The Android-based Acer beTouch E210 does a pretty good impersonation of a BlackBerry. Sadly, its meagre specifications and resistive touchscreen keep it from living up to its promise.
The E210 is available for free on a £15-per-month contract. SIM-free prices start from around £220.
Button me up
It only takes a brief glance to realise that the E210's design is heavily indebted to that of the BlackBerry. This isn't the first time the Taiwanese manufacturer has attempted to fuse Android with a Qwerty keyboard either -- last year's beTouch E130 performed the same trick.
Typing on the E210 is an enjoyable experience, with the raised buttons proving easy to hit when you're tapping at speed. They emit a quiet click when pressed, which means you can bash out a missive on the train without making other passengers want to punch you in the face.
The E210 has a lightweight and surprisingly thin frame. At 110g, it's unlikely to cause your pocket to rupture, but it does feel rather cheap when compared to heavier phones.
The phone uses a crushingly disappointing resistive touchscreen. Using pressure-sensitive technology, this type of display isn't anywhere near as responsive as the capacitive versions seen on handsets like the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S II. It's even outmatched by the screens on cheaper phones, such as the Orange San Francisco.
Because resistive technology can't handle more than one point of pressure at a time, the E210 doesn't support multi-touch gestures, such as pinch to zoom. This means you won't be able to quickly scale Google Maps using your thumb and forefinger, and some Android games, such as the brilliant PewPew, are rendered unplayable.
To make matters worse, the E210's 2.6-inch screen has a landscape rather than portrait format, and its resolution of 320x240 pixels means everything has to be shrunk down. Accurately pressing buttons is hard enough at this paltry resolution, but the hit-and-miss nature of the resistive screen makes it even more of an exercise in frustration.
Pray for the pad
This annoyance is mitigated somewhat by the presence of a touch-sensitive trackpad, which sits below the display. You can use this to navigate around your home screens and select options within applications. It's a little skittish at times and certainly takes some getting used to, but, on the whole, it removes the need to prod forlornly at the unresponsive screen.
With Android 2.2 Froyo on board, the E210 isn't exactly up-to-date. Rival phones, such as the Qwerty-boasting Samsung Galaxy Pro, run Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which means they benefit from increased speed and performance.
Still, Froyo lets you access most applications, although getting some of them to run on the E210's landscape screen is awkward. Many default to a portrait viewpoint -- for example, on the E210, the game Doodle Jump forces you to play holding the handset sideways. It's hardly a deal-breaker, but it feels odd all the same.
The 600MHz processor that powers the E210 is at the low end of the Android spectrum these days, although casual users should find that it's adequate for their needs. There's a slight lag when transitioning between menus and applications, but Acer has wisely opted for a reasonably untouched version of Android, which speeds things up.
The E210 comes equipped with a 3.5mm headphone socket and a 2GB microSD card for music, photo and video storage. The 3-megapixel camera lacks both an LED flash and autofocus, and the results are predictably average. Video recording is also disappointing, although, if you have no intention of viewing the footage on anything other than the phone's screen, you probably won't be too disappointed.
The Acer beTouch E210 suffers from many of the faults of its predecessor, the E130. Running an old version of Android and packing a hopeless touchscreen, the phone's only saving grace is its excellent keyboard. If you're not particularly fussed about physical buttons, we'd recommend you look elsewhere for your budget Android fix.
Edited by Charles Kloet