The Acer Liquid E smart phone is basically an updated version of the Liquid handset that launched at the tail end of last year. The Liquid E looks very similar to the previous model, but an update to version 2.1 of the Android operating system delivers a number of advantages and helps the handset make the most of its large, capacitive touchscreen. It's available SIM-free for around £320.
We may have been spoiled by some great-looking Android handsets from the likes of HTC and Samsung, but the Liquid E isn't in the same class when it comes to design. Its styling is distinctive, thanks to its rounded edges, but the glossy white finish used on the rear and sides of the phone looks and feels plasticky. The Liquid E also feels uncomfortably wide in your hand.
We like the fact that Acer has stripped away not just the trackball but also a number of the other unnecessary buttons that you usually find on Android handsets. The company's replaced them with a row of slick and responsive touch-sensitive buttons that sit beneath the screen. We did miss the physical call buttons that you get on other handsets, though, as the lack of these controls means you have to launch the dialler app every time you want to make a call.
Multi-touch me up
The big difference between the Liquid E and the previous model is that it comes with version 2.1 of Android. One of the key features of this version of Android is that it has built-in support for multi-touch when running on phones with capacitive touchscreens, such as the Liquid E. That means you can pinch your fingers together to zoom in on Web pages in the browser or maps in the Google Maps application. This is much more intuitive than having to use an on-screen zoom bar, as you did on the older model.
The 89mm (3.5-inch) screen is impressive in other ways too. Its WVGA resolution helps text, graphics and videos look beautifully sharp, while colours also appear strong and vibrant. The on-screen keyboard works well in both portrait and landscape modes, making Web addresses and the like easy to enter. The XT9 predictive-text system takes some getting used to, though.
Like many of today's mid- and high-end Android phones, the Liquid E uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor. This runs natively at 1GHz, but Acer has underclocked it in this case to 768MHz, presumably in an attempt to increase the phone's battery life. This strategy seems to have worked, as the battery does indeed last slightly longer than that of many other Android handsets that we've tested. The difference isn't exactly huge, though. With moderate use, you can still expect to charge the phone every two days or so.
Underclocking the processor doesn't seem to have drastically affected the overall speed of the phone. The Liquid E feels zippy and it'll happily run a few apps in the background while you surf the Web, without any noticeable slowdown. The phone also scores well when it comes to connectivity. Alongside Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, you get HSDPA, which enables speedy access to the Web when you're out and about.
Although Acer hasn't customised the standard Android user interface, it has added a few neat widgets on the home screen, including one that displays a wheel with thumbnails of your Web bookmarks. The company has also preloaded a number of useful social-networking apps, for Facebook, Twitter and so on.
The Liquid E's 5-megapixel camera isn't bad. It produces crisp and detailed snaps with good colours outdoors, but the lack of an LED flash hampers its performance indoors. Photos taken in low light look very dark and grainy.
Overall, the Acer Liquid E impresses with its speedy performance, responsive capacitive screen and good range of connectivity options. Its design is something of a letdown, though.
Edited by Charles Kloet