Mobile handsets are getting better looking all the time, thank goodness. With handsets like Nokia N8, Dell Venue and the newly launched HTC Incredible, the competition for good looking devices is heating up and the Xperia Arc just took mobile sex appeal to a whole new level. It’s one of the first Gingerbread (out of the box) handsets to hit the shelves and here’s a closer look.

Form Factor
With the Arc, Sony Ericsson seems to have gone in the totally opposite direction of their Human Curvature design. While the Human Curvature form had a convex shape at the rear of their handsets this next-gen Xperia X10 has a concave rear panel. The black (when off) 4.2-inch scratch resistant (mineral glass) display with an all black bezel, chrome rim and slim 8.7mm frame gives this handset a slick look like nothing we’ve seen so far in the mobile kingdom. It’s certainly a large handset but still quite comfortable to hold and quite lightweight at 117g.

Sharp fetaures

Sharp features

What I took just a minor dislike to was the slightly sharp buttons below the display. While most of the Android handsets out there have moved on to touch sensitive keys Sony’s still playing a bit old school. The LED backlit display sports a 480 x 854 pixel resolution that’s high enough to make colours seriously stand out and with the added assistance of Sony's Mobile BRAVIA Engine. They look vibrant and and densely packed, making it extremely clear and easy on the eyes. Like the iPhone's Retina Display, Sony calls this their Sony Reality Display.

On the right side of this slim handset are volume/zoom keys, just under a micro USB port for charging and PC connectivity and a small but raised camera shutter release button at the bottom. A 3.5mm handsfree socket (in-ear phones type handsfree, quite comfortable) is located at the top left hand side. The Arc also features an HDMI port of the micro variety (cables included). The handset did not come with a hot swap slot for the microSD which could be an issue for some, however 320MB of internal storage and the option of transferring most heavy app files to the bundled 8GB memory card will make sure you don’t have congestion or speed issues.

Features and Performance
With Sony Ericsson’s custom UI, on top of Android’s Gingerbread (v2.3) OS, running on a 1GHz Scorpion processor with an Adreno 205 GPU, I was expecting issues with speed to be but a distant thought. That was true for almost all aspects of the Arc’s functionality but when it came to accessing mundane functions like the message menu, contacts or even changing the orientation of the display, there seemed to be a visible 1-2 second delay. I also found that the gallery took about 2-3 seconds just to render an 8MP picture I had taken from the built-in camera. Everything else was super smooth.

UI was just a wee bit sluggish

UI was just a wee bit sluggish

The new additions to the keypad – word selection and a large icon to indicate where your cursor is – proved to be quite handy. Sony Ericsson has also included their TimeScape UI option and widget for simultaneously updating both your Twitter and FB accounts. TimeScape also allows you to view all your messages, people’s updates on FB/Twitter and new calls/messages from this one vertical scrolling interface. Personally, it tends to get way too cluttered if you stick to the entire interface, but luckily you can opt to use any of these settings individually as widgets.

Multitouch zooming was as smooth as the iPhone’s and I don’t say that very often. It seems like, unfortunately, only HTC has managed to offer Android users a steadfast social networking integration option for your contacts. Linking and joining contacts to their corresponding Google, Twitter and FB accounts, although a one-time thing, is nevertheless a much less time or brain consuming effort on Sense UI as compared to Sony’s, Samsung’s or LG’s.

The native audio player with its few EQ presets managed to dish out audio quite well. Tones, although slightly jarring on full volume, were still decently well balanced. Using a better set of earphones though, you’ll enjoy much better clarity as compared to that derived from the bundled handsfree. The Infinite button (alpha) allows you connect to YouTube to watch related videos. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much more – it's not MediaScape. Some third party players like Mixzing auto download album art and have a more sophisticated EQ setting which is great for audiophiles. The built-in FM radio managed to find 5 out of 9 available channels very quickly and reception quality was good. TrackID works quite well to locate and get you details about music from the radio or external sources. You can then choose to download the track, if available, or share it via Twitter, email or messages.

