Sony Ericsson Xperia arc Preview
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.