When it comes to smart phones, Acer seems to be dividing its efforts between Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Google's Android operating systems. In some instances, Acer is even creating two versions of the same handset, with each slightly tweaked for the particular operating system it's running. This is the case with the beTouch E400, which is basically the Android version of the neoTouch P400. Currently, the handset can be picked up for around £230 SIM-free.
Tweak my buttons
Acer has used the months between the launch of the P400 and the E400 to tweak the latter's design slightly. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is that the E400 comes with three swappable battery covers (black, white and burgundy) so you can change the look of the phone according to your mood. Acer has also removed the chrome trim that ran all the way around the edge and replaced it with a white band.
The company has tweaked the button layout to make it better suited to the Android 2.1 operating system. The touch-sensitive buttons below the screen are now used for the home, search, menu and back functions. Acer has retained the ring around the home button that glows in different colours to show you when you've missed a call, have a new message or the battery needs recharging.
One of the problems with the P400 was its less-than-impressive touchscreen, and Acer hasn't addressed the issue with the E400. Like its sibling, the E400 uses an 81mm (3.2-inch) resistive display. Although the screen is quite responsive to touch input, it's nowhere near as speedy to use as the capacitive screens you'll find on the likes of the iPhone 4 and HTC Desire.
The resistive touchscreen also means the phone doesn't support multi-touch. This is a big loss when you're in the Web browser or Google Maps, as using the on-screen magnifying glass isn't as quick or intuitive as using the pinch-to-zoom multi-touch gesture. The display is, at least, very bright, and its resolution of 320x480 pixels is decent enough for viewing Web pages or watching YouTube videos.
The handset runs on a 600MHz Qualcomm processor that's backed up by 256MB of RAM. We noticed that this configuration felt quite tardy in the case of the P400, but it feels much faster with the E400. Menus appear and disappear in a flash and the Web browser feels responsive. The E400 is nowhere near as quick as some of the 1GHz, Snapdragon-equipped Android handsets that we've used, though, and occasionally it can feel sluggish.
Acer has avoided whacking the relatively old Android 1.6 OS onto this phone, which is fairly rare for a budget handset. Instead, the E400 runs Android 2.1, which is a big improvement. Not only does it include a souped-up user interface, it also has a much-improved Web browser and native support for Exchange email.
The phone also impresses when it comes to connectivity. As well as HSDPA, it supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. You can even download the update for Google Maps from the Android Market to add a turn-by-turn satellite-navigation feature.
The camera is pretty pedestrian. Its 3.2-megapixel resolution isn't all that hot and it lacks a flash, so indoor shots tend to look dark and noisy. Nevertheless, the phone's battery life is relatively good. With moderate usage, we managed to keep it ticking over for about two days.
The Acer beTouch E400 has some decent features, but its touchscreen and build quality aren't wonderful. On the whole, we don't think it represents as good value for money as the likes of the HTC Wildfire or Samsung Galaxy Portal.
Edited by Charles Kloet