Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

It may not be absolutely perfect, but it's definitely a home run. Xperia Arc is the best Sony Ericsson phone in years, and the first great smartphone of 2011.


9.3
CNET Rating
7.5
User Rating

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CNET Editor

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon


Though Sony Ericsson maintains a vast, loyal fan-base, its products have been decidedly second-rate for a number of years. Between 2008 and today, the highest score that anyone from the CNET team has awarded a Sony Ericsson handset has been an 8.1 out of 10, with many of the 20+ handsets reviewed in that period being marred by a poor user experience, and many scoring 6s and 7s. So why is the Arc so much better?

Design

Sony Ericsson is renowned for its stunning industrial designs, and the Arc takes this to the next level. The unique shape of the Arc is eye-catching from a distance, and its graduating metallic-coloured battery cover sells it on close inspection. The handset is also impossibly light; at 117g the Arc is amongst the lightest smartphones we've ever seen, though this might deter some who may think the Arc isn't as robust as they'd like. For what it's worth, we've enjoyed several weeks with this phone and the strength of the handset has never been in question.

On top is the new 4.2-inch Reality display, which is so black when the screen is turned off that you can barely see where the screen finishes and the bezel begins. This means that Sony Ericsson has managed to squeeze in a display that is 20 per cent larger diagonally that the iPhone 4 Retina display into a handset that is only 1cm longer and 0.5cm wider than Apple's iPhone. This blackness when off translates into deep, rich, vibrant images with the screen turned on, thanks to the quality on the panel and the fact that there is no air-gap between the panel and the glass protecting it.

The Arc is finished with a stainless steel trim around the edge of the handset, where you'll find volume control, a dedicated camera button, a micro USB charging port, a 3.5mm headphone socket and an HDMI-out port. The SIM slot and microSD card slot are located under the battery cover, and Sony Ericsson include an 8GB memory card and a mini HDMI-to-HDMI cable in the box alongside the usual stereo headphones and USB cable.

User experience

Central to our praise of the Xperia Arc is Sony Ericsson's new approach to Android. When the company launched the Xperia X10 last year it made a doozy of a mistake by burying huge chunks of its unique customisations deep into the Android firmware. Not only did this slow down the experience significantly, but it also made it difficult for SEMC to upgrade this firmware quickly when Google launched more advanced versions of Android. In 2011, this approach has been completely revised; now, the Sony Ericsson experience is a lightweight launcher app that sits on top of Android Gingerbread. This launcher is fast, well-designed and easily upgradeable.

Sony Ericsson include several unique widgets and you can view all widgets using the new Overview feature.
(Credit: CBSi)

But this doesn't mean that the Sony Ericsson experience of Android lacks the features you might expect from HTC and Samsung. The look and feel of this launcher is immediately recognisable as coming from Sony Ericsson, and features a custom launcher bar, a number of unique widgets and an overhauled App Drawer featuring a number of usability tweaks, allowing you to rearrange your apps manually, for example. Other key features of the X10 from last year, namely Timescape and Mediascape, have been relegated to pre-installed apps, in the case of Timescape, or been removed completely. Timescape is there if you want to use it — you can apply it as a homescreen widget, but you needn't use it at all if you prefer the layout of the stock Facebook and Twitter tools.

Features

Alongside the standard apps and tools included in Android's Gingerbread release, Sony Ericsson has packed in a number of features shared by the Sony stable of products. The screen is the same panel used in Bravia TVs with a software enhancement called Bravia Engine, and the 8.1-megapixel camera sensor borrows the Exmor-R back-side illuminated image sensor from the Sony Cybershot camera range.

The Bravia Engine is a real treat, though you'll only see it in action when you view images in your gallery or videos from your library. When you launch one of these items the Bravia Engine kicks in, reducing noise and increasing sharpness and contrast. Flicking through your photo gallery is the best way to see this in action: you can see the raw photos in a low-res preview followed by a full preview with the post-production magic applied. This software enhancement is also active when you display images and videos on your TV via HDMI, with the processing performed on the phone before the data is pushed to your flat-panel display.

