[UPDATE: I have replaced the Arc S 4.0.3 firmware with the official 4.0.4 update for the Sony Arc, the difference between the two versions are immense, please see my new post on that to get the real ICS impressions for the Sony Arc]
Sony Ericsson, who are now simply Sony once again have worked very hard to rebuild their bad reputation over software updates issues they had with their 2009/2010 phones. With the Sony Arc and the new models they have done a job that has been even better than Samsung, which has reflected well in the higher sales of they very cool looking mobile devices.
Sony for some reason has always been one step behind on the hardware side compared to leading competitors like Samsung, HTC, etc but have managed to counter with excellent design, great multimedia and most importantly well optimized software that ensured you did not feel the hardware was lacking.
However with ICS, they seem to have faced the challenge and they had to delay the original roll out plan. The much awaited ICS updated for the Arc and newer phones were due in April was delayed, and now only the newer Arc S and the Neo V and Ray got the update, while the older models only getting June or later.
However the Arc and the Arc S are from a hardware point pretty much identical, with the key difference being the higher clock processor (overclocked possibly, since the processor definitely can be pushed beyond the 1Ghz speed) on the Arc S. Even the battery is the same which is why the Arc S has less standby time than the Arc.
I did not want try a custom ROM on my phone, since i like my main phone to be “available” and hence experiments were controlled. However I was keen to see if ICS would improve things , and thanks to Xperiablog.net (http://www.xperiablog.net/2012/04/15/install-official-android-4-0-ics-update-to-your-xperia-arc-guide/) i went and flashed it with the nordic ICS firmware for the Arc S which they had found works perfectly fine with the Arc 🙂
Tips when flashing
Word of warning if you look at that article in Xperiablog.net you will see a lot of people have bricked their phones, so follow the instructions carefully.
1. Backup your device using App Backup & Restore, do not that this App does not back all apps, so as a secondary option also use the Google backup option for apps.
2. The update went smoothly but i had faced one twist when trying get the phone recognized. This is what i did,
- The flashtool continued to report that drivers were missing, though i had updated the PC companion to the latest and tested that the phone was being detected.
- I then installed the drivers from the flash tool, and faced the same issue, but then found that you also have to check “Flashmode drivers” when installing the drivers in addition to the arc drivers. Once i did this the detection when smooth and the update completed
Once i had flashed the application the only issue was i had a free upgrade. In my about the device is now listed as an LT18i :), no sadly the processor does not get overclocked to 1.4Ghz like the Arc for that you need to root and see how much you can push your CPU. I am not trying that on my everyday phone! I can live with that until the Arc specific firmware will come, by which time i am sure Sony would have optimized the ICS build further and fixed any defects.
I have now been using the phone for over a week, and these were some observations, some I believe will also be applicable for Arc S users since ICS is a bit of resource hog and seems to have been designed with higher memory, graphics and multi-core capabilities in mind.
- Interface is smooth, but can get laggy, the reason i found is that the memory usage is higher on ICS, so you have to keep an eye and close apps to ensure you have enough to keep the phone going smooth. I have just 1-2 small widgets running, and just having these and the email, FB and gmail apps brings the memory down to just 36MB remaining. Below is the memory usage with most apps closed and just the OS, and standard apps running.
- I sometime get the error saying the desktop (explorer) has stopped, or some app as stop, but if you select the wait option usually things get back into control. I feel that the memory getting low also maybe a cause for this.
- Fluffy (angry) birds (what i just tested was Rio) game does not work, though it gets launched i can’t touch and select any options, not sure how many other games and apps will have this problem. Since Rio worked fine on my MediaPad and Acer A500 devices, this is definitely an issue with the Sony ICS build.
- The camera takes ages to load compared to how it was with Gingerbread. I have resorted to using CameraFX due to this, which works fine
- Overall app launch is a tad slower than what it was on gingerbread
- Benchmarks indicate no significant change in performance, though i was expecting much better performance
- Make sure the face book app is closed when not needed, as that can hog your system.
- Media Go sync seems to have problems and seems to freeze when sync’ing your photos and videos
- The standard Music app crashes
Key areas i saw improvements
1. The overall touch and swipe actions are lot smoother
2. The standard keyboard for the first time is actually pretty decent, even though its not as intelligent as SwiftKey X.
3. Browser seems more nippy
4. Video playback seems more smoother
5. The ICS feature on how you can close the app (swipe right after selecting the home button) is cool and easy (wish Windows 8 consumer edition had this feature)
I saw on a recent blog that a more newer firmware was already provided some regions, so will wait and see if these fix these issues. One thing that has changed is that Sony has now removed the custom screen capture feature they had when you pressed the power button and now use the ICS screen capture feature. This is done by pressing the power and volume down button for around 10+ secs which takes a screen shot, takes a while to get used to but once you do its fairly effective.
Did not notice any great improvements, and overall its here and there on the overall “benchmarks”. If i recall correct performances seems to have gone down!
Here are some screen shots, immediately noticeable is the new font which makes things look a bit nicer. I have included things that have changed in ICS or look different.