The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S is a minor upgrade of the original Arc, which is barely half a year old. It boasts the same super-thin case design, 4.2-inch screen and Android 2.3. The big difference is that the phone is now powered by a 1.4GHz processor.
The Xperia Arc S is available SIM-free for around £350.
Should I buy the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S?
If you were one of the many people who dashed out to purchase the original Xperia Arc a few months ago then you're probably feeling slightly annoyed by the release of the Arc S.
Certainly, if you're already an Arc owner, there's little reason to fork out more cash for this augmented edition of the handset. While it boasts a quicker processor and has a few neat software embellishments under its bonnet, it doesn't represent a big enough advancement to justify an upgrade from the first model.
If, however, you held back on picking up Sony Ericsson's Android flagship phone then the Arc S could tempt you. We'd have liked a slightly beefier CPU, but in practically every other regard, this phone remains a front-line challenger and one of the most appealing smart phones we've seen all year.
Aside from the boost in processing power, the other most significant difference between the original Arc and this updated unit is the firmware. The Arc S is running Android 2.3.4, with the very latest version of Sony Ericsson's Timescape UI sitting neatly on top of it.
Some genuinely useful improvements have been factored in since the launch of the first Arc. Our personal favourite is the ability to take screen grabs by holding down the power button and selecting the 'Take Screenshot' option from the pop-up menu.
As fans of trace-to-type input option Swype, we're also very pleased to see that Sony Ericsson has upgraded its touchscreen keyboard to include a similar system. It's not enabled by default, though, so you'll need to dig into the settings to switch it on. We also noticed that it's not quite as accurate as Swype, but it's thoroughly welcome all the same.
Sony Ericsson's sound-boosting xLOUD tech has also been included in this updated firmware. This basically pumps up the volume of the phone's external speaker, which is handy if you struggle to hear your notifications or ringer when you're out and about. An undesirable side-effect is that some ringtones and sounds distort due to the enhanced volume, but you can switch off xLOUD altogether if this becomes an annoyance.
Other introductions in the firmware are less welcome. Facebook integration runs deeper, with music sharing and notification alerts being baked-into the user interface. The trouble is, even when you turn off the occasionally obnoxious notifications system and disable Facebook for Xperia syncing, messages continue to clog up your lock screen.
Access to Sony Ericsson's Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited online stores is also included on the Arc S. From here you can download albums and movies to watch on your phone, and the selection is surprisingly decent.
The Xperia Arc S' screen really is a stunner. Although it's slightly smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S2's 4.3-inch display, it still looks suitably imposing. While we're comparing screens, it should be pointed out that Sony Ericsson has retained the LED-backlit TFT LCD that was used in the original Arc.
It's put to shame by the bright and bold Super AMOLED Plus variant that is found on the aforementioned Galaxy S2, but it still manages to out-perform pretty much every other Android mobile display you could mention.
The 480x854-pixel resolution has a density of 233 pixels per inch, which means razor-sharpness and colours that look natural and striking. That's actually higher than the 217ppi found on the Galaxy S2 but some way off the market-leading 330ppi on the iPhone 4S. The brightness is impressive, although this has a detrimental impact on the phone's stamina. Unlike AMOLED tech screens -- which turn off black pixels to save power -- LCD displays are considerably thirstier when it comes to power demands.
To be perfectly blunt, the Xperia Arc S is identical to the original Arc in terms of physical design. In fact, if you placed the two phones side by side you wouldn't be able to tell them apart, as the Arc S features no unique markings, branding or logos to suggest it's an upgrade of the hardware.
While those of you who like to swagger about town with the latest tech in your hands may feel dissatisfied, we doubt many will be overly troubled. The Xperia Arc was -- and still is -- a smart-looking phone, and we're very much of the opinion that when something isn't broke, you sure as hell don't try to fix it.
As its name suggests, the Arc S has a unique design where the back of the phone curves inwards. This means that the ends of the phone are thicker than the middle -- an odd situation to say the least, but one that takes just seconds to become accustomed to.
While the Xperia Arc S is certainly a looker in terms of pure aesthetics, we wish Sony Ericsson had been a little more extravagant when it came to materials. The phone's external casing is entirely plastic, and the battery cover feels cheap and springy. It's a far cry from the lush metal and tempered glass chassis of the iPhone 4.
