Review:Super model of Smart Phones is Sony Ericson Arc S

Undeniably attractive and super skinny, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc is ready for a career as a runway model.

This fashionable specimen measures a mere 0.46 inches thick at its thinnest point, the middle of the concave arc that runs vertically down the back of the phone. It manages to make my iPhone 3GS look almost obese in comparison.

Slimness is a virtue in devices, as it reduces that embarrassing Visible Phone Line in your pocket. But premium phones usually have a bit of heft to them, and in that respect, the Xperia Arc feels a little too thin. Flimsy, even. At 4.13 ounces, it’s incredibly lightweight, thanks mostly to the removable plastic rear cover that gives access to the battery, SIM card and SD memory card.

Fragile as it seems, it’s a solid, well-performing Gingerbread phone with an excellent camera and a beautiful screen. There are some problems with the software, and a few head-scratchers in the design, but overall, I can recommend it. The phone is scheduled to arrive in the United States this summer, most likely on AT&T or T-Mobile networks.

The design generates plenty of interest during bourgeois dinner parties when it’s time for the ubiquitous “pull out your iPhone” ceremony after you run out of HBO shows to talk about. The Xperia Arc isn’t an iPhone, and its looks are definitely eye-catching.

Cool tooling aside, the backlit 4.2-inch “reality display” is reason alone to consider the Xperia Arc. The LED touchscreen is powered by Sony’s mobile Bravia engine, a descendant of what the company uses in its HDTVs. It has excellent color reproduction and brightness, even during sunny days.

The iPhone 4’s screen has better resolution — 960 x 640 pixels compared to the Xperia’s 854 x 480 pixels — and is better overall, but the Xperia Arc screen is lovely to behold. When you need a bigger screen for gaming or watching movies, the Xperia Arc has enough power to drive an HDTV using the HDMI connector that Sony Ericsson supplies with the phone.

The camera was probably my favorite feature. The phone sports a Sony Exmor R sensor for its camera and a bright, f/2.4 lens. The images it produces are sharp, fairly noise-free and have great color and contrast. Overall, it takes some of the best photos I’ve seen from a mobile phone.

I shot some test images to compare the Xperia Arc to the current cellphone camera king, the Nokia N8. With its 12-megapixel sensor and f/2.8 Carl Zeiss lens, the Nokia should win this match. But images from the Xperia Arc have better contrast and richer colors. The Xperia’s camera is quick too, unlike the N8s, which needs thinking time as it processes images.

Thanks to the Exmor sensor, the Xperia Arc does very well in low-light situations. This is great because the LED flash is too powerful, often bleaching out the subject you’re photographing, and should be used with caution.

Video clips look good in 720p HD, but the Xperia Arc’s microphone picks up sound in the opposite direction of where you’re pointing the camera, so you’ll get a lot of extraneous noise in the recordings. What a shame.

Another failure with the camera is the shutter button. It’s stiff and small with very little travel — a bit like the Power button, which also suffers from the same awkward size and action. It’s easy to blur images because you have to press so hard on the button, so I resorted to tapping the screen to take pics instead.

Camera-lens placement is also an issue. It’s easy to cover it up with the fingers of your left hand because the lens is right where you’d hold the phone. And where’s the front-facing camera for video calling?

The Xperia Arc comes with Android 2.3.2. While that’s almost as current as it gets, the installation is unfortunately not without its foibles. The phone’s auto-correction engine for typing makes too many wrong choices, giving text messages and e-mails the incoherency of a Burroughsian cut-up. The phone even corrects “Xperia,” replacing it with “Clerk.” Does it have a sense of humor?

More irritating was the phone auto-correcting Wi-Fi access and e-mail account passwords. The quick fix here is to get a different keyboard from the Android Market, namely the excellent Swype, which is faster and doesn’t make random guesses as to what you wanted to write.

The Gingerbread version of Android is the best and prettiest one so far, and the Xperia Arc’s 1-GHz Qualcomm processor is snappy — at least initially. Leave the Xperia Arc on for a day or two, and you’ll find the phone starts to slow down. Sony Ericsson recommends that you restart the Xperia Arc daily “to free memory blocks and improve the phone capacity.” Sorry guys, but that isn’t the way to build a good user experience.

Update: In mid-June, a software update arrived for the Xperia Arc, loading it up with Android 2.3.3. Beyond some Androidy improvements, the update hasn’t made a noticeable difference. No new features were added as far as I can tell and rebooting the phone at least every second day is still necessary to keep it responsive and to maintain my sanity.

Some Android fans hate it when phone makers deviate from the vanilla interface and add their own variant.

Bad news for you folks: Sony Ericsson’s done just that. The Xperia’s skin is capable and not too intrusive. It has the Timescape feature we’ve seen on other Sony Ericsson phones that displays your latest e-mails, texts and social media updates on the phone’s desktop.
Android issues aside, the Xperia Arc is an excellent data device with 3G and Wi-Fi radios on board.

The best performance I saw on Vodafone’s HSDPA/HSUPA 3.5G network in New Zealand (where I live) was 4.2 Mbps down and 1.7 Mbps up. Not super fast, but nice to have on a mobile device, and it makes the shared Wi-Fi hotspot feature of the Xperia Arc very usable. The review device was configured for 900- and 2100-MHz HSDPA and it managed to hold on to 3G most of the time, only dropping into  2g rarely.

With the focus being so firmly on data these days, it’s easy to forget that the Xperia Arc is also a phone. I didn’t experience dropped or missed calls, and the voice quality seems decent overall compared to my usual iPhone 3G S. A female acquaintance said my voice had more timbre, and I don’t think she was referring to my sounding like Bob Log III and his helmet-mounted receiver either.

I was using the Xperia Arc extensively during the review period, taking pictures, using GPS, making calls and doing all the usual internetting. The phone battery tended to die after a day’s worth of use and needed to suck more juice from a USB cable. This is acceptable, and with lighter use, the Xperia Arc should last longer.

Despite some rough edges, the Xperia Arc is worth taking a look at for its great design, beautiful display and excellent camera. And, if you’re one of those oldies who still use a phone for calling, consider its good voice quality. All this costs $650 for the unsubsidized, international version.

That said, technology doesn’t stand still. Sony Ericsson already faces stiff competition from the likes of LG and Samsung, which offer devices with dual-core processors with 1080p video recording for the same money (or less). Sony has launched so the Xperia Arc into a tough market, perhaps too late to make an impact.

WIRED Great design, both thin and light. Beautiful LED backlit display. Crisp images and video from the 8-megapixel camera with Exmor sensor. Gingerbread version of Android is a huge improvement over previous iterations. Good voice quality on calls.

TIRED Flimsy, plastic feel to a $650 phone? Small and stiff buttons. Android’s quirks are more annoying than endearing. Price is a bit steep.

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