Hands-on with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play and Xperia arc

We just swung by the Sony Ericsson booth to get a glimpse at two of the company’s most exciting new handsets, the Xperia Play and the Xperia arc. Although we can’t say we’re too surprised that SE was showing off these two devices at Mobile World Congress — both handsets have been leaking like a soup strainer over the past few months — it is nice to get some hands-on time with both devices. Will the newly announced devices be enough to catapult Sony Ericsson back to mobile handset glory? Read on to find out.

Sony Ericsson’s Xperia arc seems to be the company’s new flagship Android device. With a 4.2-inch screen, 1GHz processor, 8-megapixel camera, and Android 2.3, SE has finally done right by the Xperia brand. The handset —which gets its name from its arching backside — is extremely light and extremely thin. It definitely doesn’t feel like you’re holding a 4.2-inch phone.

Both the front and back of the device are constructed from glossy plastic, and while the handset doesn’t feel cheap, it is a magnet for fingerprints.

The “Reality Display” on the Arc really is gorgeous thanks to deep blacks and bright colors. SE says the phone uses a form of Sony’s BRAVIA engine, which is the engine used in Sony’s HDTVs, and the display is versatile. Attaching the phone’s HDMI-out port to an HDTV will mirror the device’s screen. We saw a demo of an SE representative playing Angry Birds on a 42-inch display, which was pretty neat. If you have an HDTV made after 2009, you can even control the phone’s interface with your TV remote. We popped in an HDMI cable and navigated through a catalog of movies on a demo device. The rep helping us noted that this feature is not specific to Sony BRAVIA TVs, the technology that enables this is part of the HDMI protocol and should work on any, newer set.

Another area of the Arc that received a lot of attention was the camera. The 8.1-megapixel shooter uses Exmor R technology — again created by Sony and used in its consumer cameras — that helps the camera take quality pictures in moderate and low light situations. The pictures were very nice, and the speed at which the Arc can take pictures in succession is very impressive.

We’ll be honest, we’re not really fans of Sony Ericsson’s user interface. We know manufacturers are going to skin and customize how Android looks and feels, but this is radically different. The good news is it doesn’t seem to slow down the phone one bit, the bad news — in our opinion — is that it’s there in the first place. Regardless, if you want a super-thin, light and powerful Android smartphone (running the most current operating system available) you should probably give the Arc a second (or first) look.

Now… on to the Play.

The first thing you notice when you pick up the Play is how heavy it is — adding an extra thirteen buttons to a phone has its down side. The phone is 16mm thick — nearly twice as thick as the Arc — and weighs in at 175g. As we mentioned, above the device is — obviously — tailored to those who are looking to game on their Android rigs. And for this purpose, the Play is great.

We tried our hand at a racing game (the name escapes us, it’s been a long day) and the experience was comparable to dedicated portable gaming devices. Video was smooth and rendered well. The device has a D-pad and Sony’s PlayStation buttons along with an L1 and R1 buttons. Our SE rep couldn’t comment on the company’s expectations for future games designed specifically to take advantage of the extra inputs… so we’ll just have to wait and see — we’re not sure if developers will develop and Android game for one specific handset.

The device has the same 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM as the Arc and the performance is comparable. The device also runs Android 2.3 and has the same UI experience. The camera is toned down a bit from the Arc as well, as the Play has a 5-megapixel shooter.

Again, this device is trying to cater to a specific audience, so if gaming on the go isn’t your thing, you’re probably not going to love it.

Have a look at our gallery below and let us know what you think. Anyone out there going to be taking another look at Sony Ericsson?

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