Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Camera Phone Review - We test the new Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc with 8 megapixel Exmor R backlick CMOS sensor, HUGE screen, and Google's latest mobile operating system: Android 2.3.3.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is one of Sony Ericsson's most recent camera phones, and features an 8 megapixel Exmor R Backlit CMOS sensor, designed to get as much light as possible onto the sensor, by moving all the wiring to the back of the sensor. Here we look at the abilities of this phone as a digital camera.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Features
The phone features GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, MicroSD slot, and Google's Android operating system. This gives you access to a whole host of applications that now come as standard with most smartphones, such as satnav, web browser, BBC iplayer, email, youtube, MMS messaging, calendar, FM radio, downloadable apps, and more. But what we'll focus on is the performance of this mobile phone as a camera.
However, before you can really do much on an android phone (for example go on the internet or download apps such as Angry birds, or many numerous camera apps...), you need to sign into the phone with a google account, this can be quite awkward if you're in an area like Worksop where the mobile phone coverage is poor to say the least.
Once setup and on the phone, there are 5 home screens, where you can put "widgets" - things like an app to tell you what the weather is, or a shortcut to your email, or google search. The menu screens feature 3 screens of applications already installed on the phone, and pressing the shutter release button will take you into the camera. To lock and unlock the phone you press the power button, or home key, and to unlock you slide a bar across the screen.
Internal phone storage: 1GB (up to 320MB free), RAM: 512MB
Memory card slot: microSD™, up to 32GB (8gb provided)
3.5mm audio jack
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Handling
Camera apps - simply search for "Camera" in the Android app store, and you'll find literally thousands of results (over 6000!), which can make sorting through the programs available quite daunting. Some of the better photo apps available are:
Retro Camera - create the lo-fi / lomo look by simulating other cameras. Camera Advance Lite - gives additional camera options, and panoramic mode. Pudding Camera - adds different camera options such as fish-eye, panoramic, and film simulation. Camera360 - gives effects such as HDR, four-colour poster, tilt shift plus more.
Most, if not all, of these are available for free, with a paid version often available with more advanced features.
Unlocking the phone takes a while as there is no dedicated physical button to unlock the phone, and then to get into the camera you either press the shutter release button (and wait), or if you get bored of waiting load up the camera app. This is a fairly slow process and can mean you miss a shot.
If your phone is off and you need to switch it on, before taking a photo, you could be waiting around 36 seconds if it's been on recently, or upto 2 minutes if it's gone completely flat and needed charging again, which as far as switch on times go, is extremely slow - compared to a compact camera with a switch on time of 2 seconds from off to taking a photo! The lower time is fairly standard for smartphones as the iPhone4 takes around 40 seconds to get to the logon screen, and the Nokia N8 takes around 28 seconds.
ISO Performance: ISO settings can't be changed manually with the built in phone application, so we had to alter the lighting conditions in order to get the camera to increase the ISO setting. Looking at the outdoor shots taken in bright sunlight, at ISO80, the lowest ISO setting it possible to see noise in darker areas of the image, with black dots and coloured chroma noise appearing.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc ISO test images
Auto White Balance Performance: Under tungsten lighting the auto white balance performed well with little difference between auto and using the tungsten preset. Under fluorescent lighting the camera performs well with the fluorescent preset making no noticeable difference.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc White-balance test images
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Sample Photos
The camera's small lens is prone to ghosting / flare, and prone to smudges on the lens causing softness in images and low contrast. It's very easy to accidentally touch the lens as it's just on the back of the phone, flush with the phone's back cover.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Lens test images
The camera has low purple fringing, low barrel distortion or pincushion, and macro focusing is reasonably good for a camera phone. However, low detail, high noise at ISO80, soft images, due to over-processing, and high compression (1mb average for 8 megapixel photos - max 1.8mb, minimum 600kb), give disappointing results overall, although the camera does cope quite well with shooting into the sun, and sunny situations. Saturation and contrast levels are high, perhaps too high, and it's likely that if these were lower, image quality may be slightly improved. The LED flash does a fairly decent job of lighting a close subject, and can brighten darker areas well. Images would be best suited for use resized on the internet.
Video recording is good recording 720p, 30fps video with stereo sound using the front and back microphones. Video quality is good although the camera is quite susceptible to wind noise.
Value For Money
The Arc is available for £350 sim free, or free with a contract. This prices it under the iPhone4 sim free, but around the same price as its most similar competitors the HTC Desire HD (around £350) with 4.3inch screen, Samsung Galaxy S (around £299) with 4inch screen, and the Nokia N8 (around £299) with 12 megapixel sensor, and xenon flash.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Verdict
The first thing to hit you about the Arc is the huge screen, and ultra slim profile, with a curved back the phone feels good to hold (as a phone). The second thing to hit you about the Arc, especially if you're used to using your phone as a camera (as I am with the Nokia N8), or normal cameras, is that the shutter release button is TINY, and holding the phone as a camera can often be difficult.
Looking beyond the physical appearance and design of the phone, the image quality produced by the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is acceptable for a mobile phone, but doesn't really challenge compact digital cameras from Nikon / Canon etc. Detail is quite low in photos, images are overly compressed, and colour is overly saturated with high contrast, and despite the backlit Exmor R CMOS sensor, noise is still high (although I wouldn't like to see the results without the backlit sensor!).
The lack of a real flash is probably the biggest downside to using a mobile phone as your only camera with you, but in times when all you want to do is snap a picture and upload straight to twitter / facebook or elsewhere, then the Sony Experia Arc is good. You might even like some of the apps that come as standard such as Google Maps, etc, but then you might not like the short battery life. Overall it makes a good phone, but with an average digital camera*, and images are best resized for use on the web. *Even though it's likely to be better than a lot of other android camera phones.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Pros
Sony's photo interface is a huge improvement on the one built into Google
Large high resolution screen
Instant sharing with Google's photo albums
Great connectivity, wifi, bluetooth, 3G, GPS
Access to numerous camera apps (when will they add apps to cameras?)
LED flash is decent
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Cons
Lacks ISO settings
Shutter button doesn't always take you straight to the camera
Lacks true xenon flash
Low battery life
Prone to scratches
High JPEG compression
High noise even at ISO80
VALUE FOR MONEY
Scores based on using it as a digital camera.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Specifications
Back-lit CMOS (B.S.I.)
Sensor Size (width)
Sensor Size (height)
854 x 480 pixels
Shutter speeds shortest
Shutter speeds longest
80 - 800
1280x720 HD 720p
Manual, Mini USB cable, Power Adapter, Headphones, 8GB MicroSD Card, Battery