Using Sony Ericsson Arc to cover the Royal Wedding

We liked the Sony Ericsson Arc so much – loaned to us by Three – that we decided to put it through its paces – on wedding-day. The question was, for a whole day of intense, outdoor media coverage, could the Arc outperform the iPhone 4?

SE-Arc

Screen

The huge 4.2-inch touchscreen is huge – which meant viewing the route map for the procession was easy.

The humble LED-backlit TFT, it doesn’t have the pizzaz of the AMOLED – however, the 480×854 resolution meant that we didn’t miss the iPhone’s outstanding Retina display – a surprise to us.

It was equally poor in bright sunlight, though. When will anyone fix this?

Camera

The 8.1MP resolution takes a great photo – rivalling that of the iPhone. The reason for that is the Exmor R CMOS sensor. It’s back-illuminated to take smoother, better-quality shots in low light than normal phone cameras. For darkness, it even outperforms Apple’s offering. And in normal light, it’s no slouch either.

It also comes with Smile Detection technology – which automatically snaps when a smile gets big enough (i.e. anytime anyone glanced at Pippa Middleton). Video recording is 720p.

Internet

The web-browser was snappy – partially due to the 1GHz processor, and partially due to Three’s excellent coverage in Hyde Park.

We have to hand it to the network (who lent us the phone), Three lived up to anything the Arc could throw at it. We didn’t have an Arc on another network to compare with, but we noticed that Spotify streaming was surprisingly consistent, unlike our experiences on some other networks.

All the media-rich Flash content for the wedding loaded without a hitch – although sometimes the interface could be a pain, Flash Mobile still isn’t perfect.

Speaker

The Xperia Arc failed the “playing phat tunes in park” test. It’s loudspeaker works fine, it’s just a bit unrefined and muffl-y. The iPhone has it here – despite Sony’s music pedigree.

Form

It’s very thin – which is refreshing. Despite the huge screen, there’s no bulk, making the Xperia pocket friendly.

The plastic case feels a bit cheap, however, which really takes away from the whole experience.

On the plus side, it does make the device incredibly light – a helium balloon compared with the weight of the iPhone. You’ll hardly notice it in your pocket – which left us free to carry more Will & Kate flags

Battery

The battery-life is average. After a full day of Royal activities, it limped home, complaining about its tired legs and sub-10% remaining power.

Conclusion

If the iPhone didn’t exist, then the Arc would be our mobile of choice. The camera is great, it’s light, powerful, has Flash. The only issue is the speaker – but who really uses the loudspeaker function, anyway?

If it were a straight choice between the two… Well, it’s impossible. Sorry.

Sony Ericsson announces Xperia Arc with Mobile BRAVIA engine

Sony makes thousands of products. But despite the technological prowess, the Japanese company has done a pretty poor job of sharing knowledge between departments – until now. The new Xperia Arc smartphone takes all of Sony’s television and camera knowledge, condenses into a tiny form and squeezes into a handset of slim beauty.

Sony-Ericsson-Xperia-Arc

The most outstanding feature (of three impressive ones) is the camera. It boasts Sony’s award-winning Exmor R sensor that, coupled with the f/2.4 lens, enables the capture of high-quality, bright pictures and HD videos even in low light situations. Sony even boast that it’s best-in-class for low-light photography and video capture.

And those previously inaccessible low-light photos will look great printed, as the camera takes shots of up to 8.1 megapixels. Other features transferred from full-sized cameras include the 2.46x smart zoom, auto focus, face detection and LED flash, geo-tagging, image stabilisation, noise suppression, smile detection and HD recording at 720p. There’s even a HDMI-connector to plug into TVs and computer monitors.

After the camera, the “Reality Display” definitely deserves a mention. The phone’s screen earns the special title by using Sony Ericsson’s most advanced phone display technology: the mobile BRAVIA Engine. Inspired by the company’s high-end TV range, it should deliver a crystal clear image on the 4.2-inch. At 854 x 480 pixels, however, the resolution is still much lower than the iPhone’s 960 x 640 display.

All these two winning functions are crammed into the third impressive feature: a super slim body of just 8.7mm at its thinnest part – 0.7mm slimmed than the iPhone. The complete dimensions are 125 x 63 x 8.7 mm, with a weight of just 117 grams – 20 grams less than Apple’s flagship.

The phone will run Android 2.3, so full Flash support is guaranteed. It’ll also have a 1GHz Qualcomm processor, with support for a 32GB memory card. Internal memory is a bit sad though, just 512MB.

Out in the first quarter of 2011, you’ll be able to pick one up in either Midnight Blue or Misty Silver.

