First impressions: Sony Ericsson Xperia arc

The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc is without a doubt one of the most stylish Android phones to hit the market. At just 8.7mm thin, the arc is also most probably the thinnest smart phones out there. When we first saw the device early this year, the arc really made an impression on us. Packed with technology like Sony’s Bravia Mobile Engine display enhancement software and Sony’s Exmor R for mobile imaging sensor, there is a lot to look forward to in the Xperia arc but at the back of our minds, the memories of so many other promising Xperias that have disappointed us is ever present.

Could the arc change all this? or is this latest Android flagship from Sony Ericsson just a fashion victim that sacrifices substance for looks and looks alone?

Head on over to after the jump to find out. This is our first impressions of the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc.

Display, Design and Built-quality

In terms of display technology, the 4.2-inch 854×480 pixel display on the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc is nothing to shout about considering that its competitors the Incredible S and the Nexus S come with arguably more advanced Super LCD screens (which ironically is developed by Sony). Essentially the arc’s display is a LED backlit LCD panel. So in terms of technology it might not be cutting edge but don’t let the specs fool you.

Sony Ericsson calls the screen on the Xperia arc Reality Display and what special about it is that the gap between the LCD and the protective panel on top of it is reduced to virtually zero by having an air tight seal to stick the two panels together. By doing so Sony Ericsson has eliminated any air being trapped in between the two layers allowing for a considerable reduction in light refraction. This makes images appear to be on top of the screen rather than underneath it.

In addition to that the arc features a mobile version of Sony’s Bravia Engine image optimisation technology. Dubbed the Bravia Mobile Engine, Sony claims that the technology significantly improves images and videos displayed on the screen in sharpness, contrast, colour reproduction as well as noise reduction. So does it work?

We can tell you that it’s not a gimmick. Images and videos with Bravia Mobile Engine enabled are better in every way than images not enhanced by the technology. The improvements afforded by the Bravia Mobile Engine is significant enough that you’ll notice it. You can see in our demo video that colour, contrast, sharpness are all better with MBE enabled. The noise reduction enhancement is very impressive as well.

So when it comes to the display on the Xperia arc, we have no qualms about it. Its clear, bright and vibrant with a smooth refresh rate to boot. Comparing it with the likes of the Desire S and Nexus S, we can tell you that the arc can hold its own very comfortably.

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We’d add to this that during our brief test time with the arc, we were pretty impressed with the display’s outdoor visibility as well. Glares is considerably less than the Nexus S and images and text are adequately legible. First impression verdict on the Xperia arc’s display: All-round good effort and on par with what the best can offer.

In terms of the design, what can we say, the arc is a real looker. Its something we definitely want to be seen using. The arc stands out beautifully in a sea of Android devices that look more and more alike one another. Being different is a good thing and the design of the arc offers a uniqueness that we’re sure many would like to have.

The arc’s sleek design emanates sophistication but eschews from being overtly futuristic. The front of the device — especially in the black version — is designed to look as if the screen has no boundaries and stretches all the way to the edges of the device. It makes the screen look much bigger than it actually is and makes the device look futuristic yet simplistic. At the back, the metalic silver and black gradient effect really ads a touch of excitement to the overall sleek design language.

Everything about the arc is minimalist and our eyes agree with the design language, it is a good phone to look at and to be seen using.

Having said that, with the device in hand, we’re presented with a different impression altogether. That of cheap built materials. The Xperia arc doesn’t feel as premium as its design suggests. The back plate especially feels like it was made from the same material used to make plastic spoons you’ll find at hawker stalls, it is that flimsy. But other than that the arc feels very well put together. It’s just a shame that such a deliciously designed phone has such a cheap feeling back plate. It doesn’t do the device justice.

Internals and User Interface
Alright so here are the essential specs: Android Gingerbread 2.3 (the second Android 2.3 device in the country after the Nexus S) with Sony Ericsson’s new and improved UX UI skin on top. Powering the device is a 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 processor with an Adreno 205 GPU (similar to the one in the HTC Incredible S and also the Xperia Play) and a generous 512MB of RAM to keep things nice and smooth. There’s a piddly 320MB of internal storage but Sony Ericsson has included a 8GB of MicroSD in the box to compensate. Since we’re on the topic of MicroSD cards, the arc accepts up to 32GB. Battery life should be good considering the svelte arc can still find room to take in a 1500mAh battery.