Power and internal storage
The biggest difference between the Xperia Arc and the Xperia Arc S is the processor. Whereas the original model had a 1GHz CPU, this updated version has a 1.4GHz chip. It's still single-core, though, and that's rather disappointing. If Sony Ericsson really wanted to future-proof its flagship handset, a dual-core setup would have been the more sensible option.
Still, the bolstered CPU offers speedy performance. The Arc S makes short work of most tasks, and it's only when you've got several things happening simultaneously -- downloads, installations, message notifications -- that it starts to slow down.
There's around 400MB of internal storage space on the Arc S, and an 8GB microSD card is bundled with the phone. For the average user that should be more than enough space to play with, but should your demands be higher, you'll be pleased to know that the handset supports cards of up to 32GB capacity.
The Arc S is blessed with a blisteringly quick browser which comes with Adobe Flash support, so you can enjoy the Web to its fullest. The browser itself has changed little since the previous Arc, which isn't a concern as it was already a very dependable piece of software.
The capacitive screen means that multi-touch pinch to zoom gestures are supported, and the pin-sharp resolution makes viewing text-heavy sites a pleasure rather than a chore.
Camera and video recording
We try not to get carried away with mobile phone cameras here at CNET UK, but the 8.1-megapixel snapper on the Arc S really is a beauty. It boasts Exmor R for Mobile tech, which means it has a backlit CMOS sensor that is much better at shooting in low light conditions.
It's also pleasing to note that the Arc S has a dedicated camera button, although the two-stage mechanism is a little awkward. Pushing down slightly locks the autofocus, and pressing all the way down takes the shot. The problem is that the button clicks on the first stage, leading you to assume that it's already grabbed the image.
The 8.1-megapixel sensor might seem like overkill, but you'll appreciate the difference when you wirelessly view the resultant images on your TV set. You can link up the phone using either the HDMI socket or share media with a DLNA-compatible device.
Video recording in 720p is possible with the Arc S, and while we're disappointed that 1,080p didn't make the cut, this will be more than enough for most users. Again, the HD video clips look brilliant on a full-size screen.
The Arc S has been augmented with the ability to turn 2D shots into 3D images via its 3D Sweep Panorama mode. According to Sony Ericsson, this allows you to create a three-dimensional photo which can be viewed on a 3D TV. Because we didn't have one to hand, we were unable to test this feature, but we can say this: the panoramic shots look fantastic, even though we could only view them in 2D.
Connectivity and battery life
As well as the usual 3G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi b/g/n connectivity, the Arc S is equipped with a HDMI port which allows you to link the phone to your TV. There's no HDMI cable in the box though, so you'll have to buy one yourself.
Thanks to the faster processor and that beautifully bold 4.2-inch screen, the battery inside the Arc S takes one hell of a pounding. If you intend to do a lot of gaming, Web surfing and movie watching, you can expect to reach for that charger at least twice a day. Showing a little more restraint should see you through a full 24 hours.
Compared with the original Xperia Arc, the Arc S doesn't exactly stand out as a massive enhancement. The speed boost is welcome, but a dual-core processor would have enabled the phone to remain a powerful contender well into 2012.
With quad-core handsets around the corner, a single-core CPU on a flagship Android phone is pretty unimpressive. In purely technical terms, the Arc S struggles even against the current competition. The HTC Sensation, Samsung Galaxy S2 and LG Optimus 2X all sport more capable processors.
As the iPhone 4 has proven, however, sometimes the underlying tech isn't the deciding factor. If you're after a good-looking handset with decent features and powerful software, the Arc S remains a solid purchase. The design is gorgeous, the screen striking and the camera astounding. In fact, we'd even go as far as to say that the Arc S' camera is one of the best we've seen on a mobile.
We're also rather taken with the myriad improvements that have been introduced in the Sony Ericsson Timescape user interface and Android 2.3.4. While it's true that this updated firmware will be rolled out to other Xperia phones -- including the original Arc -- the Arc S is getting them straight out of the box.
We certainly wouldn't suggest that current Arc owners rush out to spend their money on this relatively minor upgrade, but if you're in the market for a new Android-powered smart phone, the Arc S should definitely be on your list of potential purchases.