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Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S - Review


Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S - Review

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S runs Google's Android Gingerbread. The device features a 4.2 inch scratch resistant touch display with Sony's BRAVIA mobile engine, microSD storage, an 8 megapixel camera and its powered by a 1.4 GHz processor and 512MB of RAM.

Following in the footsteps of the sleek and capable Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, the company has introduced a new member of the Xperia family, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S. The newer model comes with a 1.4GHz single core processor, a 14.4 Mbps radio compared to the 7.2Mbps one found on the Arc and an updated 8 megapixel Exmor R camera.


Design

The Arc S is as beautifully thin as the Arc, measuring just (8.7mm) thin in the middle, which gradually becomes 0.39” (10mm) at both ends. The size of the huge display is barely uncomfortable at 0.34” thickness, and the arched profile makes it a breeze to hold and handle.

The Xperia Arc S features a 4.2 inch Super LCD touch display which has a 480 by 854 pixel resolution and LED backlighting. The display also includes Sony's Mobile BRAVIA engine, borrowed from its TV lineup. It also features Sony's Reality Display technology, which offers higher contrast and sharpness of when watching videos or displaying pictures.

Unfortunately the viewing angles are pretty poor. Contrast and color degradation when looking at an angle are almost akin to the older generation of LCD displays, and far from the excellent viewing angles on the IPS-LCD of the Xperia Ray, for example

The phone sports the previous Xperia line design with the thin buttons underneath the display, instead of the huge semi-circle for a home button we have in the latest Xperia handsets. The three keys are illuminated with white LED lights, and have a nice rubbery feeling to them when pressed, instead of annoying clicks, making them fun to operate. The whole design is made of quality plastic.The back cover flexes a bit when pressed down because of the thin plastic, but the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S weighs in at 4.12 oz (117grams), which is very good for a handset that size.

The camera sensor is located in the upper edge on the back of the device, which means you will have to be careful not to place your finger over the lens when shooting. Combine that with the rather smallish and somewhat hard to press shutter key on the right near the lower edge, and you definitely need to hold the phone with two hands when taking a picture, unless you use the touchscreen.

The power/lock screen key at the top is is slightly protruding to make it easier to find, but it's still the size of confetti, so just for checking what time it is, you have to fiddle with your fingers at the top, until you find and press it.

Hardware

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S is powered by a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 processor with 512MB of RAM. The hardware is quite capable of running the underlying software in a zippy and responsive fashion.

As far as connectivity goes, the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S has it all but 4G – 14.4Mbps HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, A-GPS, FM radio with RDS, and DLNA for media streaming.

Camera

The Xperia Arc S featurws an 8 megapixel camera with an Exmor R sensor. It is back-illuminated, which should bring high sensitivity and less noise in low-light situations on paper. However its 1/3.2" sensor is far from the 1/1.83” behemoth on the Nokia N8.
 
The photos have a high contrast and saturation. They are sharp with accurate color representation, detail is plenty in daylight, but there is overzealous noise suppression, which smears the details when light is scarce. Otherwise the low-light snaps came out above average, probably thanks to the back-illuminated sensor. The LED flash is reasonably capable of lighting up a poorly lit situation.

The light also does a good job illuminating night video, especially in Night Scene mode. Video is fairly smooth at 30 fps, and the same good looking colors and fine detail are observed as in the stills, but we wish that the 720p videos were sharper.

The camera interface includes six focussing modes - single autofocus, multi autofocus, macro, face detection, infinity and touch focus. Center, spot and average metering modes are covered as well, and for manual white balance setup incandescent, fluorescent, daylight and cloudy options are available.

There are also an image stabilizer mode and four flash modes – auto, fill flash, no flash, and red eye reduction. The extensive capabilities of the 8MP shooter are rounded up with a bunch of scene modes such as Landscape, Portrait, Night Portrait, Sports, Beach and Snow, Night Scene, Party and Document. The smile detection algorithm can even be set to track a faint or a big smile.

Obviously a lot of Sony’s Cybershot expertise has gone into the camera interface, but a notable exception is the lack of any effects. No Negative or Sepia, nothing, which is puzzling, considering the wide range of other capabilities. There is a vertical strip with the latest pictures and videos captured on the right, and you can pull it left to reveal the rest in thumbnail view, which resembles the concept in Windows Phones.

There are two new additions to the camera capabilities of the Xperia Arc S compared to the Xperia Arc -  Sweep Panorama and “3D” Sweep Panorama pictures. In essence, you set the direction in which the phone will be going – left, right, up or down – and slowly rotate it 180 degrees from your starting point until a panoramic image is stitched together.

