The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc brings two important changes to the company smartphones’ UI. It debuts the new 2.3 version of Android, called Gingerbread, and it gets rid of the Mediascape interface. We can’t speak for everyone but for us it’s definitely a fair trade.
Sony Ericsson still has Timescape to make their products distinguishable and axing Mediascape will probably reduce the future Android update delays. That probably makes the XPERIA Arc a more balanced product than the X10 software-wise.
For starters we've prepared a short video demo of the XPERIA Arc user interface.
At first glance it’s not that easy to see the changes brought by Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The new edition brought lots of new APIs and extended the platform gaming capabilities, but the interface elements haven’t been drastically altered. And with Sony Ericsson skinning the whole thing it’s even harder to spot the differences.
What we particularly like is the Overview mode that the Sony Ericsson Arc offers. You pinch zoom out of any of the 5 homescreen panes and a new screen opens up with a cool transition effect. All your widgets gather there and you can click the one you want and go to its screen.
In terms of functionality it’s similar to the HTC Leap view or what Samsung have on the Galaxy S. However here widgets are not ordered in mini screens so you cannot see what’s on each of them. Instead all widgets are shuffled so they can utilize the space more efficiently and remain as big as possible and thus easier to press.
The next thing we noticed are the four docked shortcuts (two either side of the app drawer key) on the homescreen. Those are visible on all five homescreen panes and can be either single icons or folders with multiple items in them.
Creating folders is easy and simple, much resembling the pattern on the iOS devices. You get one icon and drag it over the other. A pop-up appears, asking you to select an icon and automatically suggesting a name for the folder when you do it. Of course, you are free to change the name as you see fit.
There are new animations when moving items around the homescreen, sorting them in folders or deleting them. There are no new wallpapers included in Gingerbread, but you can get as many as you want from the Android Market anyway.
Upon entering the app drawer you will see a new shortcut in the lower left corner. It allows you to pick how your icons should be sorted – you can either go for the automatic options (alphabetical, most used or recently installed) or you can pick the custom sorting option and go the old-fashioned way by rearranging the icons manually.
A new Sony Ericsson app called LiveWare comes preinstalled on the XPERIA Arc. It allows you to modify the behavior of your handset when an accessory is connected. You can set any app you have installed to automatically launch when headset, headphones or a charger is connected. You can, for example make the Arc start the music player each time you plug-in your headphones or go to picture frame mode each time you connect a charger.
A major change to the user interface also concerns text selection. Gingerbread really takes things to a whole new level by placing two large pointers either side of the marked text. You can then drag each of those easily to make the selection you need. It really doesn’t get much simpler than that.
As far as general performance is concerned the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc does splendidly. It’s powered by a Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon System-on-a-chip featuring a 1 GHz Scorpion CPU and the Adreno 205 GPU. Yet the further optimizations brought by Gingerbread helps it do a bit better than the Desire HD at the CPU benchmarks.
But it’s not so much synthetic benchmarks that should concern you – it’s the real life performance that matter here and the XPERIA Arc feels as smooth as butter. Even at these early stages of its development the handset didn’t treat us to any irritating lags or nasty holdups, which is really promising to say the least.