We managed to get hands-on with the newly announced Sony Ericsson Xperia arc earlier this week and wanted to share our initial thoughts. When we first saw the press photos and promotional videos, we were awe struck by the design. This is something of a Sony Ericsson heritage and we still feel that the current Xperia X10 and X10 mini exhibit some of the nicest designs seen on any handset.
In the flesh, the Xperia arc does not disappoint. The curves and concave back feel great in the hand, however the phone doesn’t feel very expensive, probably due to its lightweight chassis (117g) and glossy plastic back. Despite this, the phone is gorgeous and the screen is a big improvement over the X10. Click through for further impressions on the Xperia arc.
The phone will come in two colours, Midnight Blue and Misty Silver. We only got hands-on with the Midnight Blue version, which looks classy. However, we would like to see the Misty Silver in the flesh. From the pictures we’ve seen, the Misty Silver would get our preference. The plastic back easily attracts finger marks, but these can easily be swiped clean.
The side of the handset comes with a microUSB charging port. We were told that the final version will have a flap cover for this port (much like the X10) so it won’t be bare. Next to this is the volume up/down buttons, whilst the buttons have a good amount of travel, we would have liked to have seen the rocker being a bit bigger. On the far end of the handset, there is a (small) dedicated camera button. The side of the phone is clad in faux-chrome plastic that makes it look pretty.
The main component on the left side of the phone is the 3.5mm jack which is located at the top of the phone.
The top of the handset houses the power button and mini-HDMI port. We were told that all UK and Irish SKUs of this handset will come with a HDMI cable included in the box.
Interestingly, when the phone is connected via HDMI, you can mirror what is on your phone on a TV. Going forward, you will also be able to use the phone as a remote.
The bottom of the handset doesn’t have much, although you can see the nail groove that is used to lift off the plastic cover.
We were shown a number of different types of video content on the handset and came away very impressed with the quality of the TFT Reality display. Viewing angles were very good and text legibility was impressive.
Despite having a 4.2-inch screen the handset does not feel much bigger than the Xperia X10. The Xperia arc is certainly no wider than the X10, but it is slightly taller. Part of the reason for this is that the bezel in the Xperia arc is much thinner than the X10. The company have also minimised the space between the glass and display, which we try to illustrate below.
One of the big features of the handset is the use of Sony’s Bravia Engine technology algorithms in the display. The Bravia Engine helps to improve a number of factors including noise reduction, sharpness, colour management and contrast enhancement. One particular Xperia arc demo unit was rigged to turn off the Bravia Engine at the touch of a volume button to showcase what difference it makes when turning it on/off. We filmed this below, but whilst you can see the difference, it is much more pronounced in the flesh.
The Bravia Engine can be switched on/off within the menu settings. But the Sony Ericsson reps didn’t understand why anybody would turn this off, especially as its function has no detriment to battery life.
Whilst some Xperia arc handsets may have been running mystery Android 2.4 firmware, the handset we tried was running Android 2.3.1 (Gingerbread). The handset will ship with Gingerbread on launch and the company promised that it will update the handset to the mobile version of Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) later in the year.
The Sony Ericsson executives reiterated many times that the UI had been slimmed down from previous phones. This was in part to make it quicker to port to new versions of Android and also to make it easier to use for consumers. The decoupling of Android has started with the Xperia arc, which is why the company said that the X10 family will be stuck with Android 2.1.
As can be seen from the pictures, Sony Ericsson has still kept Timescape but Mediascape is no longer an app but is instead a widget. The four icons at the bottom can be customised to any app that you use the most.
The hardware buttons have been reversed compared to Sony Ericsson’s current Android range and this is expected to be the same on all future handsets.
The Xperia arc does not include a front-facing camera. Whilst this may disappoint some, it’s not something we’ve personally ever used so we’re not moaning by its absence. You can probably make out in the picture below that there is a LED notification light next to the light sensor. The version we played with had five home screens.
On the back of the phone you can see the solitary speaker located on the left side. Xperia X10 owners will be glad to hear that this speaker is very powerful and could be easily heard in a reasonably crowded room when watching video content.
The 8MP camera lens can be seen on the other side along with the single LED flash. Towards the left of this you can seen the secondary mic that will help with noise cancellation.
The main function we didn’t really get a good chance to test was the camera and HD video recording parts of the phone. We were told that the handset should be able to record 720p video at a solid 30fps, so video quality should be very good. Plus the use of the ExmorR sensor should mean very good low light shooting. A comparison picture against the iPhone 4 showed a much clearer pic from the arc, despite the fact that the iPhone 4 was using HDR. We look forward to testing this ourselves once we get the handset into our labs for further testing.
Overall, we were very impressed with the time that we spent with the Xperia arc. The handset is a stunning piece of kit and the 4.2-inch display is one of the nicest we’ve seen. Sony Ericsson will no doubt be pushing the arc heavily, we were told that the arc will hit all of the major UK operators on release and will be the company’s next flagship handset. When pressing Sony Ericsson further, they didn’t confirm that it would be their only flagship for 2011. Obviously we’ll hear more at MWC in February on other handsets in its 2011 Xperia range.
For now though, putting all issues of the X10 roadmap to one side, the Xperia arc is the culmination of lessons learned from its first generation of Android products. The arc is launching with the latest version of Android and is being promised much more timely updates in the future. It also comes with a gorgeous display (now with multitouch in tow), a stunning design and one of the best cameras in the Android ecosystem. One thing we don’t know is the price point, as long as this remains competitive we have no doubt that Sony Ericsson is onto a winner.