Keyboard Pro: Online typing tutor

As someone who writes for a living, typing is an essential tool of my trade. And until Acer Iconica style dual screen tablets become commonplace, most of that typing is done on QWERTY style hardware keyboards. I say most – a few things are bashed out on my iPad but even then I tend to attach a Bluetooth keyboard to speed things up a little. I never officially bothered to learn touch typing – I can bluff my way around the home-keys well enough to get work done – but I’ve always had a nagging feeling that I should knuckle down (no pun intended and as Paul F Thompkins would say “no pun taken”) and learn to touch type. I was going to make it my New Year’s Resolution, but it’s something I actually intend to do so I don’t think it counts.

Typing

In a wonderful case of synchronicity, a Danish software typing firm happened to email me and ask if I’d like to review Keyboard Pro – a web-based typing course. How did they know?

The course is called Keyboard Pro, and has been used (successfully) in Denmark for the past ten years apparently. Branching out, the course has been updated, translated and transformed into a web-based course for UK computer users who take their typing seriously.

Using Flash video, you simply need a login – and don’t have to purchase, install or download any software. Aside from Flash I guess. A series of introductory videos walk you through the system and the key points (which can be summed up as “Don’t look at the keyboard!”). After that a series of exercises will beat the home keys into you and gradually improve your speed. There are a range of keyboard layouts such as Standard, Ergonomic, Arc and Comfort Curve to choose from – including my Apple keyboard, which was a pleasant surprise.

The actual drills are quite helpful and make you aware of your bad habits (you probably have some) as well as building speed and accuracy. You can’t skip ahead, which was a little frustrating, but helped enforce some much-needed discipline to my typing.

Multi-user training packages for businesses are from £5 per person; a single-user course costs £29.97 + VAT (£34.95 inc VAT). Check it out at Keyboard Pro.

Blink and you won’t miss it – TV anywhere, anytime with Blinkbox

As broadband speeds increase, more and more consumers are using the internet as a way to digitally replace physical goods. It happened with CDs, when Apple’s iTunes and Spotify started supplying buy-to-own and advert-supported models respectively, and now blinkbox aims to do the same with video.

The blinkbox service combines both Apple and Spotify’s selling strategies, offering paid-for feature titles, alongside free ad-supported TV and film content. And with over one million unique visitors a month, a selection of over 6,000 Hollywood movies and a wide array of both UK and US TV series, the technique is clearly doing quite well.

BlinkBox-Screenshot

Both purchased and rented content from blinkbox is stored online on the company’s servers, and while rented films can be watched an unlimited number of times within 24 hours from the moment the film starts playing, purchased films are saved onto your account permanently (or, as is the problem with all streaming services, at least until the service goes out of business).

By allowing users to stream movies directly from their servers allows, blinkbox has managed to make the service compatible with almost any computer with a Flash player, so Windows, Macs and Linux users should be content, although iPad and iPhone purchasers are out of luck.

blinkbox also allows an additional option for PC users only, to download and store content to their computer, which means the risk of an interrupted stream is minimised – although the use of DRM does mean that playback options are severely limited. However, with prices starting as low as 39p for a TV episode and 99p for a movie, and buy-to-keep prices starting at 89p (TV) and £2.99 (film), these limitations can probably be overlooked if you have a decent internet connection and a big monitor.

The website itself is easy to navigate, cleanly designed and even if you are feeling lost, the search box will point you to the right place. Sadly, despite content deals with Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, Sony Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox and more than 15 leading independent producers such as Fremantle Media, All3Media, Revolver, Zig Zag, and Aardman Animations, there is still a lot more content that needs to be uploaded to convince people to cancel their lovefilm accounts.

The Road Test

We tried blinkbox this weekend with some interesting results. First, and most importantly, when watching a movie the server supplied content without stuttering once (on my 6mb/s home connection). However, compression issues left a few noticeable artefacts during dark, high-octane scenes. Although these moments were rare, they did remind you that you’re watching a compressed file rather than a DVD.

Watching a film for free is also great, however the adverts break up the action more often than you would like – however, no more so than Film Four or a regular TV movie, and at least you can see how long they’ll last.

Finding a movie to watch was easy – a simple user interface, complete with the search box made picking a film fine. However, as mentioned before, in the grand scheme of things, 6,000 movies just isn’t enough if you’re looking specifics, or if you have a penchant for French art movies circa 1920.

Other things to note were a few HTML issues, and the downloaded (not streamed) video file’s DRM prohibiting playback in some media players.

While the idea that film-rental giant Blockbuster Video could soon go out of business is pretty sad, the ability to choose from over 6,000 leading blockbuster films without ever having to leave the house means that at least I won’t have to be reminded of Blockbuster’s failure by walking passed their abandoned stores.

However, when the 6,000 films include pictures like “Oasis of the Zombies”, its obvious that to really thrive, the service will need more films – I’m sure that as blinkbox grows and adds more films, the small video artefacts can easily be overlooked.