Xperia Arc: Hands On

Until seeing the Xperia Arc up close, I' d never been excited about a Sony Ericsson phone. (I'd describe my mood about the rumored Playstation Phone as cautiously optimistic.)

To my surprise, the Xperia Arc was impressive in both hardware and software. It's as if Sony took the missteps of the Xperia X10 -- outdated Android, unremarkable specs -- and learned.

For a 4.2-inch phone, the Arc carries its size gracefully, and the gently-curved slap is refreshingly lacking in gimmicks. As for the screen itself, the so-called BRAVIA display engine easily rivals the iPhone 4′s retina display in wow factor, even though the resolution is lower at 854-by-480 pixels.

A couple other noteworthy hardware features: A dedicated camera button allows you to depress part-way to set autofocus before snapping the picture, and an HDMI output covers the entire phone, not just multimedia. Now you can play Angry Birds on the big screen. I wish the phone had some internal storage, and not just an 8 GB microSD card, but who knows what effect that would have on size and shape.

Though I'm wary of any vendor meddlings with the stock Android experience, Sony's interface has some nice flourishes. Pinching outwards on the home screen takes you to a zoomed-out view of all widgets. Moving an app from the tray out to the home screen requires only a hold and a drag, and while you move the icon, it bends as if pulled back by the momentum of your finger movement. Neat.

Best of all, Sony Ericsson's Xperia Arc ships with Android 2.3. Given the X10 shipped with Android 1.6 while most premium smartphones were running Froyo, I'd say Sony realized its mistake.

Now the question is whether any GSM carriers will subsidize the phone in the United States. AT&T didn't pick up the Xperia X10 until 18 months after it launched in the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada. Hopefully this model will prove more alluring.

Check out our complete coverage of CES 2011.

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