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First review of 2012: Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S

By Leigh D. Stark | 8:53 am 02/01/2012

An upgrade to the Arc model released last year, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc S features a faster processor, a bit more storage, and a 3D camera mode borrowed from Sony’s Cybershot cameras.

Features

Smartphone makers experimented with all sorts of screen sizes in 2011, and Sony Ericsson was no different. With the Arc S, the screen hits 4.2 inches and offers the advantage of a better-than-average 480 x 854 resolution.

The screen is, of course, a capacitive touchscreen LCD, backlit by LED and powered by Sony Ericsson’s Bravia video engine for strong colour reproduction.

Under the hood, it’s a familiar scene. A slightly faster version of the chip found in the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo lives here, with 1.4GHz provided. It’s still the same Adreno 205 graphics underneath – as seen in the Neo – underpinned by Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread and running Sony’s Timescape overlay.

The similarities continue with the camera. Sony Ericsson has opted for an 8 megapixel rear camera for stills, plus there are features commonly found in Sony’s Cybershot line of digicams, including face detection and image stabilisation. Video capture is set at 720p HD. There is no front camera, so video calls are not an option.

Connectivity is on spec with most other Android handsets: GPS, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, and Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP. Charging the phone is handled through the same port used to move data to and from the handset – microUSB – and unlike the Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Neo, there is no rubber door flap covering the port. Like that model, though, Sony has included a mini HDMI port on the top, this one covered by a door.

While many touchscreen phones are ditching buttons altogether, Sony Ericsson’s Arc S bucks the trend by keeping a few on board. On the front, you’ll find three thin silver buttons for Back, Home, and Menu, as well as a single Home button on the top of the phone, a volume button on the right side and a camera shutter several centimetres below this.

Performance

An update to the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc released last year, the Arc S brings in a new processor, updated camera, and an extra letter. Who knew that the letter “S” was such a big deal?

The second Arc model in a year, the Arc S isn’t a huge upgrade from what we saw briefly in the first Arc model. In fact, it’s not a huge departure from many of the Sony Ericsson models we’ve seen this year, complete with similar specs.

In the hand, the plastic build is comfortable and easy to hold, while the back can feel a little slippery. Aesthetically, it’s a good-looking phone, with minimal design fussiness.

Sony Ericsson’s customised Timescape interface to Android OS still feels as good as it did on the Sony Ericsson Neo and Ray, and it now features a perfect blend of easy-to-use smartphone menus, app removal feature, and shortcuts in the dock.

While touch is obviously the dominant force here, Sony has left a couple of physical buttons to play with, making it possible to switch the device on, raise and lower the volume, and press the camera shutter. With the exception of the volume, though, these buttons were stiff and hard to press.

Phone calls and texts are easy to make, and we still like the onscreen keyboard with its excellent spell check feature left from recent Sony Ericsson devices. Overall, the performance of regular day-to-day phone activities is strong on this handset.

Strength can also be found in the screen, with vibrant colours and clear images. There’s a bit of wash-out if you view the screen off-axis, but it doesn’t seem to impact the quality dramatically.

Battery life is on par with 2010 standards: you’ll get a day out of it, but probably not much more. After checking the specs, we learned that Sony Ericsson uses the same capacity battery in the Arc and the Arc S, despite boosting the speed of the latter. This would contribute to the poorer battery life of the S.

The issue with battery life wasn’t the big negative for us, though, and we were left wondering what the extra “S” could possibly mean. Perhaps it stood for “Slow”?

Despite the new and faster processor, the Arc S is not speedy, with significant lag between finger presses on the touchscreen and jumps between apps. Half of the time, the Arc S is speedy and solid, but then it can just as easily be slack and slothful, moving at the rate of a sleepy slug.

When it hits these lulls, the menus are slower to respond, animations aren’t performed, and programs don’t open quickly.

We’re also surprised at the camera technology present in such a premium phone. While the quality and speed of the 8 megapixel shooter is excellent, the lack of 1080p video is a little disheartening, as is the absence of a front camera. No front camera means no video chat, and while not everyone is using this feature in their handsets, it’s been present in top-tier mobile phones throughout 2011. Its absence puts the Arc S behind the competition at this price point.

Conclusion

The Arc S doesn’t represent a significant upgrade from the Arc, so won’t be a compelling buy for owners of the original. And while it lacks some of the speed, features and endurance of other smartphones it is a slick-looking smartphone with a good camera and strong interface.

 

Price (RRP)

$TBA

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Camera is very fast; HDMI port can be useful;

Product Cons

Battery needs to be a lot better; No front-facing camera; Physical buttons require determined finger presses; Performance can lag;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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