Look past the flaws and you’ll see something beautiful.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S runs on the Google’s Android OS version 2.3.4 Gingerbread. This is a slight step above the rest of the crowd as they all still use 2.3.3 at least they did when this phone was released. 2.3.4 includes some minor improvements over previous Gingerbread iterations, one of these is Swipe. Similar to the popular Swype app, Swipe allows you to glide over the letters you want to type to form a word. Swipe also uses T9 which means you get suggestions for the word before you’re finished with it. Overall Swipe was easy to use even in portrait mode and the word prediction was quite accurate.
As with Sony Ericsson’s other Android phones, the arc S comes with the Timescape UI. The Timescape app takes your text messages, call logs and news feeds from social sites such as Facebook and Twitter and displays them in a 3D-like tile on your homescreen. The phone comes with five homescreens that are filled with widgets and apps out of the box but you can customize the screens yourself.
Unlike HTC’s new Sense 3.0, you can’t add any additional homescreens so five is all you get. You can create folders to keep similarly categorized apps so you can essentially fill your homescreens with all your apps for easy access. Using two fingers on an empty part of a homescreen in a zoom in/zoom out gesture displays all the apps and widgets on your five screens floating around in a space-like environment. Touch one of them and you are taken to that screen. It’s similar to HTC’s Leapview but instead of your homescreens put on display, you get your apps and widgets.
Overall Sony Ericsson has done a decent job in making the OS feel less generic. Viewing apps is similar to how you view them on the iOS, swiping from side to side to go through the various app-filled windows rather than scrolling through from top to bottom. They have also included a snapshot feature which you can get to by holding down the power button and choosing it from a list of options. One thing I did not like about this customized version of Android was the lack of music player access when the screen is locked. When listening to music I have gotten used to the basic player options easily accessible in the lock screen, the Xperia arc S has none. You have to unlock the screen and access the player that way. It’s not a major issue but it’s quite frustrating unlocking the phone to skip a track.
The Xperia arc S comes with GPS and A-GPS for use with Google Maps. The phone was able to grab a satellite signal in under 30 seconds and it took half that the next time. With the surrounding area prefetched, you could navigate the map without using mobile data but once you’ve added too much map data it seems you have to prefetch older map data again which is rather limiting. Of course if you have a data plan this is not an issue but it would be nice to be able to load maps for constant use without accessing the internet. This is where Wisepilot comes in.
I found the Wisepilot app in the default Sony Ericsson homepage in the browser. I registered my account, downloaded the .apk and chose English as my language. With Wisepilot you can use the maps online or download the maps you want to your phone. With the map of the UAE downloaded I opened it to find the street names, suburbs, etc. were in Arabic, and I couldn’t get it to display them in English. Wisepilot does offer turn by turn navigation in Arabic and English so imagine getting a map in Arabic but getting navigation instructions in English. If there was a fix to this issue, Wisepilot could be a good alternative to Google Maps. Good on SE to include alternative maps but the implementation needs a lot of improvement.
The 1500mAh battery gave me an average usage time of 24-30 hours. This was with talking-time of about 30 minutes, games for 30 minutes, GPS for an hour or so and music for 3-4 hours. I also had WiFi on all the time, took a few pictures with the camera and used Facebook and the browser. Not bad considering many Android phones don’t last a day of usage without needing a recharge.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S is a mixed bag of sorts- excellent screen, great camera, a virtually lag free interface despite being equipped with only a single core processor. The Timescape UI did well to hide most of the Android OS and the speaker was loud enough to fill a big room with music, albeit tinny music. I did not like the viewing angles of the screen which ruined a nearly perfect display and the placement of the headphone jack and lack of music controls on the lock screen limited its use as a walkman.
I can’t recommend current owners of the Xperia arc to upgrade to this phone; the faster processor just doesn’t justify that, nor does the OS upgrade since the arc will be getting 2.3.4 as well. Had they improved the screen, added a front facing camera and offered other differences to the original that would be a different story. However, for anyone else looking for a high end Android smartphone, the arc S is a pretty good choice.