In May 2011 I used the Sony Ericsson Experia Arc exclusively in place of my iPhone 3GS for one full week and then I did some comparisons side-by-side as well. Here is my conclusion on how the device and the operating system compare with the iPhone 3GS (keeping in mind that this is now one full version behind and the iPhone 4 is Apple’s latest smartphone).
Here are a few points to keep in mind related to my testing:
– I did not try to make the Arc/Android work like my iPhone, instead I tried to figure out the best way to use the Arc/Android to accomplish what I needed to do
– I did not root or hack the Arc in any way, I kept the original clean configuration and I only worked within the confines of the default operating system functionality
– I only installed apps that I could trust
– I only changed settings that needed to be changed
– I typically use my smartphone for: phone calls, voicemail, texts, email, reading news, facebook, taking notes with evernote, identifying songs with shazam, looking at documents through dropbox, listening to music, watching movies, taking and sharing photos and videos, reading books with iBooks and Kindle.
The display on the Arc is slightly wider and almost a full inch longer than the iPhone. The result is that widescreen movies are a lot bigger on the Arc’s screen. I had no trouble using the Arc’s screen in bright sunlight and I thought it was very nice. That was, until I compared it side-by-side with the iPhone 3GS and despite the ‘Bravia’ engine, the images on the Arc are considerably duller than the iPhone.
I compared movies and apps side-by-side and the iPhone 3GS screen was much brighter and clearer.
I had no problems using the touchscreen on the Arc; however, it felt quite different than the iPhone. It was noticeably less smooth when swiping and the tap gesture was much less reliable. Not sure if this was hardware or software. I found that the interface was much more likely to slide when I was touching buttons than in IOS. I also found that a lot more touch (swipe and tap) gestures failed than with IOS. Some of this is probably just practice, but I am pretty sure that overall the touch controls are less responsive than IOS.
I thought it was strange that so many Arc reviewers made a comment about the external speaker being “tinny” and without bass. I mean how much bass can you get out of such a small speaker? That is until I listened to the speaker. The best word to describe it is “tinny”. It sounds terrible. I listened to the same songs side-by-side with my iPhone 3GS and the sound quality was much, much better on the iPhone. The Arc was louder at full volume, but it sounds terrible.
The sound through the headphones was excellent and I could not tell any difference between it and the iPhone 3GS.
I was very disappointed by the battery life. I completely drained and charged the battery 4 times and it was still maybe at par with my 2 year old iPhone 3GS battery. No wonder Android has so many awesome utilities to see what is using up your battery – you need them. You need to turn off everything you are not using, all the time, or your battery drains very quickly. By the end of the week I was lucky to get one day of normal usage on a single charge (at the beginning it was worse).
I liked the camera and it is definitely better than the camera in the iPhone 3GS. The movie quality on the other hand was quite poor. As other reviewers have noted, there appears to be some software enhancement that makes it look weird if you are moving / panning the camera while shooting. I really like having a separate camera button, but on the Arc it is almost useless. You have to hold it down really hard, and half the time it doesn’t even bring up the camera mode, and if it does, it takes forever. Forget about catching the moment. Unlocking the phone and clicking on the camera app is much faster.
The Arc was disappointingly no better or worse than the iPhone 3GS and I was using the same network I always use with my iPhone 3GS. The phone quality on the iPhones has always been good at best. Not as good as most Blackberry’s or Motorola cell phones I have used.
I had no trouble at all getting started since most of my data is already in the cloud. I added my Google Apps account, my facebook account, I installed and logged in to Evernote, Kindle, and Dropbox without any problems. So within minutes I had my email, contacts, calendar items, facebook, notes, books, and files all synched up just as painlessly as on any iPhone.
Next I wanted my media. At first I looked at how to get my iTunes media synced. I used the Sony Ericsson Media Sync program and after figuring out exactly how to select the correct usb connection mode, I was able to copy media files to my Arc. Converting movies was painfully slow, but that is to be expected. I also set up Doubletwist and had my songs and playlists syncing wirelessly from my Mac iTunes library to my Arc. I did not use this extensively but it seemed to work great for all non-DRM protected music. The Doubletwist app also let me stream media to my Apple TV which was nice.
