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Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S Review

Sony and Ericsson have recently undergone a fairly polite if very expensive divorce. As far as I can tell, Ericsson got the money while Sony was left looking after the kids phones. As such the Xperia Arc S I bought recently is a bit of a reject – becoming increasingly difficult to find while Sony busies itself procreating alone. So while it’s not cutting edge (it was released late last year and the successors have already been announced) there are deals out there, starting at £15 a month for 24-month contracts.

The Arc S is a direct upgrade to last year’s Arc, with a 1.4GHz single-core processor to give it a little more oomph. I received the white version, which has a glossy white plastic front and back, with a silver plastic strip on the sides accentuating the arcuate profile. IT really is curved, and very thin in the centre, which allows it to slip easily into a trouser pocket despite being more than 1 cm longer and wider than my previous phone. The front panel is dominated by a 4.2″ bright, high-contrast touchscreen which is one of the standout features of the phone, heavily marketed using the BRAVIA brand. Below this there are three hard buttons for back, home and menu which I find more useful than the touch-sensitive alternatives. On the back is an 8MP camera and LED flash, the sides are adorned with a headphone port, micro-HDMI port and micro-USB charging socket.

Firing it up, you get Android 2.3 for now although I’m promised that 4.0 is on its way, unlike previous SE phones which tended to be orphaned on outdated versions. Sony have of course put their own stamp onto the basic Android layout, with a social networking collector called Timescape and their own range of basic functionality apps if you want to use them. There are five home screens which can accommodate widgets and shortcuts, it would be nice to have a couple more as I’m getting a bit cluttered already. The Timescape app was relegated straight away, and their media management page might well be the next to go. Moveable quick shortcuts for turning on or off the Wi-Fi, 3G data, Bluetooth, Ringer, and GPS are useful though. Tethering works very well, in fact the internet here is down at the moment and I’m writing this from my PC but using the phone as a wi-fi hotspot and both data speed and lag times are unobtrusive enough.

There’s enough power on tap to play a game and listen to music concurrently, and enough storage on the supplied 8 Gb card to fit a selection of songs, games and video. Getting material onto the phone with Sony’s own software is a bit hit-and-miss though. Creating and syncing audio playlists is easy and can be achieved over USB or wi-fi, but sending a video caused it to re-encode at a terrible quality to get it into a supported format – meaning that the much-advertised HDMI output was pointlessly blocky. A direct transfer and playback from a 3rd-party media player is a better bet.

The camera is adequate enough for snapshots and blogging, but doesn’t approach even basic compact digital cameras for colour balance or image quality. Saying that, it’s just about enough for me if I’m not going to drag the SLR around, and it works fine with the WordPress app. The only real problem is a sizeable shutter lag coupled with a very tiny and stiff shutter button.

General performance is responsive enough, although opening and searching through contacts can often bring a slowdown.The 1.4 GHz is probably helping here, and you can certainly feel it getting hot at times. This is at the expense of battery life however, which if I’m being honest is fairly pants. Running a fast processor and a large bright screen yet cutting away at the bit of the phone that generally hides a battery isn’t a recipe for all-day use. While I’m not surprised that using the phone has led to emptying the battery, the general drain rate on stand-by isn’t too hot either and my first investment was a spare charging lead for the office.

It’s all about compromise though, and this seems to have hit about the right spot for me. The slim profile makes it much more portable than some of the other large-screened phones, and the processor is fast enough for what it’s asked to do at the moment. Battery life will always be an issue, but if charged-up overnight it should last through the average day. Would I recommend it? It’s difficult to say since the world and his wife have announced new phones this week, but if there’s a good deal going then this is almost certainly one of the phones to be shifted and if it’s priced to sell then you could do a lot worse.