Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S Review

For this week's Mobile Monday column, we look at the Xperia Arc S. It's not a high end model, sitting more in the high end of the mid-range given its feature set. Is that enough to make it an enticing prospect?

What We Like

The Xperia Arc S design stands out; this is a phone that trades on thin. OK, that's not to the same extent as, say, the Motorola RAZR, but the smaller overall form factor of the Arc S means it does a better job of sitting in the hand, and that means it accentuates its thin design more efficiently. It also means it'll fit into your pocket more neatly. The screen display works well in both indoor and outdoor lighting situations without the need for too much tweaking to either extend battery life or legibility.

It took Sony a good few goes to get a pleasant Android experience up and running; its early Androids looked good but ran like geriatric turtles. The Arc S belies its single core processor with snappy performance, and the UI design complements this by looking good. The Xperia Arc S, like the rest of Sony's 2011 range, is expected to get Ice Cream Sandwich some time next year, so there's a modicum of future-proofing built in, which you don't get with every Android handset.

The 8 megapixel camera is fair but not spectacular, in either still or 720p shooting modes. The camera is also 3D capable, with an inbuilt panoramic 3D camera app. It does this with a single camera, which is technically a neat trick -- more on this later.

The Xperia Arc's 1500mAh battery doesn't sound like much, but it manages power sensibly. On heavy use days I could flatten it within the day, but that's not an unusual thing. If you're a moderate user, you should make it home to your charger with the Xperia Arc S still ticking along.

Specs 125 x 63 x 8.7 mm 117 grams 4.2-inch 480x854 1.4GHz Scorpion Processor Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread 512MB RAM 1GB ROM microSD up to 32GB 8MP camera with autofocus, LED flash 720p HD video recording 1500mAh battery

What We Don't Like

The physical buttons on the Xperia Arc S range from slightly awkward to downright annoying. The bottom buttons are more of an aesthetic thing; you'll either like or loathe the slightly smiling thin buttons down there, and it'd certainly be feasible to learn their placement.

The power and camera buttons are another problem altogether. The small power button can be quite hard to hit accurately, but it's got nothing on the camera button, which is downright quirky. I eventually gave up on it and just used tap to shoot, but that's not without its own problems, as unless you're careful you'll introduce shudder in your shots because you're tapping the screen to take them.

The 3D panorama feature is kind of cute, but it's limited in review, because the Arc S doesn't have a 3D capable screen. What this means is that while it's technically capable of shooting 3D, the odds of you adding horrible panning errors into your images is very high indeed, and you won't even know that they're wrong until you hook them up to a 3D TV. That's what happened with my 3D test images; a carefully taken 3D panorama of the harbour bridge and opera house that looked like it might be good was a jumbled mess of nausea inducing pixels on a proper screen.

The Verdict

Evaluating mid-range phones is a tricky task; when you're out at the extremes, whether it's cheerfully cheap but awful phones, or powerhouses with premium prices, it's easy to hit some simple conclusions. The middle ground is harder; there's usually a compromise between price, features and build. It is possible to score bargains in the middle ground, but with contract prices seemingly always tumbling on premium phones, it's a careful judgement game. The Arc S is a decent but not spectacular phone, and that's what you'd expect at this kind of outright price. Contract is another matter; at the kind of pricing you'll pay Telstra for one there's a wide variety of other handset options.

Rather like the thin RAZR, you'd be well served to give the Arc S some hands-on time to ensure that you could live with its curious button layout, and if you're keen on 3D photography, you'd be much better off with a fully 3D capable phone such as the HTC EVO 3D or LG Optimus 3D.

The Xperia Arc S is available through Telstra on a $59 plan (minimum cost $1656) or outright for $600.