Acer is known for building low-cost laptops that offer good value for money. Now that the company has started manufacturing smart phones, it's trying the same trick. Its latest handset, the beTouch E101, can be picked up for about £170 SIM-free, which is cheap by smart-phone standards, but has Acer compromised on performance to achieve the low asking price?
Cheap but well-built
The E101 is the cheapest model in Acer's new line-up of Windows Mobile 6.5 handsets. It's difficult to tell that from the case, though, as it feels relatively solid in the hand and looks quite stylish too, despite being made of plastic. Perhaps the most interesting part of the design is the touch-sensitive wheel that sits at the bottom of the display. When you run your thumb around it in a circular motion, it acts as a virtual scroll wheel, allowing you to quickly move up and down through long lists. It's also clickable, so it works like a standard direction pad, too.
The E101 is built around a Qualcomm MSM7225 processor that ticks over at 528MHz. This is similar to the processor used in most of HTC's smart phones. Here it's helped along by 256MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM. If you need more storage space, you can add it via the microSD card slot on the top right-hand edge of the phone.
No friend to fingers
Compared to Windows Mobile 6.1, Windows Mobile 6.5 features a much-improved interface. But, although it's been redesigned to be much more finger-friendly, there are still a few too many fiddly menus and buttons lurking around for our liking. Acer has added its own 'today' screen that provides shortcuts to commonly used applications, but it's easy to turn off if you'd prefer to use the standard Windows Mobile version.
Unfortunately, the handset's resistive touchscreen is one of the worst we've seen on a Windows Mobile handset in quite some time. Not only has it got a relatively low resolution of 240x400 pixels, but colours look dark and drab, and a grid structure is easily visible between the pixels. Furthermore, it seems to have a very slow response rate, as, when you scroll up and down quickly in the 'start' menu, you can see ghosting around the icons as they move.
No 3G or Wi-Fi
We could just about live with the poor screen if it weren't for the phone's lack of both 3G and Wi-Fi support. This means you have to rely on a slower Edge or GPRS network connection when you want to browse the Web or pick up email. Consequently, Web pages take ages to display. Acer has included a number of social-networking apps, including some for Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, but the YouTube app isn't very useful, as there's simply not enough bandwidth available on Edge networks to play back videos without constant buffering. Not a single video we tried played smoothly.
The camera isn't much to write home about either. It's only a 2-megapixel snapper, so the maximum resolution of the shots it can capture is 1,600x1,200 pixels, and it lacks a flash and autofocus. Also, while the phone has on-board GPS, it was slow to find enough satellites to get an initial lock on our position.
On the plus side, the phone's call quality is pretty good. In fact, it's even better than that of Acer's much more expensive neoTouch S200. Battery life isn't bad either -- we got around 2 days of normal use out of it.
We're not convinced the Acer beTouch E101 represents good value for money, even though it's cheap. In an effort to keep the price as low as possible, Acer has trimmed back the phone's specification too radically. If you're looking for a budget smart phone, our advice would be to look elsewhere.
Edited by Charles Kloet