With no disrespect to HTC, Samsung, or Motorola, it's nice to see an Android phone from someone new. Not that the former three don't make great devices; it's just nice to see a fresh face in the crowd every once in a while, and in this instance, that face is Acer. Once again, our friends at Expansys USA hooked us up and sent us the Acer Liquid, the company's first Android device. It's a solid offering and even comes with a number of extras that enhance the phone's multimedia capabilities. However, the Liquid doesn't surge with power and hit some speed bumps during our testing period, so we wouldn't recommend it for anyone who needs a high-performance device. It's more of a middle-of-the-road offering for consumers that'll help you stay organized and connected, while having a little fun along the way. The Acer Liquid is currently available in the U.K. and is heading to Canada's Rogers Wireless this spring. There are no plans to bring it to the U.S., but you can buy one unlocked for around $400.
Like a number of other Android devices, the Acer Liquid is an all touch-screen device but has more of a fun, hip side to it. The glossy white chassis (the phone is also available in red or black) provides a nice contrast against the black screen, and with the capacitive touch-sensitive controls below the display, you get one smooth, streamlined design. It's fairly compact at 4.52 inches tall by 2.51 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and at 4.76 ounces, the Liquid is lightweight without feeling too fragile, though the plastic casing makes the smartphone just a bit slick.
The Liquid features a 3.5-inch WVGA (480x800) capacitive touch screen that's quite beautiful. The high-resolution display smoothes out images and text. Colors don't quite pop off the screen as they do on the Nexus One, but they're still bright, and we were able to read the screen outdoors.
The touch screen is mostly responsive, but we felt it required bit more pressure to move between home screens and scroll through lists. It also affected the use of the onscreen keyboard, which is of the standard Android variety, since it didn't register a number of our touches. It wasn't bad but it just didn't feel quite as sensitive as some of the other devices we've tested, such as the Nexus One, and it definitely slowed us down. There is a built-in proximity sensor and accelerometer that works in most applications and was swift to change screen orientations, but no multitouch capabilities. You can't even double-tap the screen to zoom.
For the most part, the user interface looks a lot like standard Android. You get three home-screen panels that you can customize with shortcuts and widgets, and there's a pull-out apps tray at the bottom of each screen. However, it's not a true Google Experience phone, and Acer has added some of its own touches. By default, on the left panel, there's a small toolbar at the top of the screen that provides shortcuts to your multimedia content. Whichever type you choose--photos, music, or video-- you will then see the corresponding files displayed in a semi-circle as thumbnails, which you can then rotate through until you've found the desired file. There's a similar item on the right panel that displays all your browser bookmarks. You will also notice some differences in the dialer and calendar.
From any place on the phone, you can easily return to the home screen using the shortcut button right below the display. There are also touch-sensitive controls for the menu, search, and back. We should note that the home and back button don't have the usual house and arrow icons; instead they're represented by a rectangle (home) and less than sign (back). A couple of other tips: by holding down the Home button, a screen will appear that will show mini windows of all your running apps, allowing you to easily switch between tasks. Also, on top of the device, you'll get LED indicators for new e-mail, calls, and low battery life/charging status.
In addition to the notifications, there is a 3.5mm headphone jack on top. On the right side, you'll find a volume rocker and a camera activation/capture button, while the left side houses the power/lock button. It's been a while since we've seen this, but the Acer Liquid uses a Mini-USB port for charging/PC syncing instead of Micro-USB.
The Acer Liquid comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 2GB microSD card and adapter, a wired stereo headset, a screen protector, and reference material. Being an overseas phone, the Liquid comes with a plug fit for U.K. outlets, so you will need to get an adapter for use in other parts of the world. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The Acer Liquid runs Android 1.6, so you'll find a similar feature set to the Motorola Devour and T-Mobile myTouch 3G. This includes all the Google services, including Gmail, Google Talk, Google Maps, YouTube, and Android Market. The Liquid will also merge contact information from various e-mail accounts and social networking sites, while Exchange synchronization is handled through the preloaded DataViz RoadSync Mail and Calendar apps.
Acer also throws in a number of fun extras. To start, there's an app called urFooz that allows you to create an avatar that you can share on Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites. Sure, it's not an essential tool, but it's a nice diversion and another way to personalize your device. More useful are the Spinlets, Media Server, and NemoPlayer apps, which all enhance the multimedia capabilities of the smartphone.
Spinlets is a free music service that lets you browse and stream tunes, share them via Facebook or e-mail, and access artist's Web sites all from one place. It's certainly a nice way to discover new music. Meanwhile, NemoPlayer is an alternative to the standard Android media player and one that we actually preferred since it offers a better interface and a single hub for all multimedia files, so you no longer have to launch separate apps for music, video, and photos. You can also easily share those files with another PC over a Wi-Fi connection via the Media Server app. With these additional capabilities, we'd certainly say the Liquid is one of the more multimedia-friendly Android devices on the market right now.
The only downer is that the smartphone's 5-megapixel camera isn't quite up to snuff. First, there's no flash, and the camera app can be a bit sluggish. Not just in terms of menu interaction but with image captures as well. The capture button is also placed on the downward slope of the phone's tapered edge, which makes it rather difficult to press. As a result, we had a hard time getting sharp picture quality. Photos looked soft, and there wasn't much richness to the colors. You can geotag photos as well as add effects and record VGA video at up to 20 frames per second, but all in all, it was a rather disappointing experience. The Liquid has 256MB RAM/512MB ROM with an expansion slot that can support cards up to 32GB.
The Liquid is a quad-band GSM world phone with support for 850/1,900/2,100MHz HSPDA bands, so you will get 3G over AT&T's network. As we mentioned earlier, contact information can be merged from various sources into a master list, where you can also access the phone dialer, call log, and favorites list. You get a speakerphone, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging but two notable omissions are voice dialing and smart dialing. Bluetooth, GPS, and Wi-Fi are all part of the package, as well as an HTML Android Webkit browser, but there's no Flash support.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Acer Liquid in New York using AT&T service and call quality was admirable. Audio was clear on our side with very little background noise so we had no problem hearing our callers or using an airline's voice automated response system. Callers also reported good results quality. They didn't complain of any voice distortion or weird noises. Speakerphone quality was slightly bit on the tinny side, and we heard a some background hissing during lulls in the conversation, but these issues weren't bad enough to warrant ending the conversation. We paired the phone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
AT&T's 3G coverage was fairly consistent in Manhattan and provided good speeds. CNET's full site loaded in 22 seconds, while CNN and ESPN's mobile sites came up in 7 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively. YouTube videos took a few seconds to load, and though the playback was continuous, the image quality was quite murky. An MP4 movie trailer from our personal library fared much better with smoother transitions between scenes. Using the 3.5mm headphone jack, we plugged in our Bose On-Ear headphones, and we have to say that the Liquid's audio quality was subpar compared with the more recent smartphones we've tested. Songs sounded a bit one-dimensional with minimal bass, so we definitely wouldn't ditch our MP3 player for this.
The Liquid is equipped with a 768MHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and most times, it kept the smartphone humming along and running multiple applications without much problem. However, there were definitely some iffy moments where the Liquid took its sweet time to launch an app. In fact, we had two instances where it was taking so long to open an app that we were afraid the phone had frozen. Eventually, it sprung back to life, but definitely not what we call a high-performance machine.
The Acer Liquid comes with a 1,350mAh lithium-ion battery with a rated talk time of 5 hours and up to 16 days of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests but will update this section as soon as we have final results.