Unfortunately, the Exmor-R sensor isn't as great a feature as the Bravia Engine; in fact, aside from lifting the light in dark situations, there doesn't seem to be anything remarkable about the photos we've taken with the Xperia Arc. Our test images were spoiled by a golden hue over the majority of photos taken, and the flash is too strong to be used unless subjects are a metre away from the lens, at least. Of course, this is where the Bravia Engine shines the most, and photos taken with the camera do look fantastic on the Arc itself; it's only when you view them on an external source, like your PC, that you will notice how noisy the pics are and how dull some of the colour reproduction is.

With the 100% crop inset, you can see how pictures can look great on the phone even though the actual photo is noisy and lacks definition.
(Credit: CBSi)

Aside from these unique Sony Ericsson extras, you can expect to find a full, rich smartphone experience with thanks to the latest version of Android. Business users can connect to their work servers for email, contacts and calendar, and the young at heart can customise their phones and play awesome games via downloads through the ever-growing Android Market. Sony Ericsson has even branded the Market on its phones, replacing the "My Apps" button with a special Sony Ericsson portal.

Performance

Hardcore spec snobs may turn their noses up at the Xperia Arc's single-core 1GHz processor, but we urge you to look past this stat in spite of the fact that many of the Android handsets coming out at the same time will run dual-core processors. The Arc makes use of a Qualcomm Scorpion chipset, with a 1GHz CPU, an Adreno 205 graphics processor and 512MB RAM. Benchmarked against other single-core Android handsets, the Arc certainly holds it own.

Neocore 3D benchmark

  • Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc
  • HTC Desire HD
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
  • Samsung Nexus S
  • Longer bars equal better performance 59.1 58.1 59.3 55.4

smartBench 2011 Productivity results

  • Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc
  • HTC Desire HD
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
  • HTC Desire Z
  • Longer bars equal better performance 1053 1196 991 706

But more importantly than these numbers is the fact that we haven't experienced any lag or crashes during our testing process, unlike our experience with the Xperia Play. We did notice that the Arc does sometimes struggle to reconnect to a Wi-Fi network after you wake it up from standby, but perhaps this is one of the reasons why our battery life tests with the Arc matched Sony Ericsson's generous 7-hour talk-time estimations. All in all, we easily made it through a work day with the Arc, and only burned through the battery before nightfall when we played several hours of games on the handset.

Overall

The Xperia Arc is not only the best Sony Ericsson smartphone we've seen in years, it's the first great smartphone release of 2011. A perfect blend of design, features and performance, the Arc proves that you needn't sacrifice power for design, or design for features and connectivity, but that smartphones are best when designers find a balance between each equally important element. It's a shame that the camera doesn't live up to the hype of its Exmor-R sensor, but in the end this seems trivial in light of everything else that works well about this handset.



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itsvivian
2
Rating
 

"Good looks can deceive, especially this phone"

itsvivian posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Thin and lightweight

The Bad:Sluggishness, random shutting down, problems with software

At first, like other customers, I was awed by the thinness of the phone as well as its bright display. A few months after purchasing on a contract however, I noticed the phone was beginning to lag and battery life started to decrease. This wasn't too much of a problem. Then a little while after the one year warranty had expired, the phone began to shut down and restart itself even while I was using it. After that it became extremely slow and would take about a minute to load up contacts and call them, and even typing on the phone became frustratingly sluggish. Most people I know using the Xperia Arc have reported this. Now, two years after purchase, messaging continually crashes, high-memory apps like Facebook and Messenger crash because of the low RAM, and the 'low memory' icon has become permanent despite deleting all unused apps. Existing apps are unable to be updated, nor new ones installed because of the low memory, and after turning the phone off, it will not turn back on for a good half day. Periodically, new messages will be rejected because of 'low memory' in the phone's messaging system. The silver paint has started to come off the three bottom buttons as well. Overall, Sony has done a poor job with the durability of this phone, and I will be switching to Apple after a bad experience with Android. My advice? Don't get the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc.

MaidaB Facebook
1
Rating
 

"sucks"

MaidaB posted a review   

The Good:nothing

The Bad:money and contract i had to fulfill

sony Ericson xperia phone SUCKS big time.
It shuts down randomly between 5 - 10 times a day., while you on the phone or not on the phone at all, listening to the music, browsing, you name it, it will happened. My advice is not to buy this crap phone.
Do not say i did not warn you.

