The Acer Liquid Metal isn't liquid and isn't metal, but it is a serviceable smart phone that runs Google's Android operating system, which gives it plenty of power. Its odd custom user interface didn't float our boats, but it's easy to turn off, and the end result is a perfectly decent, if unexciting, phone.
The Liquid Metal isn't on any networks yet, but we tracked down SIM-free prices of around £300.
Android in disguise
Acer seems to have spent plenty of time coming up with a complicated skin for Android, an operating system that we've become very familiar with due to it running on a myriad of smart phones.
Acer's user interface takes an upside down, backwards approach, reminiscent of rap tweens Kris Kross, who were famous for wearing their clothes the wrong way round, the cheeky scamps. On the Liquid Metal, the notification bar runs along the bottom of the screen, rather than taking its usual position along the top, and widgets have been relegated from the home screen to an epically complicated lock screen.
The lock screen, which is shown when the phone's display is on but locked, comprises five panels that you can move between by swiping left and right. Each panel can be filled up with widgets showing everything from the time of day to a music player. If you want to open the corresponding app -- the calendar, for example -- you can tap the widget and slide up a little unlock animation, which unlocks the phone and launches the app.
We're open-minded about innovation, but Acer's approach left us confused. We're huge fans of having some info on the lock screen, such as our missed calls and a good old clock. But we can't see the point of moving one of Android's most fun, flexible features -- its widgets -- off the home screen and onto the lock screen.
It means that you can only use the widgets that Acer provides, and you can only see them when the phone is locked. To enjoy your social-networking widget, for example, you have to press the power button, which turns off the screen and locks the phone, and then press it again to turn on the screen in locked mode.
We just don't get it. We're not as bothered about having the notification bar, which shows new messages and updates while you're using the phone, on the bottom of the screen rather than the top. And we're willing to have a go with the two rows of app shortcuts that sit at the foot of the home screen, like a preview of the full menu that lurks beneath. But the lack of widgets on the home screen chops Android off at the knees.
But there's good news: you can turn off Acer's custom user interface by going into the phone's settings and switching to the default Android UI. The option is tucked at the bottom of the applications settings menu. Boom. You can thank us later.
If you do decide to switch, you'll see the standard user interface of Android 2.2 Froyo. It's not quite the latest version of Android, and it's not as pretty as HTC's Sense UI or as easy to use as the iPhone's software, but it's still very usable and powerful.
Up and running
Whether you stick with Acer's skin or run into the welcome arms of stock Android, you still get a heap of useful features on the Liquid Metal. Most of the best ones come with Android by default. For example, the Google Maps app now has so many features that it makes sat-navs feel as old-fashioned as a rotary dial telephone.
Acer has also thrown in a handful of bonus apps, pre-installed on the phone. Barcode Scanner is a must-have for getting to grips with QR codes, the little pixellated squares that can fire up a link on your phone.are often used to share apps in the Android Market.
You'll also find a media server app that lets you take advantage of the phone's DNLA support, so you can connect wirelessly to your DNLA-capable telly and other gear. That's very handy.