XPERIA ARC - Full Review from a Test Lab Attendee

farmergiles65

Active Member
I was one of the Test Lab attendees on the day of the Xperia Play event so I've had a good chance to ask questions on the set and test it out for as many of it's features as possible.

DESIGN:

One thing that Sony Ericsson (SE) have never had issues with in the past is the design aspect on their phones and the ARC is no exception. It is one of the slimmest phones on the market and incredibly light. If you've been used to the tank that was the X10, you might even find it disorientating at first. Other phones have boasted about being slimmer, but we are talking a petty difference.

SE have emphasised the comfort of the "curvature" design of the back, which apart from giving it a sleek cool look also allows the phone to sit comfortably in the hand without slipping. There is also the added bonus that because it's curved, when you lay it flat on a table, a lot of the phone isn't actually touching the surface, which means less chance of marks appearing if you're a bit heavy handed.

You have a choice of Midnight Blue or Silver for colours. Midnight Blue is a gradient effect from black to blue with a glossy finish and looks gorgeous. There has been some reports of fingerprints being an issue, however after handling it myself, I think it's been exaggerated. Any smudges are hard to notice even up close and can be easily wiped off. The Silver does not have this issue due to a matte finish, but unless you're a silver fan, you can't go wrong with the Blue.

Buttons are minimal, but cover all the essentials and include a lock key, camera (which also opens the camera app up for quick access) the standard back/home/menu arrangement and zoom/volume adjustable controls. Takes a bit of time to remember that the Back and Menu buttons are switched round from the X10, but my only quibble is with big fingers it's not always easy to press the "lock" key in when you're holding it 1 handed. This quite a minor issue however and overcome with practice. The notification light is a little small though, housed on the right edge of the phone at the top so it's easy to miss when you glance at your phone to check for updates.

For the camera fans out there, it is worth noting that the current competitors of the Arc (LG 2X and Samsung Galaxy II included) don't have such a key for quick access. However when actually taking pictures you'll probably find it easier to use the touch-capture setting as I do rather than the shutter key.

INTERFACE AND DISPLAY

The Arc sports a Reality BRAVIA display on a 4.2 inch screen. Now this is the same technology Sony use in their new HD TV's and the quality is not hard to notice. It looks beautiful and would give even a good AMOLED screen a run for its money.
The handset now uses Gingerbread (Android 2.3) which is the most recent software to hit smartphones currently. The X10 suffered from using a now obsolete version, however things may change once it gets upgraded to 2.3 in the summer. The result is now a much smoother experience when navigating menu screens and customizing the 5 menu screens.

On top of this SE have stuck with the principle of a 1GHZ processor with 512MB of RAM to power the phone and I have yet to see any signs of lag or slow running. The processor is NOT the same as the X10, it is a more up to date model and after comparing it to dual core handsets from Samsung and LG, it really is difficult to notice any difference whatsoever in the general running of the phone, dismissing recent claims that more cores is better by default. Whether this will impact games to a larger degree remains to be seen.

Multi-touch is now enabled and SE have used a similar function to HTC's LeapView in which a pinch gesture will bring up a collection of all of your active widgets. This is a nice touch and in some respects better than HTC's attempt as the display arranges the widgets depending on what you use and it gives a nice way of quickly accessing apps like the music player, timescape and common widget apps such as news, weather and internet.

The main application selection screen can now be customized freely by rearranging where the apps are shown. Some pre-set ideas such as alphabetically or recently used/installed are included to speed things up. In a very "Windows PC" like fashion, apps can now be collated into folders at your discretion, (for e.g. keeping the music player, Track ID, CoverArt Downloader, etc in a folder named "Music") allowing for even more efficient use of the space available.

PHONE FUNCTIONS

Contacts and Messaging hasn't changed a great deal functionality wise, but with Gingerbread the menu screens are a lot smoother and the usual array of sync options with Exchange, Google and Facebook are present.

Two aspects of the X10 annoyed a lot of consumers on this area, namely the pitiful call volume and the dodgy keyboard. I'm glad to say that the call volume is now as it should be, loud and clear with a noise cancelling secondary microphone to improve calls in busy areas.

The keyboard is the standard Gingerbread Android interface, which is a vast improvement on the previous one. It's a lot more accurate particularly in landscape mode, but mistakes do appear from time to time and auto-correct does wind me up occasionally, but this can be turned off. If you have access to SWYPE then feel free to use that, I do and it's a great addition.