 

IanS5 posted a comment   

Sorry to say that if you are planning on buying an xperia in Australia, I would think twice if you wanted Sony Ericson Service along with that. My new AcroS died literally, 3 weeks after buying it and had to send it to a contracted service agent "Fonebiz". No one in my state answered my calls so had to call Sydney. Told to send it down. Did that non 4th Feb 2013. after two weeks with my new phone I was told it would be in my post box in two days. Did not arrive so again I called Fonebiz in Sydney. Now im told the phone needed a part that is currently not available and 150 other customers are awaiting the same part for various models. So its off to sony Customer service Australia, who are in New Zealand and was told to fill in a complaint form that they eventually emailed to me the next day. Now today I spoke to the customer service boss called Sam ( also a contractor) who has given me nothing but belligerent remarks about how things take time and all companies use contractors

ChrisB8 Facebook
1
Rating
 

"Avoid it, crappy mini USB and Sony Ericcson won't back warranty, classic arrogance of a phone tech company."

ChrisB8 posted a review   

The Good:I'm struggling??

The Bad:mini USB port, battery life, on/off switch and Sony Ericcson

Disagree vehemently with other reviews.
If you are considering purchasing an Experia Arc, think twice. Sony Ericcson do not properly support this phone with after service.
Two weeks after I got the phone the battery wouldn't charge. I was told the issue was a lifted pin in the mini USB and that it was user error and wouldn't be covered under warranty. Took over 3 weeks for the part to arrive to enable the phone to be fixed and $110. Next day the phone needed charging and wouldn't. A pin in both the mini USB and the cable had lifted and yep you guessed it, Sony Ericcson denied all responsibility - same story "user errror not covered under warranty".
This was despite the backing of the authorised repairer who also pointed out to the company that the mini USB plug was square not like typical ones that have one side of the plug which is wider.
Ironically, I bought a cheap $30 Sony Ericcson Cedar to tie me over while other being fixed and its mini USB is your typical one.

RobynM3 Facebook
9
Rating
 

"Truly a fantastic phone."

RobynM3 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:I love the look, the quality, the features and the way it does everything well. (and i feel a bit cool not using an apple product)

The Bad:No front camera is occasionally irritating. Took ages to get the WiFi hotspot working for me, and I ended up taking off the security to get it to work, so I probably need to do more research on getting this right - not everything is as intuitive as it could be.

The battery was an issue for me, but I downloaded "juice defender" app, which has increased the battery life to 2-3 days for me. I don't FB from my phone and use it mostly as a phone, with the occasional game, WiFi hotspot, photograph, audiobook... This phone just does so much with a super clear and accurate screen!
Love it.
I also got some really good screen protectors from exim. No-one has complained about screen scratches, but I didn't want to risk it (My last phone was an LG viewty, and getting the covers was hard so i didn't bother - by the time I moved on to this phone it was noticeably scratched)

DelijeStefan
9
Rating
 

"I think overall this phone lives to it's expectations and is amazing to use. If it had a bit better read camera, front camera, dual core processor. It would be the best phone for 2011 and would compete with the 2012 phones!"

DelijeStefan posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Good camera, Gingerbread, Responsive, Amazing screen

The Bad:Sometimes crashes 3D games(shadowgun), no front facing camera, rear camera could be better, 320MB internal storage

I bought this phone after my Samsung Wave S8500 contract expired. I must say it's an amazing upgrade considering the 4.2 inch screen, great camera and first time Android user. I was kinda angry when i didn't get an iPhone and instead got this, but i must say i would never go back to an Apple product again! This phone has really amazed me on the things it can do and how much Google supports it. ICS is coming for the entire 2011 Xperia range and i honestly think Apple would never do that. I've always liked Sony for some reason and they have pleased me one again. The Xperia Arc has great features, its fast, responsive, quality phone that anyone could use. 1 tip i would like to point out is that it has quite a bit of Sony bloatware which i haven't used yet. I like the idea of the synchronize Facebook with contacts but i find it much faster when it doesn't sync. The 8MP camera is beautiful, scene auto works really well(it has a few hiccups sometimes but generally works great) The quality isn't top notch but it is amazing considering the thinness of this phone! But hey at least it beats the iPhone camera. I have got to say this is the most beautiful screen on a phone i have ever seen in my life. 480x854 is not what this phone looks like, it looks like 1920x1080, it's honestly one of the best features in this phone and might sound stupid but a bad screen on a good phone can ruin the whole phone. As i said it crashes 3D games i noticed it with Shadow gun, NBA Jam. Luckily i found a solution and all you have to do is turn USB Debugging on which is funny but works! This phone really shocked me when it didn't have a front facing camera but i guess it's not a biggie.

