Acer Liquid S100 review

4 out of 5
£349

For

Great screen, all the tech specs, fast processor

Against

Some bugs, Acer Social Networking doesn't really deliver, button positioning awkward

The Acer Liquid brings with it some impressive hardware specs as well as the Android operating system, freeing you from Windows Mobile, which Acer has been pushing thus far, in their quest for smartphone glory. Our hands-on with the Liquid certainly went down well when it was announced in October and we've been putting the phone through its paces once again and we're impressed by what is on offer here.

The handset has a 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen display, with an impressive 800 x 480 resolution. We can see why it is called the liquid as when the screen is turned off, it's like peering into an inky pool. Power it up and the display really impresses: it is sharp, bright and the seamless finish across the front of the device is one we like.

Below the screen are the customary four controls you expect with Android - home, search, back and menu - and here they are presented as backlit touch controls, part of the display. If you like to get funky with your phone in the dark, it takes some stabbing around before you find the right key, as they are only illuminated when you touch them.

That 3.5-inch display means the dimensions of the handset come in at 115 x 64 x 12.75mm, which is middle ground for a smartphone, close to the dimensions of the Apple iPhone. The weight of 135g isn't a bother either: it feels weighty enough in the hand to be taken seriously, which is a good thing.

The construction of the handset is plastic - top, bottom and back - so it doesn't have the premium look or feel that some rivals do. It doesn't get a luscious Teflon coating like the HTC Hero and it does feel a little cheap. The plastic back isn't so attractive and will creak a little under manipulation. As is often the Acer way, there is a touch of budget about the Liquid.

The bottom of the device features a Mini-USB for charging and syncing, covered by a flap that neither matches the rest of the plastic on the bottom, or seems sturdy enough to pass the test of time.

The left-hand side of the device gives you the power button, the right-hand side the camera button and volume rocker. The top features a 3.5mm headphone jack and a line of hidden status LEDs that illuminate with battery, message and a call indicator. It's a nice touch and means you can see the status of your phone at a glance.

The positioning of the buttons is a little awkward. Set on the rear side of the curve making them a little difficult to press, especially the camera button. You need to use the power button to wake the device from sleep and for a button you have to use a lot, we wish it was better placed. Also, we were forever pressing the power button when using the camera, as a sturdy grip buts it right under your thumb.

Around the back is a 5-megapixel camera but no flash. Remove the back cover and you are presented with a 1350mAh battery that you'll have to remove to access the SIM card and microSD card slots. With an internal memory of only 256MB available for storage, you'll be needing that memory card. Our test device came with microSD to SD card converter suggesting that one will be bundled when you buy the device, although the actual microSD card was missing.

The Android experience presented by Acer is relatively free from customisation, fairly well removed from what you'll get from HTC Sense or the Motoblur. Instead the homepage is a simple 3-page job, offering left and right swipes from the centre and a few widgets to get you going.

The homepages come with two of the widgets already deployed, and these give you media and browser carousels attached to the left- or right-hand side of the display. They do take up most of the page and limit what else you can add and we were almost wishing for another page. Cleverly the media carousel can be switched between video, music and photos, to quickly get to what you want.

Widgets also include a neat shortcut bar to give a one-button toggle to Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, background syncing and screen brightness and is well worth using. Besides widgets you can add the normal contact or bookmark shortcuts, as well as application shortcuts, for quick access to what you actually want.

There is some duplication of settings and applications, but we like the fact, however, that Acer have included an easy OTA checker for the Liquid to deliver updates. The liquid runs Android 1.6, but we don't know for certain when or if an update to 2.0 will happen.

We originally reported that the Liquid would feature the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, but the included Qualcomm QSD 8250 has been throttled to 768MHz, rather than the 1GHz we'd anticipated. The Liquid is snappy, with applications loading quickly and multitasking with relative ease.

But not everything is perfect. There are some occasions when we'd open an application and be left waiting for something to happen with a blank screen, or options that we couldn't select in some applications. We also found the camcorder application would crash with longer captures, suggesting something isn't quite right. Crashes happen with all devices, so it isn't devastating, but there is certainly space for some improvements here. We had troubles pairing it with our Mac over Bluetooth, again, an error cropping up, suggesting that something isn't quite as it should be. The user manual comes bundled on a CD in the box, which suggest that drivers are also included for your PC, although they appeared to be absent.

