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Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S: Review

Sony Ericsson and I were old friends. Before there were slim phones, there was Ericsson T28. Before there were colour screen phones, there was Sony Ericsson T68. Before there were touchscreen smartphones, there was Sony Ericsson P800. These are phones that I had the privilege to own and experience.

Now, there is Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S, the phone with an arced back. The moment I switch on the phone, the crisp LCD display impressed me. Specs in summary:

  • 117 grams
  • 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor (not dual core)
  • 8.1 megapixel Exmor R Camera f/2.4
  • 4.2-inch Reality Display TFT LCD 854×480 pixels
  • Shatter-proof sheet on scratch-resistant mineral glass
  • 320MB system memory
  • 2nd microphone at the back of the phone near the camera lens
  • HDMI mirror output (excellent!)
  • Capture screenshot easily by opening the power button menu

Xperience
Being a single core, the arc S certainly cannot match the processing power of dual-core phones, but it certainly feels fast when navigating among apps, perhaps partly due to the fast screen animations. Like every other branded Android phones, Sony Ericsson customised the OS and included a handful of pre-installed apps and custom settings. I like the data monitor app that tracks data usage, the LiveWare Manager that auto-launches app when accessory is connected. When you pinch the home screen, instead of displaying all the pages like most Android phones, the Xperia arc S shows all the widgets floating around, and you can shake the phone to shuffle them. I also like how the installed apps can be easily sorted by tapping the sort icon on the lower left of the app list screen. Saves a lot of trouble searching for apps.

Timescape is Sony Ericsson’s answer to managing your social feeds, including SMS, email, Facebook, Twitter. You can find dozens of plug-ins in the Android Market, for instance, Foursquare, Gmail. Timescape merely aggregates the feeds, and when you select the item, it will bring you to the app or online to retrieve the full information.

Battery life is no worse than the average Android phones, considering it runs on higher processor. I can last one working day of usage despite turning on Timescape, Gmail and Tweetdeck.

Capturing Images
The Xperia arc S comes with a dedicated camera button at an extreme corner. The 2-step shutter button is small and stiff, so I find it hard to take a shot without jerking the camera. The button would be useful only to start the camera easily, but I would prefer activating the touch-capture mode to snap your images.

As for the camera quality, The Xperia arc S is touted to perform well under low light conditions. A simple comparison with the Samsung Galaxy S2 shows the following result:

Xpera arc S vs. Galaxy S2. Scene Mode: STD

The Galaxy S2 refuses to shoot at higher exposure despite increasing the EV. So I switched to Night Scene Mode on the S2 and got this:

Xpera arc S vs. Galaxy S2. Scene Mode: STD vs. Night

The Xperia manages to capture decent images under low-light normal mode, while the Galaxy S2 captures more details at lower noise level after coaxing it with Night Mode. If I were to switch the Xperia to Night Mode, the shutter speed became far too slow for me to shoot handheld. The result then seems to be the reverse of the Samsung – underexposed.

Xpera arc S vs. Galaxy S2. Scene Mode: Night

Conclusion: Xperia arc S standard scene mode is more flexible in capturing images for all lighting conditions, but noise level is generally higher than Galaxy S2.

Weaknesses
As a top-range model, the Xperia arc S lacks many features that are present in other competitors.

  • No front-facing camera for video chats or self portraits.
  • Small system memory to hold all your apps. Once you run out of system memory, you will not be able to add more apps, unless you install supported apps on external SD card.
  • No built-in user memory. The Xperia arc S relies on the external microSD card to store user data.
  • Lock screen does not have any direct music player controls when media is playing. A shame considering Sony Ericsson to be associated with portable music players.

Summary Impression
The Xperia arc S stands out to me as a uniquely designed lightweight smartphone that provides above-average screen display and OS performance with 1.4GHz processor. It is integrated with Facebook connectivity, and together with Timescape, encourages ease of social interaction. The HDMI-out port lets the user share content on large HDTV easily. I like the interface theme and animations are smooth. Consumers who want a touch of style for their phone should look at this.

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