The Acer beTouch E130 is that rare beast -- an Android phone with a BlackBerry-style
Qwerty keyboard. Fortunately, this doesn't mark it out as a naff
novelty, rather a unique take on what is fast becoming Planet Earth's favourite
mobile OS. It's available for £192.04 without a SIM, but hasn't yet been
tagged with a pay as you go or contract price here in the UK.
Novelty it might be, but that doesn't mean you should treat the Acer beTouch E130 with the same disdain as you would dual-screen laptops or square clamshell cells. This is the kind of treatment Android has been crying out for, having found itself predominantly on touchscreen-only devices. The beTouch E130 has a touchscreen as well as a Qwerty keyboard, but we'll touch more on that later (see what we've done there).
The Qwerty keyboard is the central focus here and makes the beTouch E130 a dream to use when tapping out lengthy emails. Its bobbled, well-spaced buttons are straight from the Nokia E-series school of design, and that's no bad thing. They're softer than those found on equivalent BlackBerrys, too, which means your digits don't tire while firing off important missives to your minions (or just texting your Mum).
Behold the beTouchscreen
Slipping through menus is handled by the trackball, which recalls BlackBerrys of old. While RIM has since renounced the trackball for the optical trackpad, Acer's choice to use this ageing tech is questionable. It's definitely responsive, but its predilection for picking up dust and dirt means you won't want to use it too often to flick through emails and Facebook messages. Luckily, you can use the touchscreen to fulfil those functions, too.
The touch panel is pretty responsive and handy for tapping icons, although it's not as assured as the trackball when it comes to doing more fiddly work, such as scrolling through messages and diving deep into Android's menu systems. The touchscreen should be regarded as a secondary input method, rather than the main means of making your way around the phone. Viewed as such, it's a handy addition and puts the Acer beTouch E130 ahead of rivals such as the Nokia E5 and BlackBerry Curve 3G.
Dead as a donut
However, while Acer has found a way to battle with those at the top of the Qwerty pile, it's let the side down massively by sticking with Android 1.6, Donut. Frankly, it destroys the beTouch E130's claims to be a workaholic's dream machine. Without Android 2.0 or higher, there's no way of loading up multiple email accounts and no Exchange support, making this a much less practical blower than it should be. It also means killer features, like Google Goggles, are missing.
When budget Android phones like the HTC Wildfire are kicking it with Android 2.1, it's hard to see why Acer has made this decision. It hamstrings the phone and stops it delivering the same edge as the basic hardware.
Fortunately, this can be fixed with a software upgrade, although Acer is yet to confirm when or if this will happen. What can't be fixed by a software bump is the frankly woeful 3-megapixel camera. The 66mm (2.6-inch) screen means you'll have no problem sizing up pictures, but shots appear grainy and lacking in definition even when you're in absolutely optimum light. There's no flash, either, which means you may as well keep it in your pocket on a night out and take a compact camera with you instead. Here, the beTouch E130 really falls behind the Nokia E5 and its ability to mix messaging nous with snapping skills.
While the sizable panel might work well as a viewfinder, it doesn't stand up to closer inspection when it comes to watching videos or handling music playback. The latter is done through Android's terminally average music player, while video looks jumpy and lacks any sort of definition. Likewise, icons look blocky and less than impressive. The 320x240-pixel screen is obviously a price to pay for the beTouch E130 being cheap.
Got the connections
Where the Acer beTouch E130 does stand out, though, is connectivity. This is a phone that is spec'd to the hilt, with Wi-Fi, HSDPA and Bluetooth. This might not seem remarkable, but stack it up against rivals from BlackBerry and this phone looks the business. It also continues Google's good work in getting even the most standard of Android phones kitted out with optimum tech for any intensive task. It means using the integrated Facebook and Flickr apps is swift and satisfying.
The Acer bBeTouch E130 could be a real BlackBerry destroyer. We're willing to forgive its camera crimes, but if it wants to be a proper workhorse, Acer must update the Android software immediately.
Edited by Emma Bayly