updated 11:45 am EST, Sat January 8, 2011
We check Sony Ericsson's Xperia Arc at CES
While at the Sony booth at CES, we had the opportunity to try Sony Ericsson's new Xperia Arc smartphone and came back fairly impressed. The design stands out the most simply as a speed improvement on the Xperia X10. Where the Mediascape and Timescape custom UIs had bogged even the original 1GHz Snapdragon down, the likely second-generation Snapdragon chip and Android 2.3 combination feels, subjectively, much faster in flipping through media or even just the home screen.
The custom interface has also been given a significant overhaul versus the old design. Where before it was focused seemingly exclusively on being pretty over being efficient, here the functionality takes a greater role. The home screen area now takes a cue from Samsung's TouchWiz on the Galaxy S has a permanent set of shortcuts on the bottom, such as for media or phone calls. We also noticed more helpful widgets, like a polished "now playing" control. Inside, Mediascape is less concerned about decoration and more about getting to music or movies quickly.
In the hand, the phone is defined by its namesake, ultra-thin arcing back. It's not quite as dramatically thin as it's made out to be, but it's noticeably thin and possibly thinner at some points than the iPhone 4. The new screen is somewhat oversold: it's only very slightly larger (0.2 inches more) and, while higher resolution, at 480x854 still won't match the sharpness of the iPhone 4's smaller but 640x960 display. Build quality was also typical Sony Ericsson: it should hold up, but a lot of the trim is simply plastic made to look more expensive than it is.
Some features we couldn't try in show floor conditions, such as the eight-megapixel camera and its combination of a backside-illuminated sensor with a wide f2.4 aperture. Still, the Xperia Arc is a sign that Sony Ericsson is learning some of its lessons. Unlike the X10, which shipped with a version of Android that was already obsolete, the Arc is one of the first phones outside of the Nexus S that has 2.3 installed. We can only hope that the company updates much more aggressively than it did with 2010 phones.