P.S. I really don't know why everyone says it has a bad battery, It's normal to charge every night, It's not just for this particular phone. The battery suits me and should suit the rest of you if you charge your phones every night!

WesleyH Facebook
8
Rating
 

"Swell Android phone, easy and stable. Excellent screen."

WesleyH posted a review   

The Good:Screen and menu is fast, bright,clear and responsive. Great camera.

The Bad:Battery life so far has been terrible. Charged every 24-36hrs with my normal use of a couple of calls bout 30min of games and 30min of WiFi browser stuff.

TBH The phone is sweet as. Its screen is solid and responsive, unlike the X10i which i owned. Not only that the screen is sharp and clean. I have yet to have the phone crash, it is very stable. The camera is nice and takes sweet photos(for a phone camera). Movement of the menus is fluent and fast, unlike the X10i.
The bad is, like the X10i there is an issue with galley photos not displaying at times and you gotta reload the pic. I have horendous battery life atm. I have now turned off data/syc/wifi/background data to see if i can improve it and it seems to be working. Whatever the "Data Traffic" widget turns off, it def has a big effect on helping batt life. But with all this, Batt life is just comparable to the X10i. The camera obviously sucks the juice too(which i found out at a concert). The power button on the top of the phone is kinda small and hard to press compared to the X10i which is painful when you wanna lock the screen before putting the phone in ur pocket, but I fixed that with a "Lock" widget on the home screen.

Overall its so easy to pick at those few faults i mentiond, in the end they are not that bad, 1 which a widget has fixed. I give this an 8 out of 10, with the only hard thing to overlook is the Battery life.

Kunal5974
9
Rating
 

"Really good phone to buy."

Kunal5974 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Where do I start, the music, the simplicity, personalization, one of the best designs and amazing camera.

The Bad:The only issue I have with this phone is that the phone's memory is only 512mb. So I have to manage the number of apps that I can dload. But then who uses all the apps, all the time.

It is one of the best phones brought out by Sony. Been using it for close to 2 months now and haven't experienced any major issues.

 

iiioool posted a comment   
Australia

optus say that their xperia arc has a 1.4 GHz single core scorpion processor and if this is true would'nt it mean they are actually selling the xperia arc s

joeyshere
9
Rating
 

"go team SE"

joeyshere posted a review   
Australia

The Good:The entire phone - simplicity!! display, sound, menus

The Bad:Battery (?), my paranoia of breaking it!

I was due to upgrade from my SE C903 and my options were the Galaxy S2 or iPhone 4 (or wait for 4S). I ended up holding off another 2 weeks and then Vodafone announced they had the SE Arc and I immediately upgraded and have been happy since. Yes, I was team Sony Ericsson, but part of me wanted the iPhone as everybody else seemed to have one and it was pretty straight forward and easy to use. I was concerned that the Arc might not be as simple, but like the cnet reviews mention - this is a surprising phone. Screen is great - great size and colour, sound is loud and clear, menus and integration using the phone is as easy as using a nokia from the 90's. It is larger than the iPhone but with the slim design and the arc it fits perfectly and you don't notice at all.

My only negative feedback at this stage seems to be the battery life %u2013 I only get a day out a charge, and this doesn%u2019t seem right considering it sits in my bag all day and not used. It might be apps or something I am running but I am fairly confidant that I have switched them off and I have dimmed the screen to 1/3.

I definitely did much research on here, cnet.com and whirpool.net and all in all, I am very happy with it and couldn%u2019t have been happier!


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User Reviews / Comments  Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

  • itsvivian

    itsvivian

    Rating2

    "At first, like other customers, I was awed by the thinness of the phone as well as its bright display. A few months after purchasing on a contract however, I noticed the phone was beginning to lag ..."

  • MaidaB

    MaidaB

    Rating1

    "sony Ericson xperia phone SUCKS big time.
    It shuts down randomly between 5 - 10 times a day., while you on the phone or not on the phone at all, listening to the music, browsing, you name ..."

  • IanS5

    IanS5

    "Sorry to say that if you are planning on buying an xperia in Australia, I would think twice if you wanted Sony Ericson Service along with that. My new AcroS died literally, 3 weeks after buying it ..."

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