Sony Ericsson laid its cards on the table at the beginning of the year with its Xperia Arc, an extremely classy Android smart phone with a 4.2in screen, 8.1 megapixel camera and the latest Android.
Now it's gone one better with the Xperia Arc S (are you keeping up?) which brings a more powerful 1.4GHz processor and a few other refinements to the table.
Design and build
Like its predecessor, the Xperia Arc S is an extremely classy handset, very slim and light at just under 9mm and 117g, despite its 125x63mm dimensions. It retains that dynamically curved back which Sony Ericsson claims helps it to sit better in your hand, but whether it does or not, it looks lovely. The back, as we've now come to expect from this series, is extremely thin and feels a little flimsy, but then again, it fits snugly, and certainly helps to keep the weight down.
Beneath the touch screen are SE's standard take on the Android control buttons: back, home and menu, skipping the search option. The sides feature a waffer-thin volume rocker and camera button, with microUSB power/sync port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It's a pity they couldn't find room for the headphone jack on top, which includes a power/sleep button and a micro HDMI port hidden behind a plastic cover (lovely, but unlike the original Arc, you'll need to buy your own cable since it doesn't come supplied with one - boo!).
The 4.2in capacitive touch screen offers an impressively sharp resolution of 480x854 pixels and uses Sony's Bravia Engine technology to enhance contrast, boost the vividness of the colours and reduce the potential for noise. Bravia hits the battery pretty hard though, so usefully, you can turn it off when you don't need it. It loses out just slightly to Samsung's Super AMOLED displays and the latest iPhone 4S screen but really, there's not much to complain about, especially when it's beautifully sensitive too.
Interface and OS
The big difference between the Arc S and the original Arc is speed. The older phone had a 1GHz processor and this version takes that up to 1.4GHz backed by 512MB RAM. It's still single, not dual core, but the difference is noticeable - while the original Arc showed no real sign of lag, as such, this one just moves quicker, nipping between apps with aplomb.
It's running Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread, which isn't quite the latest version, but Sony Ericsson has recently confirmed that it will be rolling out the very latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade to this and other Xperia handsets, probably in the New Year.
As usual, Sony Ericsson has its own look for the Android icons and it has a few widgets of its very own, notably Timescape, which collects all your social networking updates into a single, scrollable stream. Facebook has also been integrated more deeply into the OS, offering constant updates and opportunities to 'like' tracks while they're playing, for instance.
Sony Ericsson has also added Swype-style functionality to its keyboard capabilities - the feature that allows you to type without taking your finger off the keyboard. It's not enabled by default though, you'll need to switch it on via the keyboard settings, but it's very handy for fast-paced emails.
The 8.1 megapixel camera is largely the same as last time, but while the original was fast, this one's even faster, starting up in less than two seconds. It's good for multiple quick snaps too, since it's ready to take another picture pretty much immediately after you've snapped the first. Features include autofocus, an LED flash and smile detection as well as Sony's Exmor R camera sensor which helps to improve shooting in lower light situations.
Picture quality is very good, just about as good as you'll get on a smart phone these days, with sharp edges and realistic colours. Like its predecessor it can record 720p HD video too, which you can transfer to a suitable TV directly via the HDMI port.
Apps and browser
The Android browser is neat and efficient, plus this version includes Flash support, so you can see just about all the streaming video that website designers intended.
Media and connectivity
Movies look great on the large, sharp screen and the Android player usefully allows you to stretch films to fit, so you can avoid those annoying letterbox bars. The music player was good the first time round, but this one includes SE's xLOUD technology, which boosts the clarity of the sound and the supplied headphones are a cut above the average too.
Performance and battery life
There's only about 320MB of memory available on the handset, but it should come with an 8GB microSD card as standard and you can add up to 32GB with your own card if you feel the need.
The trouble with a gorgeous screen, millions of apps on tap and a powerful processor means that the battery tends to take a bit of a hammering and we barely managed to get through a full day of heavy use.
- Slim, sleek design
- Terrifically sharp 4.2in screen
- Fast 1.4GHz processor
- Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread
- Not a huge advance on the original Arc
Verdict: The angel at the top of Sony Ericsson's Christmas tree is a beauty to be sure, and has all the latest Android innovations you could wish for (with the promise of more to come in the New Year). It looks great, has a terrific screen, excellent camera and a new faster processor, but if you've already shelled out for the original Arc, it's probably not worth upgrading just yet.