Hands on – Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

We take a first look at Sony Ericsson's brand new wafer-thin, Android 2.3-powered smartphone

Sony Ericsson has already announced details of its new Xperia arc handset over at CES but Stuff.tv has managed to get its mitts on the Android-fuelled handset for a quick once over. After dropping off the pace with the good but not great Xperia X10, the Japanese Swedish outfit is hoping the arc will put them back with the smartphone leaders. Early signs suggest the manufacturer might just have rediscovered its mojo.

If you haven’t sussed already, the Arc get its name from its bowed backbone. Sony Ericsson continues with its ‘Human Curvature’ design ethos first seen on the Xperia X10 but this time inverts the spine. Not only does it rest nicely in the palm but it gives the arc a deliciously thin profile; it measures 8.7mm at its thinnest point and 9mm at its thickest, making it, by our calculations, the skinniest smartphone around.

Sony Ericsson bigged up the premium materials at the CES launch but we have to admit being underwhelmed when we first handled its sleek torso. Granted, it’s well made and, weighing 117g, considerably lighter than the X10 (it’s also a tad longer than its stablemate), but its doesn’t ranking alongside the iPhone 4’s hi-calibre engineering.

Rumours of Sony’s Bravia TV tech making it onto Sony Ericsson handsets have been doing the rounds for a long time but now it’s finally happened. The Mobile BRAVIA Engine is designed to boost the screen performance by reducing noise, sharpening the detail, managing the colour and enhancing the contrast. The demo we saw showed the screen minus Bravia and then activated and the difference was striking.

The 4.2-inch 854x480 pixel displays on the preproduction handset we saw still didn’t burn the retinas quite like the iPhone 4 but it’s nevertheless quite stunning. Sony Ericsson says the Bravia tech works better on a TFT display rather than AMOLED and the display is sealed flush against the scratch resistant mineral glass to heighten the impact.

Like the X10, the Arc packs an 8.1MP camera but we’re told performance in low light conditions has been radically improved thanks to a new EXMOR R CMOS sensor. This is based on the sensor technology from Sony’s camera and handycam range and judging by the demo we saw it effectively lifts the gloom and shadows that can sometimes ruin photos taken indoors.

Sony Ericsson got a reputation for being seriously late with Android OS updates, with the X10 only recently getting Éclair 2.1 (X10 owners will be disappointed to here the upgrades stops with 2.1 with only a multi-touch update forthcoming). Thankfully the handset manufacturer is making up for past indiscretions by shipping the arc with Gingerbread 2.3, sans support for NFC, and future-proofing for Honeycomb 3.0 upgrades.

The UI is similar to the 2.1-running X10 with a few cosmetic tweaks. The social networking Timescape widget is slicker and easier to modify while Mediascape is more lucid to use, especially the music player. The Xperia Arc is expected to hit the shop end of March, beginning of April, sniffing around the £35/£40 monthly contract mark and arriving in Misty Silver and Midnight Blue finishes.