The 3D Sweep Panorama option applies some preset algorithm shenanigans to the resulting picture, which makes your Panorama appear three-dimensional when shown on a 3D HDTV, which, frankly, sounds like too much hassle. The process is meant for tripods, since you have to hold the phone very steady, and rotate with preset speed from one end to another, and even then some grey areas might appear at the end of the panoramic view. The 3D Camera app takes you directly to the 3D Sweep Panorama option in the camera interface for quick access.

Performance

Call quality on the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S was excellent in the earpiece, very loud and clear, however on the other end they complained that our voice sounds a tad artificial, and the background noise swooshed in without any filtering despite the dual-microphone setup on the phone.

The manufacturer promises slightly more battery life out of the handset, compared to the Xperia arc, from the same 1500mAh battery – 7 hours and 35 minutes of talk time in 3G mode, which is pretty good, along with 35 hours of music playback.


Software

The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread which has been coated with the company's Timescape interface. Mediascape has now been stripped down and called simply Media. According to Sony Ericsson it has become a “customizable widget-based media pane”.

The Timescape integration is where the UI derives its name from - it is a card-based system for showing your messaging and social networking updates, flippable up and down from the homescreen with ease, but it's little more than eye candy. Social networking is ubiquitous thanks to the “Facebook inside Xperia” integration, which allows you to “like” a song directly from the music player or its widget, for instance.

Sony has customized Android with nice gradient colors, with beautiful transitional animations everywhere – from unlocking the screen to the subtle white glow when reaching the ends of a list while scrolling.

The coolest useless function in the interface is the Overview mode – pinch the screen to zoom in, and all your current widgets start floating together on one homescreen for a peer review - a fun touch, reminiscing the helicopter view in HTC Sense, but only intended to visualize your current widgets in one place.

There is Swype pre installed with artsy light blue trail appearing when you swipe from a letter to a letter, but even without it typing on the big screen with the Timescape virtual keyboard is a joy.

There is another GPS software besides Google Maps, called Wisepilot, which, however, is a trial version. When cold-started, it took the GPS about 4-5 minutes to locate us, which is average, and if we had a data connection it locked us in for seconds, as is already the norm.

The LiveWare app allows you to start an application of your choosing when something is connected to the phone, be it a headset, headphones or a charger. Thus you can tell it to start the music or video player each time headphones are connected, or automatically go into the desktop clock mode in Android, while the handset is charging.

The music player is the same as in the other iterations of this UI, with flashy, but minimalistic interface, ten equalizers, the song recognition service Track ID, and the option to show related YouTube videos or lyrics. There is no Dolby Mobile or SRS surround sound in headset mode, but we have to tell you the loudspeaker is outstanding - strong, with real bass and very clean and pure output, even at the highest volume. The last time we heard such a speaker was in the Sony Ericsson Xperia mini, and it is great that Sony has managed to fit the same thing in the slim body of the Xperia arc S.

The video player and the gallery are of the stock Android flavor, and the handset doesn’t support DivX/Xvid, so we had to download a free player from Android Market to watch our ripped TV shows with subtitles in up to 720p resolution. The Mobile BRAVIA Engine can be turned on and off manually from the Display settings, but we can’t imagine a reason for it to be off, as it adds color and sharpness to the pictures and videos on the handset.


Conclusion

While the Xperia Arc itself was a great device, the Arc S remains nothing more than a minor upgrade. The thin arched profile that makes you forget you are holding a gadget with a huge 4.2” screen stays, as well as the light weight and sleek and classy look. The Timescape UI is also very pretty and functional with its “Facebook inside Xperia” addition.

The second generation Snapdragon chip is bumped to 1.4GHz for a slight increase in performance, which, however, you could have done yourself with an overclocking program. The added 2D Panorama option in the camera interface is also nothing you couldn’t have obtained via an app in Android Market. Thus, the only tangible benefits of the Sony Ericsson arc S over the predecessor are the 3D Panorama option, which is nice, but not a must-have feature, and the 14.4Mbps baseband radio, instead of 7.2Mbps. Download speeds are so very network dependent, though, that you’d have been lucky to max out the previous radio even.

The nice 8MP camera with back-illuminated sensor, which produced good results and the excellent loudspeaker we have in the Xperia arc too, so you can save yourself the price difference between the Xperia arc S and its predecessor, unless you find it somewhere cheaper

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