THE LIQUID is Acer's first attempt at an Android phone and while it's an attractive phone with a few redeeming features, the company's lack of prior experience in this market is apparent in the Liquid.
Acer only recently stepped into the mobile market in 2009 following its purchase of E-Ten back in 2008. Since then it has released four Windows Mobile smartphones that failed to excite consumers, but it has plans afoot to launch a slew of new devices later this year. In between these we have the Liquid.
At first glance the Liquid is a good looking, somewhat bulky phone - at 12.5mm thick it's almost surprising that it lacks any kind of slide out keyboard. The curved sides, discrete keys and pleasant notification icons, highlighting missed calls, messages and battery status along the top all make it a very attractive even smart-looking smartphone.
The 3.5-inch display is bright and clear and boasts a 480x800 resolution capacitive touchscreen, making web browsing and similar activities nice and easy.
The four touch-sensitive buttons along the bottom - namely home, search, back and menu - are represented as rather obscure icons with no text, so they can be a little confusing at first if you're unfamiliar with Android devices. There is also a power button located about three quarters of the way up the left hand side of the Liquid, which is a slightly annoying position for trying to wake the phone up and use it single handedly, particularly as you have to hit the menu button or input the gesture code once you've turned the screen on.
On the right hand side you've got the volume control and a dedicated camera button, something that's not present on most Android devices currently. Speaking of which, the Liquid packs in a 5MP camera and Acer has sprung for a good lens, so you'll get decent shots from it, although the lack of any kind of flash means you're restricted to well-lit shots only.
Thankfully there is a 3.5mm headset so you can use a regular pair of earphones to listen to music, and data transfer and charging are done over mini-USB, which is great for the multitudes who have at least one mini-USB charger lying around, but odd that Acer didn't opt for the increasingly standard microUSB option.
The Liquid runs version 1.6 of Android, dubbed Donut, and according to Acer there are no plans to provide an upgrade to Eclair - Android 2.0 - although it's quite likely that it will happen sooner or later if only to add support for features such as multi-touch, which the hardware is capable of doing but Donut does not support natively. This upgrade should be a relatively easy and straight-forward process, judging by the automated over-the-air update Google provided to upgrade HTC's Magic and Hero range from 1.5 to 1.6.
The Liquid certainly is a snappy device, but although it runs on Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform the processor is clocked at 768MHz rather than the full 1GHz that Snapdragon has to offer, presumably in the name of longer battery life. However, while rivals such as the HTC Magic can be quite sluggish at switching between several processor intensive apps, the Liquid doesn't bat an eyelid at the workload.
That said, the on-screen keyboard can be somewhat slow, so trying to type at speed results in a lot of unregistered keypresses. This problem seems to crop up on most Android phones so it seems to be more down to the OS rather than the hardware. Furthermore, the usual dictionary and auto-correction used in Android didn't work properly on the review unit, so a lot of time was spent having to go back and correct words.
User accessible onboard storage is restricted to 256MB and Acer has thrown in a 2GB microSD card for good measure, more than enough for applications, photos and a little media and it's easy enough to buy a cheap 8GB or 16GB card if you want to up the capacity.
This was compounded by the lack of any kind of rollerball or other navigation device, which means that trying to move the cursor around some text or a similar action requires you to jab your finger vaguely at the touchscreen until you land it in the right place.
Acer hasn't put any type of skin over the Android interface, but it has added a few extra widgets and pre-installed apps including its own sync service, media player, and streaming application called Spinlet amongst others. This means you only get Android's standard three screens rather than the five or seven seen on those phones running Sense or a similar interface overlay.
As with all Android phones you get great integration with Google's email, calendar, contacts and Google Maps all thrown in and access to the rapidly growing collection of applications from the Android Marketplace.
The Liquid's biggest downfall has to be the battery. Despite being a rather large device, the battery is simply abysmal, getting less than a day of use even with fairly minimal usage and GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth all turned off. As well as the usual periodic synchronisation with Google's services, we had our favourite apps and widgets installed, including Twidroid, Weatherbug and London Tube Status so there was some background data usage but every other Android device we've tested with the same workload has lasted longer than the Liquid. Under a heavy load, if it's fully charged when you leave for the office in the morning, you'll probably need to charge the device when you get home from work.
The Acer Liquid is a lovely looking device with a good screen but its chunky size and appalling battery life mean you'll still want to opt for an HTC Hero if you're looking for a decent touchscreen only Android device. The Hero is about £50 more expensive, but we reckon it's worth the extra money. Still if this is the calibre of Acer's first attempt at an Android phone, we look forward to the Gas or Solid or whatever it will call the next iteration. µ
Nice display, speedy processor.
Very poor battery life, bulky.
Unmarked keys, inconveniently placed power button.