Apple's iPhone 4S seems to have started an odd trend in the mobile phone world. Motorola, HTC and now Sony Ericsson have all followed Apple's lead by releasing phones that look identical to previous models. Sony Ericsson's "new" effort is the XPERIA Arc S — it's basically the XPERIA Arc with a faster processor, slightly upgraded software and, of course, an 'S' tagged onto the end of its name.
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc S: Design and display
Everything you need to know about the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc S's design can be found by reading our original XPERIA Arc review. That's because the XPERIA Arc S looks exactly the same. To be fair, its still an extremely good looking device even though we've seen it all before. It's just 8.7mm thick at the thinnest part of its body, features a unique concave design, and is both thin and light. The distinctive shape of the XPERIA Arc S also means the phone hasn't aged as badly as many other smartphones might have.
With that being said, its a shame the XPERIA Arc S hasn't corrected some of the more disappointing design decisions that plagued its predecessor. The build quality remains shoddy and could have been improved with the use of higher quality plastics, the shortcut buttons below the display are too thin and feel awkward to press, and the power and camera buttons are ridiculously tiny — so much so that they feel like a chore just to press. The back of the XPERIA Arc S is also one of the biggest fingerprint magnets we've come across and it creaks when pressed near the edges. Given that the Arc S comes almost seven months after the original model, its disappointing not to see these issues corrected.
The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc S has the same 4.2in touchscreen that adorned the original Arc. Sony Ericsson calls it a 'Reality display': it claims the screen technology used increases contrast and sharpness for image viewing and video playback. It's fair to say it does just that — the Arc S is bright and clear and displays crisp text, and it's also easy to see in sunlight. However, the lack of an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the screen's brightness is another issue from the original Arc that has effectively been ignored on the Arc S.
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc S: Software and performance
The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc S's main claim to fame over its predecessor is a faster processor, upped from 1GHz on the Arc to 1.4GHz on the Arc S. It remains only a single-core processor in a world of competitors that sport dual-core processors, but if you're a run of the mill user there's no reason to be alarmed — the XPERIA Arc S offers good performance. We experienced little lag or slowdown during general use and would go as far as saying that there is absolutely no reason to discount the Arc S based on the fact it only has a single-core processor.
The XPERIA Arc S runs the2.3 Gingerbread version of Google's Android platform, and also has Sony Ericsson's Timescape UI overlay on top. The Arc S's software looks identical to the one on the original Arc: it has five home screens for live widgets, handy folders that enhance shortcuts and a main menu that can quickly arrange apps in various orders, including most used. Due to the skinny screen, the default on-screen keyboard is a little cramped but its something you'll quickly get used to. The Arc S once again includes Sony Ericsson's Timescape application, which groups social networking and phone communications into a single widget. Each communication event on the phone forms a 3D box that you simply flick your finger up and down the "spine" to scroll through. However, we don't feel Timescape offers anything compelling besides an attractive look: thankfully you can easily remove it from your home screen if you wish.
There are two new software features on the XPERIA Arc S that weren't included on the original. The first is what Sony Ericsson calls '3D sweep panorama'. It allows you to press the camera button and pan from left to right to capture a 3D panorama image. However, you can only view this 3D image on a 3D TV via the Arc S's HDMI-output. You can capture a 2D panorama image, though the quality of these images are of significantly less quality than a regular, non-panorama photo.
The second new software feature on the Arc S is 'Facebook inside XPERIA'. It integrates Facebook into commonly used areas of the phone including the picture gallery, music player, phonebook and calendar. As an example, Facebook albums can be accessed through the standard gallery app, without having to go into Facebook itself.
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc S: Camera, battery life and availability
The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc S has the same 8-megapixel camera as the original Arc and that's largely good news. The camera uses Sony's 'Exmor R' image sensor which claims to offer higher sensitivity and less image noise — Sony Ericsson says it the Arc S's camera will perform better in dim lighting than traditional mobile phone cameras. While our real world tests revealed it performed slightly better in low light than other phone cameras, the XPERIA Arc S still won't replace a stand alone digital camera, especially if you're looking to take plenty of night time photos. However, the Arc S remains an excellent camera phone and produces images with good detail and great colour reproduction with minimal image noise. Th Arc S also records good quality 720p HD video. Unfortunately, the camera lens remains impractically positioned: it's too easily covered by your hand when you hold the phone to take a photo.
The XPERIA Arc S has a microSD card slot, but Sony Ericsson has only included a paltry 320MB of internal storage. Sony Ericsson includes an 8GB card in the sales package
The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc S has below average battery life. Most users will get around 24 hours of life out of the XPERIA Arc's 1600mAh battery before it needs a recharge, but heavy users may need an injection of power before then. Our review unit often ran out of juice before the end of the day during testing.
The Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc S is exclusive to Telstra in Australia and is available for $10 per month on Telstra's $59 Freedom Connect plan over 24 months (totalling $69 per month) or $600 outright.