We found images we captured outdoors of shrubs, trees, and winter street scenes to be crisp, with vibrant colors. The same can be said of indoor shots and low-light pictures using the fill flash were especially pleasing. Subjects were illuminated but not blown out by overly aggressive lighting.
Yet, I did run into a few annoyances. The dedicated shutter button will launch the camera but won't wake the phone up if the screen is locked. Also, for some reason, the default resolution of the camera is 6 megapixels, not 8, forcing you to make that change in the settings (the other resolution options are 2 megapixels in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios). Similarly, in auto-scene mode, the Arc S lists only basic camera options like geotagging, a self-timer, and the digital zoom. Kicking the phone into Normal capture mode, however, unlocks manual settings like White Balance, Exposure, and Image Stabilizer. The phone can also create pictures in standard wide panorama shots or even in a 3D panorama format. You accomplish this by placing the camera in Panorama mode, hitting the shutter button and panning the phone slowly across its field of vision. You can then view 3D panoramas you've created on compatible 3D HDTVs via the phone's HDMI port. I plan to test this feature and update the review as soon as possible.
The Xperia Arc imaging prowess extends to video as well. Its 720p HD camcorder captured very smooth movies both indoors and outside without any pixelation or stutters. The handset's microphone also did a good job of picking up subjects, an improvement over the previous Arc.
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) and unlocked Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S on AT&T's network in New York. Call quality was satisfactory. Volume was high and voices sounded clear and natural, but the earpiece doesn't get particularly loud. Callers described our voice as clean and free of clipping and they couldn't easily tell we were on a cellular line.
Calls made through the underpowered speakerphone were not quite as pleasing. People on the other end said that I sounded free of distortion and they had no problem understanding me. But things got worse when I moved a few feet away from the phone since volume was low even in a small conference room and callers reported hearing slight background hum.
Certainly no multicore superphone, the Xperia Arc S comes moderately equipped with a single-core, 1.4GHz Snapdragon S2 MSM8255 processor, 512MB of RAM, and 1GB of internal storage. These days, any cutting-edge handset worth its salt, from Samsung Galaxy S II to the iPhone 4S, all rely on dual-core CPUs. Also, quad-core Tegra 3 chips from Nvidia could hit as soon as early 2012. Still, the Arc S launched apps quickly, and menu navigation was nimble, with no noticeable lag.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S call quality sample Listen now:
Data, however, is a different story. Though technically a 3G handset, we clocked middling average download speeds of 1.9 Mbps. Uploads were just as uninspiring, coming in at 1.1 Mbps. By comparison, devices on Verizon's 4G LTE network tend to be much faster (15Mbs down, 7 Mbps up).
But for what the Xperia Arc lacks in data throughput, it makes up in longevity. Sony Ericsson claims the phone has a rated battery life of 7 hours and 25 minutes of talk time and 19 days of standby time. In anecdotal testing, the phone lasted over 24 hours during moderate use. In another test, it played music for 18 hours straight while I occasionally launched apps and flipped though settings menus. According to the FCC, the phone's digital SAR measures 0.66 watt per kilogram.
There aren't many handsets with lovelier lines than the Sony Xperia Arc S, except perhaps the original Xperia Arc. While this refreshed model features peppier processing and comes in four spiffy color schemes, not much has really changed. Still, much of what the phone offers remains compelling such as an outstanding 8.1 megapixel camera, smooth 720p video recording, the smart Timescape UI, not to mention long battery life. On the other hand, the unlocked phone's prohibitive $440 price tag, lack of both dual-core power, and Android Ice Cream Sandwich, in addition to slow data, make it a tough sell.