, the in-call performance of the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc was pretty good. The earpiece is punchy, and produces no audible voice distortion, even at the highest volume. The phone has dual mics for noise suppression, so the other party said they could hear us distinctively with no background noise, despite that we were in the street. The loudspeaker performed great here as well, and thus the phone can be used successfully for impromptu teleconferencing.

The 1500mAh battery is rated for 7 hours of talk time in 3G mode, which is slightly above average for a high-end Android phone with a large screen. We can only vouch that the handset got us through the day with our moderate review usage in its prototype form.

Wrapping up our preview of the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc we have to say that the company seems to have nailed it this time. The thin arched profile makes you forget that you are holding a gadget with a huge 4.2” screen. On top of that it is very light thanks to its plastic build, and still the tasteful design with gradient colors and chromed rim remains sleek and classy.

Having the latest version of Android, powered by a powerful second generation 1GHz Snapdragon chipset, vindicates Sony Ericsson’s Xperia line to an extent. We like that the company simplified its Android skinning efforts in the Timescape UI, since this should speed up the eventual OS updates.

When we add the nice 8MP camera with back-illuminated sensor, which produced very good results and the outstanding loudspeaker, we can say that Sony Ericsson is off to a great start in 2011, and we are impatiently waiting to review a final unit. Things that can kill this phone are the “Sony premium” on the price tag, or a delayed release. If it goes out in the first quarter and is competitively priced, it has every chance to sell well.

Sony Ericsson Xperia arc Video Preview:

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