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At 125 x 63 x 8.7 mm the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc is about as big as you could expect from a device with a 4.2-inch screen. The bezel on top is a bit wider than some competitors but the difference is hardly notable, when you look at it in isolation.
We have to warn you though, that the 8.7mm thickness that Sony Ericsson is so keen to advertise is measured at the center – the Arc’s slimmest part. The curved handset is more than a millimeter thicker at the top and bottom edges where we measured a thickness of 10mm. Now that’s pretty slim for any smartphone and it certainly gives that high-tech vibe that we appreciate so much – it’s just that you shouldn’t fall for the misleading ad materials.
The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc is a pretty light device with its 117 grams. We are more into the solid feel that heavier devices leave, but if you don’t like carrying too heavy devices in your pocket, you will certainly appreciate the Sony Ericsson approach. The Samsung Galaxy S benefitted from much the same pocketability and not many people are complaining.
The Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 certainly wasn’t coyote ugly, but placed next to the Arc it’s definitely looking outdated. The slimmer body and glossier plastics make the new handset a real looker and the gradient used for the back plate coloring is a nice touch.
Now there are some downsides to this design too – the glossy plastic is rather easy to cover with fingerprints and there is no metal used for the body. Yet we’d call the overall result pretty pleasing.
The front is almost entirely taken by the 4.2” 16M color LCD screen of FWVGA resolution (854 x 480 pixels). It uses capacitive technology for its touchscreen so as you could imagine there were no issues with its sensitivity. As we already mentioned this time multi-touch input is enabled too so as far as touch control is concerned, there’s nothing to worry about.
Dubbed Reality display, the most interesting thing about the the Arc’s screen, is its Sony Bravia Mobile Engine, which is expected to improve the image quality by increasing contrast and sharpness. We were pleased to find out that it’s actually doing a good job, rather than just being another fancy term to place on a press release. You have to keep in mind that this only works with photos and videos, but after all it’s where it matters most.
In fact when looked at it from the best angle the XPERIA Arc display is certainly among the best screens on the market. It’s got more vibrant reds and greens than the iPhone 4 Retina display and in case you aren’t into much saturation you will probably prefer it over the Samsung SuperAMOLED screens too (though we still find Nokia’s ClearBlack screens to be the champion in color reproduction).
Of course, an LCD unit is unable to match the natural contrast of an AMOLED screen, but given that limitation Sony Ericsson have done an excellent job of things. The difference here is by far not as pronounced as it used to be with the X10 screen and most other LCD units out there. We’d get the Arc Bravia-enabled screen over a Samsung’s Super Clear LCD, for example.
However the Reality screen does have a problem with its viewing angles. The advantage it holds against competition when looked from the best possible angle quickly disappears as you go wider. The writings of the screen might remain visible but contrast degrades very quickly and colors get vastly distorted. It’s an unpleasant effect that you cannot see with the IPS matrix of the iPhone 4 or the two current best AMOLED technologies (ClearBlack and SuperAMOLED).
To get a better idea of what we are talking about check out the following video comparing the XPERIA Arc display to the Galaxy S and iPhone 4 units. Notice how quickly the Arc screen contrast degrades as the viewing angle widens.
In general we see the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc display as a significant update over its X10 predecessor and all upgraders will certainly be happy with it. Yet, depending on whether you look at your phone from a wide angle often and whether you like a bit of extra saturation, it might fall short from the best on the market.
Below the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc display we find the same three keys as on the X10. You get a back button, a home key that brings up recently used apps tab on long press and a menu key.
The three keys we mentioned are all wide enough, so even if they are a bit thin, you are unlikely to have any problem with their usability.
Above the display we find the proximity sensor and the earpiece. According to the Sony Ericsson description there should also be an ambient-light sensor present here, but automatic brightness control of the screen was unavailable on our unit. We'll see if that changes in the final version of the device.
The left side of the XPERIA Arc holds the 3.5mm standard audio jack. It’s got no protective cover over it so there’ll be nothing getting in the way when you plug your headphones.
The rather small power key and the microHDMI port are on top of the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc. Despite its small size the power key is slightly elevated so it’s ok to use. Unfortunately an HDMI cable won’t be supplied in the box (or so the official release shows) so you will need to get one yourselves if you are into sharing your photos and videos to an HDTV. We are yet to see if the handset offers some custom TV-out interface or screen mirroring over HDMI.
The XPERIA Arc right side hosts the microUSB port, which is again unprotected, the LED status light, the rather thin volume rocker and the miniscule camera key. Now considering the shooting powers of the XPERIA Arc we would have definitely preferred a larger key that doesn’t need getting used to, but we are not going to take too many point of the XPERIA Arc here. After all most of the handsets direct competitors don’t even have a camera key (think iPhone 4, Desire HD, Galaxy S, etc).
What we are more concerned about is the location of the 8 megapixel camera lens on the back. Too close to the edge it is extremely likely to get covered by a finger when holding the handset naturally. You have to be extremely careful and only use two fingers on your left hand when shooting if you don’t want to ruin your shots. That’s a common problem for the iPhone4 too.
Removing the battery cover reveals the unfortunately non-hot-swappable microSD slot, the SIM slot and the second microphone pinhole, used for active noise cancelation. The battery capacity is 1500 mAh and it’s said to last for up to 430 hours of stand-by or up to 7 hours of talk time. We’d need to spend some time with a finalized unit to comment on those numbers but so far the pre-release has been doing pretty well, surviving through more than three days of moderate usage.
In conclusion the general handling of the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc is quite good. The handset, large as it may be, is pretty comfortable to handle and if it wasn’t for the uncomfortable camera lens placement and tiny camera key it would have been closing on perfection.