Some will fuss about on the fact the at the arc is running a single core 1Ghz processor. While indeed a single core processor is no match for a dual-core equivalent, the second generation Snapdragon in the arc offers improved battery and processing performance over its predecessor. This translates to better overall user experience, which is indeed the case with the arc.

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At the back there’s an 8.1MP camera packed with Sony’s Exmor R for mobile imaging sensor which Sony claims offers double the sensitivity in low light conditions but half of the noise. Flanking the 720p video capable camera is a single LED flash. There’s no front facing camera.

While we can’t attest to the quality of the images and videos shot with the arc in the short time that we had with the device, we can tell you that the Exmor R sensor has no peers when it comes to shooting in not just low light conditions but in almost zero light conditions as well. We also like that the camera starts up in a flash. A quick comparison reveals that the camera start up of the arc is much faster than our iPhone 4.

Connectivity wise you get a micro USB port and micro HDMI port. With the HDMI port, the arc pushes out 720p videos to full-sized flat panel screens in mirrored mode.

In terms of user interface, the new Sony Ericsson UX interface is light years better than the overly layered skin of older Xperias. Gone are the clunky and ridiculously slow interface that had become an unfortunate trademark of Android running Xperias.

We like this new interface very much. The arc feels snappy and transitions are buttery smooth. However, there are a a few minor issues here and there, like a laggy — at times — browser and real time widgets bogging the whole OS down once in a while. These are all annoyances yes but it doesn’t detract from the sleek user experience. After all, not all OS are perfect. We’ll go as far as saying that the arc is one of the best, if not the best Android devices available in the market at the moment.

We also like that Sony Ericsson have decided to stay true to its design tradition and maintain the three physical navigation buttons (back, home and options) rather than opting for capacitive navigation buttons. We’re not a fan of capacitive navigation buttons because they are very prone to being accidentally pressed.

The three buttons on the arc may appear small, thin and difficult to press but in real life they are easy to locate and operate. We like also that you can wake the arc from sleep by using the home button just like on the iPhone. This is one feature that’s often overlooked by other Android manufacturers but is one that really adds so much more to the usability of a device. To us, hitting the home button to switch on a device is more intuitive the pressing the power button.

While we’re on the topic of buttons, the right side of the arc features a dedicated camera button and we’d just like to point out that while the button make look small, it’s easy to locate and use with good tactile feedback albeit slight oddly positioned.

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Another interesting feature worth noting on the arc is the secondary noise-cancellation mic located at the back of the device. Although we can’t comment on the effectiveness of the secondary mic in canceling background noise in our brief test, it is still a welcomed addition and we look forward to putting it to the test when we do get a review unit.

Plans and Pricing

Unlike previous device launches co-supported by a telco, the arc is available immediately without contract at selected Sony Ericsson Exclusive Stores and Sony Style outlets. Yes, you can walk into a Sony store and buy an Xperia arc without a contract for RM2,099.

If you’re looking for a cheaper up front payment for the arc then you can consider taking up a contract with Maxis. Just choose any combination of Maxis Value Plus and any data plan along with the duration of contract.

At the end of the day

So what do we think of the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc? We like it a lot. The arc’s perfect combination of great design, great hardware and Android’s latest OS version delivers satisfaction in all aspects. Its Reality Display while not able to deliver the deep blacks of Super AMOLED or Super LCD, is still gorgeous almost everyday of the week.

And as you can see the 8.1MP camera with the Exmor R sensor is in a league of its own when it comes to taking low light snaps, and if we’re being perfectly honest here, any decent camera can take a good enough shot in ideal lighting conditions, its in the low-light performance that the merely good and the stunningly great are seperated. In this respect, the arc’s camera rests comfortably in the realm of the stunningly great.

What is there that’s not to like about the arc? For one the occasional lag is annoying, we can’t deny that, but as we’ve mentioned it didn’t hamper the overall experience so we’re not too concerned about it. One major gripe we have is the cheap feel of the plastic back plate. It just doesn’t do the beautifully designed Xperia arc any justice.

So if we have RM2,000 to burn on an Android — or any smart phone for that matter — the Xperia arc would be it. Granted we’ve had only a limited amount of time with the arc — only a couple of hours — but even in that short period it has left a lasting impression on us.

At the end of the day, the arc ticks all the right boxes and if you’re in the market for an Android, put the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc right up there in your short list. This is currently our favourite Android.