Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Software Review

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Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Review

Over the past week, I have been reviewing the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, Sony's Android camera-phone. Yesterday, I shared my thoughts about the device's hardware in my review. Now, I am going to review the software that comes on the device and how well it works in my life.

Pros

  • Comes with lots of useful software out of the box
  • Well deigned Xperia UI interface overlay
  • Customised themes applicable across the UI

Cons

  • On my device, the launcher and menu crashed several times
  • Timeline and Infinite view are not universal across the software
  • Lack of pre-installed widgets - of course more are available in the Android market

Xperia UI

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The latest software update for the Xperia Arc included Android Gingerbread - updated to 2.3.4  in September - which was customised by Sony Ericsson. The Xperia UI was added and I must say I like it. Originally, the Xperia UI was blue and this could be seen throughout the software on the phone; backgrounds in menus, pop-ups and suchlike. Many users were unhappy with the lack of customisation available, and Sony recognised this and, in their update to the software, enabled themes. This is a feature of the Xperia UI that spans the entire operating system. From the homescreen, a long press will bring up the option menu (seen above) which allows a themed to be selected. The themes available change the colour of the UI.

Homescreen

While we're at the homescreen, I'll explain the nifty enhancements Sony Ericsson has made. One of these is the ability to quickly see an overview of all the widgets placed on the homescreen. This works much like the pinch gesture in HTC Sense, but instead of displaying a plain grid of homescreens displays widgets floating around making it easy to quickly navigate to a specific one.

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The widgets included in the Xperia UI are pretty standard; however, toggle for WiFi, Bluetooth, Data, GPS, etc. are included. Apart from this, only basic widgets and folders are available.

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Applications

Let's get on to the applications that come with the phone. Below, I have listed all of the software that was pre-loaded on our device:

  • Alarms - basic application to set and manage alarms
  • BBC iPlayer - the official application for catching up on BBC content
  • Browser - the default Android browser with little customisation
  • Calculator - the default Android calculator, themed to match the Xperia UI
  • Calendar - a very nice customised version of the default calendar with a multi-panel layout
  • Camera - as fully featured as it's possible to get with face detection and various other options
  • Clock - standard application for using the phone as a table clock
  • Connected Devices - allows a media server to be set up so content can be viewed on a TV or another device
  • Contacts - the default application with a customised 'infinate' view which I explain later
  • Data Monitor - allows alarms to be set to control the mobile data used by the device to save incurring unnecessary costs
  • Downloads - allows downloads from the browser and other applications to be managed
  • Email - designed with a muti-panel layout much like the calendar to take full advantage of the device's large screen
  • Extension Search - allows Timeline extensions to be found in the Android Market
  • Facebook - the official application for Android with added synchronisation features
  • Flash Player - Adobe Flash Player 10.3 for mobile devices allows flash content to be viewed in applications
  • FM Radio - when the headset is plugged in, any radio station can be found in the application
  • Friends' Music and Videos - a whole host of music and videos shared by Facebook friends
  • Gallery - the standard 3D gallery of Android with minimal customisation
  • Get Apps - a miniature Market with recommended applications from Sony Ericsson
  • Get Games - the same as Get Apps, but with recommended games
  • Gmail - the standard Google Mail application for sending and receiving emails
  • Google Search - the standard search application used to search within applications and the web
  • Let's Golf HD - the popular Gameloft game for mobile devices allows you to play golf in a cartoon world
  • Liveware Manager - let's the user decide what happens when external hardware, such as headphones or a charger, are plugged into the device
  • Maps - the standard Google Maps application for mobile devices
  • Market - the Android Market; where you can find hundreds of thousands of applications to download
  • Messaging - the default text messaging application with MMS capabilities
  • Music - Sony Ericsson's Music application which makes album artwork the centre of attention
  • NeoReader - a one and two dimensional barcode reader
  • News and Weather - provides updates about weather in a specified location and news regarding customised topics
  • OfficeSuite - the lite version of the application that allows documents in various formats to be read on the device
  • Phone - the dialler, merged with the contacts application (this does not include  standard T9 functionality)
  • Settings - the default Android settings application with an added 'Sony Ericsson' option for customisation
  • Setup Guide -  takes you through all of the basic settings when the phone is first started up and at any later time of your choosing
  • Store - this is Sony Ericsson's PlayNow store for downloading games and applications directly from them
  • Support - a fully featured support application that can help with everything on the device
  • Sync - allows the device to be synchronised with Sony Ericsson's servers for backing up content
  • Talk - the Google Talk application for Android devices, but with no video calling due to the lack of a front-facing camera on the device
  • Timescape - Sony Ericsson's customised all-incorporating social network application that displays updates from Facebook, Twitter, Calls, Messages and more
  • Touchnote - a 3rd party application that allows photos taken with the camera to be sent as a postcard; one free credit included
  • TrackID - a music identification application that works much like Shazam or Soundhound
  • Update Centre - lets you quickly check if there are any software updates available  for the device
  • Video Unlimited - Sony Ericsson's film rental service built right into the device
  • Voice Search - Google's voice recognition based voice search application which also allows voice actions
  • YouTube - the default Android YouTube application for watching videos on the web in a native application

Timeline

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As I said, Sony Ericsson has included their Timeline application in this device and a new 'infinite' view in the contacts application. The Timeline presents all of your social feeds in a beautiful carousel layout.  You can scroll through all of your friends updates on cards. Timeline isn't limited to standard services like Facebook and Twitter though - it links with Calls and Messaging too, but the API can be used by developers meaning there are many different plugins available. Music, Pictures, Gmail, Fourquare and YouTube are just some of the extra plugins available.

Gaming

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Gaming on the Xperia Arc is very smooth. I tried Need For Speed Shift, Let's Golf HD - which is pre-installed on the device - and N.O.V.A 2 HD on the device and the 1GHz processor had no trouble with running them. Even when multitasking multiple games, the device ran very smoothly. There will be no problems in downloading and playing games from the Android Market on this device.

Video

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The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is branded as the ultimate media device and, as you would expect, video playback - both streaming and local playing - is handled very well by the device. The video player included in the device is completely capable of all users' needs.

Conclusion

Overall, the software on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is very well designed and highly customisable which is very important to most-first time average Android smartphone buyers. The device has many applications pre-installed which could save you some time searching the Android Market and the web for the best apps. However, the great number of applications on the device could also bee seen as a negative thing to more experienced users who do not want 'bloatware' using up the free space on their device. Therefore, I would say that the software on the Xperia Arc is suited to users who want to use their phone as they get it, and perhaps do not consider themselves power users. But, if the user is experienced in applying custom ROMs to Android phones, they certainly should not be deterred as the Xperia Arc boasts an impressive set of hardware specifications.

© Graham Macphee 2011