Compact, budget Liquid Z4 phone aims to make a big splash at MWC 2014 (hands-on)

The low-priced Acer Liquid Z4 joins the ranks of other pint-size and affordable Android smartphones, and aims to make an impact at MWC 2014.

Brian Bennett Former Senior writer
Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.
Brian Bennett
3 min read
Sarah Tew/ CNET

BARCELONA, Spain -- Some iPhone owners may bemoan their small screens, but Acer feels there's a place in your pocket for compact Android handsets. Its new Liquid Z4 device is built to be easy to use one-handed yet still offer lots of smartphone for the money. In fact, Acer says that although the Z4 is priced at just 99 euros ($136), the device will provide a quality camera, a classy design, and Android Jelly Bean software.

Close-up with the cheap and cheerful Acer Liquid Z4 (photos)

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Perhaps taking a cue from Samsung, HTC, and Motorola, Acer says its Liquid Z4 is crafted to fit comfortably in the hand. To that end, the Z4's edges measure 9.7mm (0.38 inch) thick, the perfect depth the company claims which allows it to slip easily into hands and pockets. Additionally Acer describes the Liquid Z4's chassis as having an "elegant, glossy, and silky" finish. I have to say that while the phone's surfaces repel fingerprints and grease, its plastic material doesn't convey luxurious build quality.

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Tipping the scales at a light 4.6 ounces, the Z4 certainly won't weigh you down. The Liquid Z4 makes room for a 4-inch screen, which is larger than what the iPhone 5S comes with (3.7 inches), but not by much. I was disappointed too by the screen's washed out colors and lack of lumens. Also, the display's image quality drops dramatically when tilted off-angle, especially vertically.

Features and interface
Running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean software, the Acer Liquid Z4 doesn't exactly boast Google's latest and greatest -- that being Android 4.4 KitKat. Acer does outfit the phone with some custom tweaks of its own, though.

For instance, the AirFloat feature will keep multiple app windows open at once so users can flip quickly between them. Similarly the Float Caller function launches a small pop-up window to alert you when someone is trying to ring your line. The idea here is for calls not to swamp the phone's entire screen which forces you to drop everything you're currently doing. To enhance music and movies, the Z4 relies on DTS Sound technology.

On back of the Liquid Z4 is a 5-megapixel camera, which when stacked up against most modern smartphones that typically boast 8-, 13-, or even 20-megapixel sensors, doesn’t excite me. Acer makes the point that the imaging system leverages five elements (apparently four is the norm), and has a lens with f2.4 optics to serve up superior photos. Of course as they say, the proof is in the pudding and only spending serious quality time will confirm Acer's claim.

Core components
Under the Liquid Z4's subcompact hood is a dual-core 1.3GHz processor linked to 4GB of internal storage. These are well below the fancy quad and octa-core chips powering cutting-edge phones, so hopefully Acer has done its best to optimize how the handset churns through apps, home screens, and menu windows. I have my doubts though since the phone felt sluggish when I took it for a test drive at Acer's MWC press event.

Acer plans to offer the Liquid Z4 in Europe beginning in April for a suggested price of 99 euros. Color choices for the phone include two options, white and black. For more smartphone news, check back often as we report live from MWC 2014.