Music player is loud and clear

Music player is loud and clear

Another let down was that the Arc didn’t pre-support DivX or XviD codecs, so I was forced to seek third party support from the Android Market place. This isn’t a big issue since free players are available but one expects pre-loaded content at this price. It supports H.264 and H.263 MP4, WMV and of course 3GP.

There were no pre-installed games but there are plenty of freebies in the Market including Angry Birds Rio. Owners of the Xperia Arc will also be able to download three Gameloft titles for free, and have access to a Game Center. The Arc is equipped to handle 3D gaming as well as motion gaming.
The Arc is well equipped for connectivity from 3G (HSDPA @7.2Mbps), standard EDGE/GPRS, Wi-Fi with DLNA compatibility and tethering to creating a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot. Bluetooth v2.1 with A2DP support and USB 2.0 are also part of the deal. The native browser with Adobe Flash 10.2 support worked like a charm as did Mozilla’s Firefox for Android. A Media Server feature allows you to connect to your PC and stream media to or from the device.

Downloading emails is never really an issue with Android handsets with Push Mail support and connectivity to Microsoft’s Active Sync Services. Sony Ericsson’s Sync option is thrown in and so is a neatly designed app call Postcards from TouchNote that lets you send Post Card like emails to people, except with a photograph. I managed to send just one before it became a paid service. Social networking options like Facebook and Twitter can be downloaded off the App Market if not preloaded. All Google service apps like Gtalk, Google Maps (for use with built-in GPS module), Places, Latitude, Navigation, Voice Search etc. are present and accounted for.

The Xperia Arc one sexy looking handset

The Xperia Arc – one sexy looking handset

Misc. Features
Standard features like an Alarm and World Clock with weather updates, a calendar that syncs to Google and Facebook, calculator, a voice recorder and Voice dialing are all on board. Instead of QuickOffice, Sony Ericsson has gone with OfficeSuite that’s a read only version for accessing document files like DOC., XLS, PDF etc. The secondary microphone located at the rear of the device, above the battery helps reduce background audio to help improve voice clarity with active noise cancelation. It works great!

This thin and with HDMI Out to boot

This thin and with HDMI Out to boot

This has got to be one of the better aspects in the Arc’s arsenal of features. The 8MP AF shooter, equipped with an ExmoR sensor, comes with an LED flash that’s quite handy in low lit areas. Settings include face and smile detection, Auto Scene Recognition, Touchfocus, geotagging, Scene modes and 720p video recording @30fps. Image stabilization, a variety of focus modes, a self timer and white balance options are also available giving you quite a large array of settings for optimized image capture. Image capture is quicker than most cameras in the same league, thus allowing to quickly capture consecutive images.

Daylight images, deatils are quite sharp

Daylight images, details are quite sharp

I was quite impressed with the quality of images, from color retention to the level of focus in each image. Even videos turned out quite good, although slightly jittery.

Macro shot, get's really up close

Macro shot, gets really up close

The Arc’s 1500 mAh battery serves it well. I was able to use the handset for a little over 2 days on a single charge with calls, messages, emails, web access and a little music thrown in. On an average, it was able to deliver up to 6 hours of talk time which, in my book, is nothing short of impressive.

Super slim is definitely in

Super slim is definitely in

The Bottom Line
Thanks to the processing power and Gingerbread’s overall smoother functionality, the Arc triumphs (pardon the pun) in the functionality segment. However, at an MOP of Rs. 28,000, it did leave me wanting a little bit more – more media capability, a read/write office app and slightly speedier functioning of the gallery. I could, however, attribute these small issues with the handset being a test piece but I can’t be positive they’re not generic as there are a few others who seemed to have had similar queries. At the price though, there are quite a few other options available like the HTC Desire HD that has just a little more to offer – larger screen, 1.5GB internal storage along with DivX and XviD codec support but running FroYo for now. Samsung and LG also have competition for the Arc soon so decisions will be really hard.

I suggest holding off till the end of the month if you have the patience, something better might just be made available at the same price. Nevertheless, for the record, I did enjoy using the Arc and if you can’t wait and are looking for a seriously sexy handset, you’ll definitely not have a case of buyer’s remorse should you go the Arc way.

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