• Here’s the first part of our Sony Ericsson Xperia arc review, with our first impressions and photos of the phone itself, plus examples photos taken with the 8-megapixel camera with Exmor R sensor.

    We didn’t think it would be fair to give the full review until we’d had a chance to have a proper look at the phone. You can now see part two of the review here.

    First impressions – Build, Screen & Camera

    The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc is thin – 8.7mm thin. Side by side against the very first Xperia handset, the X1o, it doesn’t look like a huge difference because the Xperia arc is curved at the back. As a result, it sits higher up and gives the illusion that it’s thicker than it is. But, when you hold it in the hand, you can instantly tell how much thinner it is – and how Sony Ericsson has continued the ‘human curvature’ design language that started with handsets like the Vivaz.

    The Xperia arc ships with Android Gingerbread (2.3.2 to be precise) and is one of the few handsets on the market right now to have this OS, even though some handsets are due to get upgrades in the future. It was great news to hear that the original X10 will get this update too, but there could well be a number of reasons to want to upgrade.

    Two of the key features of the Xperia arc are the Mobile BRAVIA Engine display and the Exmor R camera sensor, with better low light performance thanks to a wider aperture.

    The screen, now using the same 480×854 pixel resolution favoured by Motorola handsets, allows for a greater resolution than the 480×800 screen used before. The LED-backlit screen is also closer to the front glass, making it easier to view outdoors and helping keep the phone as thin as possible.

    Inside the slimmed down handset is room for a 1,500mAh battery, which is likely to be pushed hard to cope with users wishing to enjoy the bright screen for pictures and movies. There’s no auto brightness level, and it’s very tempting to ramp up the brightness to fully appreciate the Mobile BRAVIA Engine at work. This is software that analyses the images displayed on the screen (stills and video) in real time to reduce noise, enhance contrast and manage saturation.

    You can turn it the BRAVIA Engine off, but there’s little reason to do so as it doesn’t enhance things to the point where they ever appear unnatural. However, there may be a impact on the battery for the extra processing time required.

    The first thing to test was the camera, and the camera interface is considerably better than the original X10 interface (which is going when it gets the Gingerbread update). Now you can swipe left to see a gallery, or right to access a menu with all the key settings on one single screen. There are plenty of options here – perhaps too many, as it could cause confusion when some options only become available when other things are selected.

    The still image controls are:

    • Capturing Mode (Normal, Scene Recognition and Smile Detection)
    • Resolution (8MP for 4:3 and 6MP for 16:9, plus 2MP for 4:3 or 16:9)
    • Touch Capture (On/Off) for pressing on the screen to take a photo
    • Scenes (Off, Landscape, Night Portrait, Sports, Document, Portrait, Night Scene, Beach & Snow, Party)
    • Flash (Auto, Off, Fill Flash, Red-eye Reduction) – no more advanced menu to turn the light on or off!
    • Self-timer (10 Seconds, 2 Seconds)
    • Focus Mode (Single autofocus, Macro, Infinity, Multi autofocus, Face Detection, Touch Focus)
    • Exposure Value (+/- 2)
    • White Balance (Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Daylight, Cloudy)
    • Metering (Centre, Spot, Average)
    • Image Stabiliser (On/Off)
    • Geotagging (On/Off)
    • Shutter Sound (1, 2, 3, Off)

    The video controls are:

    • Scenes (Off, Landscape, Beach & Snow, Party, Portrait, Night mode, Sports)
    • Video Size (HD 720p, VGA, MMS, Full Wide VGA, QVGA)
    • Exposure Value (+/- 2)
    • Focus Mode (Single autofocus, Infinity, Face Detection)
    • Photo light (On/Off)

    When the photos were taken, it was after 1830 and the sun was setting. Light was still sufficient but fading, and noise is present – especially on the indoor shots. Although the photos are not bad, they’re not as fantastic as expected given the hype over the Exmor R sensor usually found in mid-to-high end Sony cameras.

    Even with the huge range of settings, and some swapping between modes (for example, when taking the close-up images), there may still be a need for some tweaking within the software to improve the results from the camera.

    Update: You can now read the full review of the Xperia arc in part two of our review.

    Get all the photos on the next page…

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