Being an Android device you get all the benefits of Google integration at the core. Sign in with a Google (or Google Apps) account and your email, calendars and contacts will fall into place, integrating with Google Maps. It's a cluster of applications that makes Android devices a pleasure to use and the Liquid is no different.

Where it is different from the likes of the HTC Hero and Motorola DEXT is how far the integration extends beyond Android. Those devices give you quick and easy access and integration of the most common social networks. Lurking in a sub menu of contacts we found Acer Social Networking.

Acer Social Networking is something of an anticlimax. It allows you to add social network information to your contacts: Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Picasa and Twitter. (Facebook will run a search and pair up contacts, entering their Facebook identifier into the contact entry.) You can set an update schedule, but alerts appear alongside a contact, so you're unlikely to see them if you know a lot of people.

We like the easy approach of HTC and Motorola in integrating your social networks - if you are a fan, then it works nicely. Here it doesn't. Fortunately Android Marketplace will give you apps to cover pretty much everything anyway, regardless of what your contacts are doing. That means Facebook, Twitter, cross platform IM apps such as Nimbuzz and you'll find yourself assimilated into your digital existence without issue.

Acer haven't changed the Android keyboard, so it works very much as it was designed. We found that there was no predictive text option, or any sign of intelligent corrections (despite selecting these options in the settings). If we made a mistake, that's what we got, making it a little cumbersome. The response was good so speedy typing is possible if you are accurate, but we found that reverting to make corrections did slow us down.

The browser hasn't been touched either, so you don't get multi-touch zooming, but you do get a browser that is relatively fast and handles full webpages well.

The Acer Liquid features motion and proximity sensors, so the screen will orient itself to landscape or portrait respectively, although both aspects aren't supported in all applications. The proximity sensor will lock the screen when it is next to your face, and then present you with options mid call when you pull it away – like engage speakerphone, put a call on hold, dial someone else for an ad hoc conference call.

As a phone, callers reported no problems and came through loud and clear at our end too. The design does put a hard ridge across your ear however, so long calls can be a little uncomfortable.

Camera performance is typical for a 5-megapixel camera phone. Images lack sharpness of a real camera, but the autofocus works well enough. Some superficial settings options are presented. Video offers capture at 640 x 480 pixel resolution maximum and our test videos came in at 22fps, the results of which aren't too bad.

The screen really lends itself to video playback, however, thanks to that sharp resolution. It supports 3GP, MPEG4, H.263, H.264 files, although as always you need to watch the codecs. nemoPlayer is pre-loaded (along with some other apps) to handle media and works well enough. Audio playback, once you bring in your own headphones is pretty good, although with multiple media players on-board, it can get a little confusing, and you might end up with tracks playing on more than one player at the same time.

The Liquid also has designs as a media server, allowing you to share content over your network. We could see it on a PC, but couldn't access any of the content, so don't get too excited just yet.

In typical usage (i.e., live, on the streets) we got about 12 hours from the battery. This included a typical use of data, emails, the occasional app, using the GPS to locate a venue and so on. We made calls sparingly, turning off Wi-Fi when away from a connection to conserve battery. Using the media player will draw further, so the battery life is average: you'll still need to charge it every night and on a heavy use day, you might end up with a flat battery.

Verdict

Overall the Acer Liquid is an interesting addition to the Android portfolio. It gets some things really right: the screen is a good size and resolution and responsive enough and the essentials are covered: HSDPA, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. For those looking for an Android device that hasn't been tinkered with too much, then this might be worth investigating, but beware what looks like some minor software bugs.

Acer really haven't brought that much to the party. You don't get the consumer-friendly approach of the HTC Hero with social networking, great keyboards with error correction and predictive text. For many this will be a deciding factor in which device to choose. We are still waiting to hear details on carriers, although the SIM RRP is £349; we'll update you if we find out more.

The Acer Liquid is an enjoyable device to use, accepting some software foibles. On the whole it is a solid handset that delivers the easy Android experience, but could do with some updating.