After working out the iTunes stuff, I also looked at what a typical user would use in a Windows environment if they were starting from scratch (no iTunes). After stumbling around for a while, one of my colleagues pointed me to a program I already had installed on my Windows machines, that I had faithfully ignored for many years: Windows Media Player. It synced very nicely to my Arc and I can honestly say that Windows Media Player is likely better than iTunes now. How the tides have turned. Too bad Microsoft burned itself so badly with earlier versions of this product. The current version seems to mimic almost all of the useful iTunes features and does a much better job in other areas (like grabbing album art/info, updating album/art info, leaving your media in whatever location you want, updating your library based on your media folders automatically, etc.). A very pleasant surprise.
I really liked the default Android keyboard and the ‘vibrate on press’ also seemed to help out. I don’t think that there was any clear advantage either way here, except for the fact that with Android you can download additional keyboard types including some really new input methods like swype.
The home screen setup on my Arc was very much like IOS. You dragged left and right to see additional screens, you dragged an app icon on top of another to create a folder, etc. I don’t know if this is standard Android or part Sony customization. The big difference was the ability to add gadgets to the home screens and also the ability to have animated backgrounds (very cool – even if they are mostly useless). I also liked the ability to add to the home screens the on/off buttons for all the various battery-draining features (wi-fi, data network, gps, screen dimmer, etc.)
Even though I had no trouble finding most of the key apps that I am familiar with from the iPhone, I had some trouble trying to find any other useful apps. I definitely did not spend a lot of time on this, but I did find that I was paranoid about installing apps I did not recognize and it did seem more difficult to find apps (search results always seemed to be cluttered with unrelated apps). I suppose that Google would help me more here and that a bit of research on the Internet would quickly lead me to the right apps. I am used to using the Apple App Store and being able to quickly find and download what I need right away without turning to other sources for help.
There is no doubt that the included Nav app is awesome. If you want turn-by-turn directions and you like the 3-d directional view, this app has you covered and it is free for Android. Any similar app for IOS still costs a lot of money – although I am sure this will likely change.
One byproduct of the “open” system that can cause confusion is the fact that the phone comes with some operating system customization from the phone manufacturer and some customization from the carrier. This means that there are a myriad of phone/carrier combinations all running Android – but all appearing quite different. Unfortunately, the only way to get things back to a standard Android configuration (if such a thing really exists) is typically by “root”ing your phone which is really beyond the average user.
Here is where Android shines for all you geeks. There is an awesome utility that shows you what percentage of your battery has been consumed by what apps. You can get right under the hood and look at applications and processes and all sorts of other neat things that the average user won’t care at all about.
I did not have the Arc long enough to really comment on the stability; however, I did get two device crashes during the week (device rebooted on its own) and I often had apps crash (at least a dozen times on different apps, even after power cycling).
As for performance I was not impressed. Although generally quick to respond, I did notice frequent “lags” between gestures and response. I also had clipped audio and video playback when multi-tasking – something that virtually NEVER happens in IOS (or in iTunes for that matter – how do they do that?).
From my limited testing I came to the following conclusion: the Arc is a nice phone but I didn’t like it nearly as much as my iPhone 3GS and I suspect it would pale in comparison with the iPhone 4. If it had better battery life, a brighter screen and better phone quality, it would be a great choice for the style-minded. The external speaker and video recording should be improved too, but most people will not use these features enough to care.
Android was pretty much what I expected: mature, highly customizable, feature-rich, but definitely more geared towards the technically-inclined.
People make fun of Steve Jobs and his aversion to buttons, but the reality is that the more user controls there are, the more difficult it is to use. Period. The arc has three physical buttons along the bottom of the screen, it has a similar layout of on-screen buttons as per IOS, and it also has a pull down menu from the status bar. I had no trouble using all the controls, but I am not an average user.
I will continue to recommend the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4 to all of my clients, friends and family who are not geeks. The geeks don’t need my recommendation since they already know what they want.