Hands-on: Acer Liquid Z5 review

Acer has used the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 to position itself in the budget smartphone wars. Its unveiling of the Liquid Z5, priced at €169 (£140), sounds like a hot contender for the Motorola Moto G in terms of price. But can the Acer's relatively low spec deliver? We've been playing with one ahead of the show to see what we make of it.

The Liquid Z5 packs in a 5-inch screen, making it a reasonably large Android device. Problem is the 854 x 480 resolution is far behind the current standard. Look up close and you can see how icons are constructed from the available pixels. But that's not to say the screen looks bad - we were viewing it in a bright room and the viewing angles seemed decent enough.

With Android 4.2.2 on board it's not backed up with the most up to date from the Google operating system, but that's not necessarily a huge bother. Acer has added software features such as dual app loading where you can, say, browse a web page with the calculator also open on the screen. Useful for a device with a screen of this scale.

There's also a Quick Mode set-up that adjusts the screen to look, well, like a Windows Phone 8 device when set to Classic Mode - albeit a Fisher Price version given the limited colour palette used on the tiles. The idea of Quick Mode is to provide layouts for a variety of users, including Senior Mode and Basic Mode aimed at the older generation and young kids respectively. We're not entirely sure there's a necessity for all that, and once the mode is set you need to go through the settings to return to the default Android look.

On the rear of the Z5 is another new feature called AcerRapid that Acer will be rolling out across its future smartphone devices. It's a function button that can be used to switch the device by a single press and then a second press will fire up a pre-assigned function. Load up your music player, for example, and the button acts to control play/pause. Hold the button down and it will fire up the camera, but this default long press cannot - at least as yet - be used to operate any other applications.

We've seen more-complex versions of this kind of control in devices such as the Oppo N1, and whether AcerRapid will become a go-to button in use we're not totally convinced. For us the button, funnily enough, is too much like a button - as in it requires too strong a press to operate. In the touchscreen smartphone age we're more used to deft touches.

READ: Oppo N1 hands-on

On the plus side the AcerRapid button is well positioned for a finger to fall naturally to it, but too close to the camera which might cause some unwanted accidental fingerprints on the lens. To combat this Acer has made the camera protrude slightly from the body. Makes sense, but we don't want a protruding camera sticking into our leg, thanks.

The camera is a 5-megapixel offering that, while not as high resolution as much of the competition, functions well enough. It's dragged in the same functions as the Acer Liquid Z2, such as click to focus and then drag the exposure area around the screen for the optimum exposed shot before making a capture. Or use the AcerRapid button to fire off a shot, but that felt rather awkward to us and more prone to camera shake.

READ: Acer Liquid S2 hands-on

On the sound front the Z5 has a single front-firing speaker, supported by Dolby DTS technology. This gives access to equalisation controls, from simple bass and treble sliders through to preset options for specific musical genres. It may look like the phone has a speaker to the top, but this is to mimic the one at the bottom for a more symmetrical design.

We didn't spend a particularly long time with the phone to test its power, but with a dual core 1.3Ghz processor it will cut its way through most casual tasks. A limited 4GB of on-board storage is also low, but that can be supplemented by a microSD card to add in up to an additional 64GB. Now that's one feature the Moto G doesn't have.

READ: Motorola Moto G review

So there we have it. A budget Acer phone that, thanks to Motorola, has its work cut out. Acer hasn't made big waves in the UK smartphone market and while here's increasing potential, we're still left wondering who would opt for this device over the Moto G?