The year 2010 was a mixed bag for Sony Ericsson. While the XPERIA X10 range of smartphones were received well in the market, Sony E was constantly playing a catchup game with Android and feature updates. The vendor kept stressing on the refined user experience of its interface but consumers and reviewers were sucked up in getting a smartphone with the latest version of Android OS. This year will be remarkably different for the lovechild of Japanese Sony and Swedish Ericsson as it finally steps on the pedal to bring some stunning Android hardware. And the XPERIA Arc, in my humble opinion, will be the most successful Android smartphone from Sony Ericsson’s stable. But is Sony E’s best good enough to take on the competition from Samsung, HTC and LG? Read on…
Photos by Eshan Shetty
True to its XPERIA lineage, the Arc is a lifestyle product. Unlike other Android smartphone vendors, which think making a thin phone is good enough, Sony Ericsson has infused raw sexual appeal by chiseling curves at all the right places. Be it the concave back cover, which also lends the phone its name, or the chrome trimmings or the seemingly edge-to-edge display, the Arc is a stunner. With a thickness of just 8.7 mm at its thinnest point and tipping the scales at a featherweight 117 grams, the Arc is born to be lusted after. Despite having a massive 4.2-inch display, the Arc slides effortlessly into pockets of the slickest of hipsters and I had to keep checking mine to ensure it is still there.
Taking a break from popular Android tradition, the Arc forgoes the taken-for-granted search button and instead has just three below the display – back, home and menu. Thankfully, these are physical buttons, which I find more assuring than the faux touch panels that is the fad these days. There is a 3.5 mm audio jack on the left edge, a tiny (too tiny for my liking) power button and micro HDMI slot on the top, a micro USB port and an uncomfortable camera shutter key on the right edge. The entire body is covered with glossy surfaces, which makes it a fingerprint magnet. Smudges notwithstanding, the Arc definitely is a head turner and I have had complete strangers coming up to me to ask which phone I was using,
At a time when every vendor is talking about dual-core processors, gigabytes of built-in memory and some even full 1080p HD video recording, the Arc features a configuration fit for last year’s flagship models. We are talking about a Qualcomm MSM 8225 Snapdragon chipset with an Orio processor clocked at 1GHz and an Adreno 205 GPU. Its 320 MB of internal storage and 512 MB of RAM ain’t anything worth writing home about, either.
However, where the Arc scores over almost every other phone is its 8.1 MP camera that blows the competition away when it comes to clicking pictures in extremely low light conditions. To achieve this, Sony Ericsson has borrowed Sony’s Exmor R back illuminated CMOS sensor technology, which is claimed to be twice as sensitive as conventional sensors, achieving good shots with negligible noise in unlit conditions. Another area where the Arc scores big over HTCs and Motorolas is the display. The 4.2-inch 480×854 pixel display performs brilliantly even under direct sunlight. Keeping in sync with marketing terms like Retina Display, Super AMOLED Plus and the likes, Sony Ericsson has pulled yet another technology from Sony – the Bravia Reality Engine. This technology kicks in when images or videos are viewed and I can vouch it actually works. Images look sharper and colors vibrant.
In an attempt to distinguish itself from others, Sony Ericsson had earlier built a complete MediaScape user interface for the XPERIA X10. While it worked for many, it was also the reason why the X10 took so long to get Android updates. With the Arc, Sony Ericsson has let go of the deep OS-level integration and added a simple TimeScape layer on the top. I am no big fan of TimeScape and now it is not intrusive and is more or less a widget.
The Arc runs on the latest Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) OS and brings a couple of neat (though inspired) tricks to the table. First is the iOS-ish folder creator – drag an icon on top of another and voila you have a new folder! Another one is the ability to see all your homescreens at a single go by pinching any one of them, which is similar to HTC’s Sense UI implementation.
Having said that, the absence of smart dialing – a feature that enables a user to quickly invoke a contact from the dialing pad – pinches. To make a call, I first had to go to contacts, touch on the search tab, type the name to open a contact and then select a contact. Sony Ericsson would be served well if it gets this feature on board immediately.
PERFORMANCE AND CONCLUSION
The latest avatar of Android, Gingerbread, brings some much needed improvements to the table. The biggest one being better battery management, which is evident in the Arc’s performance. I was easily able to cross 24 hours of usage, which included about 2 hours of calls, an hour of Internet browsing, two e-mail accounts set on push and clicking a dozen or so photographs. This feat would have been impossible for any other Android phone running on Android 2.2 (Froyo). There were minor voice related issues during calls where people on the other end found my voice fading in and out at random intervals, which was resolved by a simple software update. (Turned out that my unit was not running the latest software.)
After using the Arc as my primary phone for a week (and a month of tinkering around with a prototype), I have nothing but praises to shower. The design is topnotch, the display brilliant and the camera nothing short of stunning. Yes, the power button and the camera trigger could have been slightly bigger, the UI is missing smart dial and it does not boast a dual-core processor. But for for those looking for the best multimedia experience on a well-rounded smartphone, the Arc is the current benchmark to beat. Higher praise than that I cannot give.
The Sony Ericsson Arc is available in India at approximately Rs 29,000.