The speaker phone has improved dramatically with my parents expressing that listening to me on speakerphone conversations is a lot more clearer than on the X10.

APPLICATIONS:

The standard selection of apps are included such as Google Maps/Places, Gmail, Facebook and PlayNow, but a few additional extras such as Postcard (a trial app to send real postcards using photos you've taken) and WhatsApp have made the list.

Timescape has now been minaturized into a widget which means the phone is no longer burdened with trying to keep it running. The full screen version is available upon accessing the app itself, but tests so far have shown the widget to be sufficient. Both however run very smoothly.

Mediascape no longer exists and has been replaced with a standard music player and a photo/video gallery. Hopefully this means now that updates to the software will be much easier to implement, a promise which SE have made, and for their sakes must stick to.

Moxier is no longer present on the phone, instead all of the email functions are dealt with in the standard email app with the exception of Google Mail which has it's own application. I use Google, Hotmail for personal use and Exchange for my office work email and setting up these accounts was a simple matter. The interface has been improved a lot from the X10 though. You can now view a combined inbox across all your accounts and you can slide out a preview pane from the side of the screen to check emails before actually opening them, a feature missed from the X10.

The organizer and calculator remain fairly standard, but provide the essential needs. The buttons are nice and large allowing for easy input, particularly on the calculator. The alarm is easy to use, but is missing various essentials such as a Stopwatch, Timer and Voice Recorder. However the Android Market caters for these within a matter of minutes.

A new application from Sony Ericsson is LiveWare which allows you to set pre-set modes for settings/applications depending on what accessory you plug in such as a charger or headphones. Probably something similar on the Market but it works well and is a nice feature.

MEDIA CAPABILITIES:

Hardware

Starting with the camera, this is the Arc's party piece. An 8.1MP camera boasting an LED flash and Exmoor-R technology that helps to reduce issues in low-light conditions.
In daylight conditions, colours are rendered perfectly with detail easy to pick out on buildings, scenery and people.

In low light conditions, the phone does a good job of enhancing the photos taken, but it would be a stretch to classify it as flawless. Smartphone cameras in general struggle with the low light conditions and where as the Arc does an admirable job, it doesn't produce perfection, but will stomp over the capabilities of current competitors. London streets at night in particular were very attractive in the test photos.

The inclusion of a front facing camera would have been nice, but this could have impacted on the design of the handset itself and to be honest, video calling hasn't really caught on yet in smartphones, even Iphone 4 users aren't using it that much.

HD recording is available and videos can be a joy to watch on the Bravia display. My fellow Test Labbers and I gave the camera and video a difficult test run at the Xperia Play launch event in London and the results were a mix of quality photos/videos and some iffy ones. However this was a scene in which there was mixed colour strobe lighting, thumping bass music and plenty of flashes and dark patches - basically the equivalent of Hell for any smartphone camera. Despite this the phone did a good job of leaving us with some good memories of the event.

Software

The video player is fairly basic in terms of function, but the Bravia display ensures a gorgeous look to any HD movie. I was shown an action sequence from Avatar and there was no sign of lag or deterioration in the picture quality. I would still advise downloading a player from the Android Market if you want more functionality however.

The music player is fairly decent. Still basic in terms of functionality, but the widget is a nice quick way of accessing your database and starting your music up, far quicker than Mediascape provided. Music fans will be pleased to see that an Equalizer function is now included with 10 pre-set modes to liven your music up. Album art is the only visualization available and for some reason unlike before there is no means to update the album art from the player itself like on the X10. Slightly weird, but there are plenty of apps on the market that will solve this issue for you, however as with everyone you're going to have songs that album art can't be found for.

The photo gallery allows you to preview all your photos in fairly large thumbnail images within a speedy, scrollable art gallery. From this you can opt to send them in an MMS to a contact or watch a slideshow of the whole gallery. There doesn't seem to be a way to organize them into seperate albums (without using Picasa or Media Go anyway), but photos can be seperated by timeline automatically.

An FM radio is also included, which has a simple to use interface and fairly good reception quality. Trying to find stations was a bit tricky for me but that might just be my local area having very few stations. A nice touch is that from the radio you can access Track ID to identify a song being played. A nice touch I thought.

To complement these functions, the box ships with a set of very comfortable ear phones that also act as the radios antenna.

