Acer Liquid Mini E310
Acer has expanded its Liquid series of smartphones to include this pint-sized entry-level model, known as the Acer Liquid Mini E310. The fact that it's available in a range of colours (blue, pink, black, silver and green) suggests that it's aimed at younger users who are making their first foray into the smartphone arena.
The compact handset measures a diminutive 110.4 x 57.5 x 13mm and at just 109g, it's pretty light too. The build quality is reasonably solid, but it's clear from the outset that this isn't a top-tier smartphone. However, it does come with a leather pouch that makes it look a bit more fancy. The rear panel's slightly matte plastic finish doesn't exactly scream quality, but it does offer a bit of an extra grip when compared with glossy smartphones that are more than likely to slip from your hand at some point. However, we found the rear panel slightly hard to prise off in order to insert the SIM card (we're not even going to tell you how long this took us - suffice to say, it was "a while").
The handset sports the usual Android-flavoured four-button configuration under the screen, along with volume controls on the right-hand edge of the casing as well as a dedicated camera button to make taking snaps easier. It's pretty comfy to hold and didn't get our ears too hot even after a lengthy chat.
The 3.2-inch screen is just about big enough for casual web browsing, but it doesn't really compare to the screens on high-end smartphones, where a display of at least 4 inches is fast becoming the standard. The rather disappointing screen resolution of just 480 x 320 pixels means that graphics are far from sharp, and gives the whole screen a rather lacklustre look. Thankfully, the display uses capacitive technology, rather than the inferior resistive tech used on some budgets mobiles, but it still feels somewhat unresponsive. It supports multi-touch, although we found this to be quite temperamental, making things seem a bit like hard work. The text keypad is quite small and fiddly, although this was easily sorted by tipping the phone into landscape mode.
Powered by Android 2.2 (Froyo), the Liquid Mini features the maker's custom UI which sits on top of the the familiar Android set-up. This lets you customise the homescreen in two parts, so that the top half features all your favourite apps, while other handy apps can be scrolled through along the bottom of the screen. There's also a useful feature that scrolls through your history using a series of icons to show which apps and web pages you've been using most recently.
The fact that the phone isn't rocking the latest version of Android may put off some tech aficionados, but if you're just after a basic handset, then Android 2.3 doesn't really bring much more to the table than its predecessor.
At just 512MB, the on-board memory is rather lacking although you can expand it via SD card (up to 32GB) and the handset is sold with a 2GB card in the box. However, if you intend to run a lot of apps then you may find that this handset doesn't cope too well, as not all Android apps can be saved on SD card (even through the newer versions of Android allow for this, not all the developers have caught up). The phone actually crashed on us while we were using the camera (and running just one app in the background).
The browser works well, and is certainly good enough for the odd bit of casual surfing, although the relatively low quality of the screen will mean that you won't want to squint at it for too long. And as this is an Android phone, you'll get full support for Flash-based websites (unlike Apple's pesky iOS, which still can't cope with Flash). Video playback is similarly grainy, with images taking on a soft, slightly pixelated quality.
In terms of connectivity, the Liquid Mini is fairly standard, offering 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1. However, one ace that it has up its sleeve is DLNA connectivity. This handy feature means that you can stream content to other DLNA-enabled devices, making it possible to beam videos straight to a compatible TV.
The 5-megapixel rear-facing camera isn't really anything to shout about, although it does it's job reasonably well. There are also a few nice options for you to tweak your pictures with, including sepia and monochrome modes and a variable light setting. There's also an option to upload your images directly to Facebook and Flickr. Video capability is also pretty basic, recording at just 480p, so although your videos are unlikely to fill up your memory card too quickly, the quality isn't great at all.
As we've come to expect, the phone comes with pre-installed apps for both Facebook and Twitter, but the social networking offering doesn't end there. The SocialJogger app is a neat feature for those that spend way too much time on Facebook and Twitter, as it'll integrate both accounts into one handy feed, where you can alter the settings to add groups and filters to block out updates from your more dull friends. We found that this actually worked pretty well, and was much better than similar apps we've seen embedded on other smartphones.
The 1300mAh battery offers an impressive 8 hours of talk time and 480 hours in standby, says Acer. We found this to be a fairly reasonable estimate, as we didn't have to re-charge the battery over the course of a few days, despite lots of review-based tinkering.
Prices have yet to be confirmed, although we've seen a few websites offering pre-orders at £199 for a SIM-free handset, so there should be some fairly cheap deals around when/if the networks confirm their pricing plans.
There's not really anything wrong with the Liquid Mini, it's compact and reasonably sturdy, and the array of available colours is a nice touch that's sure to appeal to the younger market. However, it is decidedly underwhelming, mainly due to the disappointing screen and touch control.
If you're looking for a no-frills handset to take your first step into the world of smartphones then the Liquid Mini should do just fine, but if you're looking for something with a little bit more to it, then there are more compelling handsets around, such as the HTC Wildfire S.