Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc: Review


Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc is one of the first smartphones to hit Australia this year based on the latest version 2.3 (Gingerbread) of Google’s rapidly developing Android platform, and it launches off the back of interest last year in the company’s Xperia X10 handset. But does Sony Ericsson’s latest multimedia opus have what it takes to fight off strong challenges from the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG and other rivals? Read on to find out.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is available in Australia exclusively through Optus and Virgin Mobile.

Smartphone design has been evolving rapidly in one direction over the past several years – imitation of Apple’s successful iPhone line. Samsung’s Galaxy S line bears a somewhat strong resemblance to the previous iPhone 3GS and 3G generations, and HTC’s popular models – while markedly different from the iPhone – are still reminiscent of the Apple handset’s weighted elegance.

Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc represents a departure from this trend. When you pick the phone up you’re immediately struck by both how large the handset’s screen is, but also how lightly elegant is its overall package. It would be immediately apparent to anyone watching you with this device that it’s not an iPhone — it’s more stylish and more sexy.

The front of the phone features a single large 4.2” screen, with only a very minimal plastic border surrounding its sides. Underneath the screen Sony Ericsson has eschewed the increasingly popular touch-sensitive buttons used by HTC in favour of small strip buttons, representing the Android-standard return, home and menu options.

The back of the phone is in a striking slightly concave form factor, reinforcing the overall impression that the phone is very thin, and it sinks down from a black colour at the top to a nice silvery gradient at the bottom. The (large) embedded camera is also on the back, along with a flash and various bits of Sony Ericsson branding.

On the left-hand side of the phone at the top there is a standard 3.5mm audio headphone jack, while on the other side is a weird-looking square power and USB input connection (it still worked with the supplied micro-USB cord though) and two minimalist volume buttons. At the bottom of the right-hand side is a small camera button, while on top of the handset is the power button and a HDMI output.

Overall, we can’t reinforce just how thin and light the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc feels in the hand. It feels like the sort of mobile phone you would expect a trendy young thing working in some form of high-end professional career to be wielding with panache. This is not a phone. It’s a svelte, stylish weaponised piece of beautiful plastic and steel. We love it.

The Xperia Arc’s feature list reads as you would expect for a fairly high-end Android smartphone in early to mid-2011. It comes with 512MB of RAM, a 4.2” display running at a resolution of 854×480, an 8.1 megapixel camera with features like face recognition and geo-tagging (as well as an image and video stabiliser), and it can film 720p HD video.

Wi-Fi 802.11b, g and n, HDMI out, 3.5mm audio out, Bluetooth 2.1, A-GPS, an in-built accelerometer and so on, it’s all here. And, as we mentioned the package is light – at just 117g. Its dimensions are 125mm by 63mm by 8.7 mm, and it supports all of Australia’s major mobile networks — including Telstra’s Next G network.

The one point of difference between the Xperia Arc and a number of other major Android handsets coming out in 2011 is the fact that it doesn’t run NVIDIA’s powerful dual-core Tegra 2 CPU – instead, it’s based on Qualcomm’s 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, which we consider slightly less powerful, as it is used in many of last year’s phones. As we’ll find out when examining the phone’s performance, this is a significant difference.

So the Xperia Arc looks fantastic and on paper has everything a modern smartphone user in 2011 would want … but does its performance stack up in practice? Is this phone fast enough to keep up with its looks?

In a word, not quite.

When using the handset, we experienced quite a few small, inconsistent delays, when browsing around, taking photos and using multimedia and the internet. It’s not a huge deal, but it seems clear that either there is something a little quirky about the Xperia Arc’s touchscreen – which does feel a little less sensitive than the iPhone 4’s, for example, or the HTC Desire HD’s – or that the software on the device is not quite optimised for its CPU.

If you’re coming to Xperia Arc from a non-smartphone, or even a previous generation Android handset such as the HTC Legend, you likely won’t even notice the jaggies we found quite annoying on the phone. But if you’re upgrading from an iPhone 3GS, for example, you’ll likely wonder why Sony Ericsson let this one into the wild without quite a bit more polishing first.

The same can be said of the phone’s user interface. After experiencing the sensuous HTC Sense layer on top of Android, and using Apple’s utilitarian iOS interface for years, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc interface comes across as a bit bland and inconsistent at times in comparison. We’d like to see some more effort put in here to showcase Sony Ericsson’s multimedia capabilities.

For example, although the user interface for browsing photos on the phone was stellar and eye-catching, this sort of style didn’t seem to have been extended to the rest of the phone’s user interface.

Two more slight problems – although we tried and tried, we just couldn’t work out how to start filming HD video on the Xperia Arc. We flicked a number of toggles and pressed a number of buttons, both physical and on-screen, but we just couldn’t get this to work – and the manual was no help either. This facet of the phone needs to be made easier for users to understand. And its boot-up time is also less than ideal … it seemed to take an age for the handset to turn on or reboot.

Having said all this, the rest of our experience with the Xperia Arc was fantastic.

We prefer the phone’s screen over that of similar handsets … it seems just clearer, larger and nicer, and we loved viewing photos on it. Similarly, Sony Ericsson has for the past few years had a good reputation for the quality of the cameras on its handsets, and the Xperia Arc delivers in this area. We prefer the phone’s camera over others in its class – the shots we took were clear with good colours.

Battery life for the handset was somewhere in the middle between good performers such as the iPhone 4 and power drainers like the HTC Desire HD. It’ll be what you expect – and will get you through the day fine.

The Xperia Arc has achieved something remarkable – after years of looking at Sony Ericsson phones and going ‘meh’, your reviewer would now be quite happy to be using this device for all of his daily telephony needs. For the first time in the past few 18 months, Sony Ericsson has a smartphone which is a worthy competitor to Apple, HTC, Samsung and the rest. Let’s just hope some of the jaggies are fixed in a future firmware update.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is available in Australia exclusively through Optus and Virgin Mobile.

Image credit: Sony Ericsson


  1. It’s one of the most beautiful smartphones out there at the moment, along with the Xperia X10, only problem is that Sony Ericsson seems to always be behind the 8 ball, with the X10 they spent so much time developing their useless custom UI, everything else was buggy and required multiple ‘updates’ to fix. They spent so much time on this for the 1.6 version of Android for the x10, that only very late last year did the update to 2.1 (not 2.2) come out. I hear some people with AT&T in America are still on 1.6.

    This would be a fantastic phone if only it was dual core, but then I’m not sure if they could make it as slim.
    I hear the camera on it is the best of any phone.

    • Yeah that’s basically it … buggy UI, late to the Froyo/Gingerbread party, lack of dual-core. For my money, this model will do well, but I am betting it will be the next Xperia that will hit it out of the park. The only problem is … Samsung and HTC are already doing that ;)

  2. brass tax… the ARE getting the hang of it. im an x10 owner and i do enjoy my phone. true the random lag on some apps is nerve-racking at times and also as stated sony is probably spending too much time on the back end complexity of the ui and not enough effort in making the overall package fluid. i have chosen to debrand from att because of marion’s correct statement that att has NOT supported se choice to up grade from 1.6. furthermore att and sony are NOT a good match if se is to contnue to offer high quality smartphones they (se) will have to ditch the dead weight (att). i am very pleased that se will bring 2.3 to my xperia and i do plain on getting the arc with the hopes that se will keep in mind that its consumers like me that are supporting them.

      • AT&T Wireless are an American telco.. consider them America’s Vodafail.
        When I was over there last year I made the mistake of getting an AT&T SIM… big mistake, I had reception issues everywhere from New York City to Miami, like crazy reception issues that would be unacceptable here…

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