CONNECTIVITY

The Arc sports the usual range of connection methods such as quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and tri-band HSPA with download rates of up to 7.2 Mbps and upload at 5.76 Mbps.It offers Wi-Fi (b/g/n), USB v2.0 and Bluetooth 2.1.

The in-built browser is mediocre at best, but I've yet to see a smartphone user who doesn't download one from the Android Market. To which the most popular two being Dolphin HD and Opera Mini, both work great on this phone fully supporting multi-touch and Flash 10.2 (though you will need to download this seperately from the Market).

A seperate HDMI port is included on the phone allowing you to link your phone up to your HD TV. Unfortunately the handset does not ship with a cable for this, which is a slight annoyance, but these are easily obtainable. I was treated to a demonstration at the Test Lab where the transition was flawless, however I've yet to test this on my Panasonic plasma TV so I'll update soon on that.

The GPS on this phone is surprisingly very quick. I gave Google Maps Navigation a test by getting it to direct me on foot from my hotel in Leicester Square to Waterloo Station and it took less than a minute to locate my exact position and provide me with the directions and this included the time it took me to input the parameters in the first place. Throughout the route the GPS stayed on my location precisely.

Phone memory is limited to 320MB, but on Android 2.3 you can now save applications and other data to the memory card directly. The memory is expandable up to 32GB, but the phone already ships with a healthy 8GB card. This should cater for most average users just fine, however bear in mind that frequent use of HD Video can suck up the space fairly quickly. Unfortunately there is still no way to hot-swap the battery or memory card, but rest assured this was a point for future development that we were keen to ensure SE were aware of.

BATTERY LIFE

Smartphones always get a lot of stick for dodgy battery lives. The Arc is powered by a 1,500 mAH battery which delivers a good amount of usage between charges. Keeping the phone up even with frequent use for a day is a cinch and some other test labbers have claimed to manage two with moderate or light use. The best I've managed is a day and a quarter (turning the phone off at night), but that was after making a fair few calls/messages, using WI-FI, messing around with the camera, frequent sync with Facebook/Email and prolonged use of the music player with my SE speakers. Not bad at all really for a smartphone of this caliber and I wasn't even using battery management apps to do this. I'll be intrigued to see what can be achieved with good use of Android Assistant.

CONCLUSION

There was always the fear of whether SE could bounce back after the issues arising from the first venture into the smartphone market, namely the X10, X10 Mini and X8. However this phone is proof of SE's claim that they do listen to their consumers as a lot of problems associated with the earlier phones are not present in this one, call volume, speed and back-dated software being the big three.

This phone is by no means perfection, but the issues I've seen with it are relatively minor and easily conquered by the use of the Android Market. In terms of hardware and speed, there is very little to fault.

It does demand a premium however and the cost may scare off a few users (for a high cost it would have been nice to have seen a HDMI cable in the box), but for those with the cash, this phone won't disappoint. I've owned a lot of phones from various manufacturers and this is my best to date without a doubt.
 

farmergiles65

Active Member
Fair do's. Ours didn't but SE have said we're getting ours soon. It was a mistake in our batch apparently. Other review sites commented that one wasn't supplied, but it seems that is being fixed now by SE.

So to amend my review. IT DOES COME WITH A HDMI CABLE.
 

Tigerblade

Distinguished Member
Tbf the beauty of Android is the ability to customise so things like the keyboard can easily be changed. I do agree SE's stock kb is a little naff and unresponsive tho, been using htc's on my x10 from the start myself but there are plenty to choose from.

Sent from my froyo'd X10i using AVForums
 

farmergiles65

Active Member
I like the SWYPE kinds personally. Though saying that I'm getting used to the stock keyboard on the ARC when in landscapes mode. It's a lot more responsive and accurate than the 2.1 version.
 

Grubert

Active Member
I take it you demoed both the Arc and the Neo. Do you think that the difference in thickness between these two models matters in real life?

Cheers.
 

farmergiles65

Active Member
Not really. If anyone has been used to the X10, the Neo will still feel like a feather in comparison.

The Neo still sits snugly in the hand and doesn't feel too heavy in your pocket so if you're debating between the two on that alone, the Neo will do you fine. The smaller screen is noticable, but that depends on your personal preference and the cost difference in your area.

Design wise the Neo is nice, but won't win any awards. Design wise the Arc deserves a plinth in an art gallery!
 

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