Acer's probably not the first name that springs to mind when you're shopping around for a new smart phone. Companies like Apple, Samsung, HTC and Sony might steal all the headlines, but that doesn't mean other brands don't have some interesting tech to offer.
Without a fashionable name and tonnes of advertising to draw your attention, Acer is hoping that a quad-core processor and an affordable price tag will help catch your eye. The Liquid E2 is a 4.5-inch phone running Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean, with an 8-megapixel camera on the back.
Should I buy the Acer Liquid E2?
If you're after a beautifully designed, fashionable bit of kit to whip out of your pocket and impress your friends in the pub... then no. The E2's ugly design, with its large, circular speaker grilles is about as far from attractive as it's possible for a phone to be. Its easily scratched plastic back panel means it's not going to get any better looking over time, either.
What it does have is a low price tag. You can rest assured what money you have spent has been put towards good all-round performance, rather than design. Its quad-core chip gave good results for the money and the screen -- while not impressively high resolution -- has quite bold colours.
If you're after an Android phone with plenty of power for under £200, the Liquid E2 is worth a look. Alternatively, save up a little more money and go for the Google Nexus 4. It's £40 more, but its 720p screen, slightly faster processor and sharper design makes it a worthy upgrade if sartorial elegance is important to you.
Design and build quality
So you fancy a sleek, luxurious phone that simply oozes style? Step away from the E2. It's the most sinfully unattractive thing I've laid my hands on in quite some time -- and I'm not just talking about phones. It starts bad on the front -- there's a huge white bezel surrounding the screen, with a very cheap-looking plastic ridge around that.
The back panel is an off-white colour that doesn't match the front and it has two speaker grilles at the top and bottom that look like those round trays you cook pizzas in. The plastic surrounding the one at the top overlaps with the camera unit, making it look like it's been hurriedly squashed in before the plastic had cooled and hardened. Yes, it's cheap, but I don't think that's an excuse for being quite so repulsive.
I at least hoped that the E2 was packing some truly impressive speakers beneath those circular grilles -- particularly as it also bears the DTS surround sound name -- but I was less than impressed. The sound could go quite loud, but I found it distorted unpleasantly at high volumes. It might be okay for YouTube clips or podcasts featuring mostly voices, but don't try blasting your Spotify collection out of it.
The phone doesn't feel particularly flimsy, but nor does it feel like it can take a battering. The screen isn't made from toughened Gorilla Glass, and the matte plastic back panel is very easily scratched, so keep your keys away from it. The body feels fairly rigid though and the buttons have a satisfyingly firm click to them.
It measures 131mm long and 68mm wide so it won't appeal if you're after a palm-sized mobile such as the HTC One. Nor will you appreciate its 10mm thickness, which is very much at the fatter end of what I'd expect from new phones.
Around the edges you'll find a volume rocker, power button, 3.5mm headphone jack and micro USB port. Underneath the case is a microSD card slot, which you'll really need to use, as the phone has a mere 4GB of storage. This is a major limitations, as you can't install apps to the card, so you'll need to make sure all your music and videos are on it in order to leave as much room on the phone for apps as possible.
The E2 packs a 4.5-inch screen with a 960x540-pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 245 pixels per inch. Tech fans among you will have spotted that that's quite a bit less than the Full HD screens of the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4 (441ppi), nor is it offering much challenge to last year's 720p phones such as the Galaxy S3 or Nexus 4 (320ppi).
Medium sized text and high resolution images look fine on the screen, although they lack the clarity you'd see on even a 720p display. If you read a lot of fine text on Web pages or ebooks, it might be worth pushing your budget for a higher definition screen.
It's quite bright though and surprisingly bold for a budget phone. It has something of a cold colour cast to the screen, which is a bit of a shame, but colours are nonetheless punchy, making it good for watching your favourite YouTube clips.
Software and processor
The E2 comes running Android 4.2.1. That's a couple of versions behind the latest release -- Android 4.3 -- but given the low price, and the fact that 4.3 isn't freely available on any handsets yet, it's hardly a sticking point. I wouldn't expect frequent updates, however.
Rather than tweak the software beyond recognition, Acer hasn't really done much to change basic Android. You have five homescreens for your apps and widgets, with four icons remaining along the bottom for your most used tools. Apps not on the homescreen are kept in a grid of icons.
With essentially stock Android on board without needless bells and whistles, the E2 is quite simple to operate and easy to get to grips with if you've not used Android before. There are a few Acer apps included, such as a cloud storage service, backup software and a barcode scanner, but they're easy to ignore.
It's powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor. Four cores is an impressive amount for a phone of this price -- I'd typically expect dual-core at the budget end of the market. To balance it out, it packs 1GB of RAM, rather than the 2GB I'd expect to see on higher end phones.
To see how it measures up against the competition, I fired up my benchmark tests. It returned a score of 1,356 on the Geekbench test, which is a very healthy score for such an affordable phone. By comparison, the new HTC One Mini achieved 1,388 on the same test and that will set you back around £360 -- although its slick metal design does account for much of that price. With its faster processor, the Nexus 4 achieved just under 2,000 on the same test.
In my own use I found it to be satisfyingly swift. I rarely found any juddering in swiping around the Android interface, while menus and apps loaded without much delay. It made light work of Riptide GP and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City too. I doubt it would handle the more graphically intense N.O.V.A 3 quite as well, but that's something a moot point as the game is too big to fit on the phone's meagre storage.
Just below one of the E2's pizza trays, you'll spy an 8-megapixel camera. I'd usually expect to find 5-megapixel cameras on the budget end of the market, so I'm quite impressed at the megapixel count here. Of course, megapixels aren't everything so I took it for a spin to see how it performs.
In short, I wasn't hugely impressed. The colours and exposure were both fairly good, but it didn't give a very clear image. Looking full-screen, it's easy to see the fuzzy edges on the chairs. It also had quite a bit of image noise in the shadowy areas of the scene. It might have 8 megapixels, but it hasn't put them to particularly good use.
It's about par for the course for most budget-end smart phones though. It's not going to turn you into a photography master, but you won't struggle to keep your Facebook friends updated with pictures of your pets.
Acer has popped in a 2,000mAh battery, which it reckons can provide up to 9 hours of 3G talk time. That's not a bad estimation, but it will of course be under optimal conditions. In your own use you can expect that time to vary wildly. With light use, you shouldn't struggle too much to eke out a full day from the phone -- even a little more if you're very careful.
If you're more enthusiastic, expect that time to drop considerably. Keeping the screen brightness ramped to the max is a sure way to lose power, while streaming high-definition videos or playing demanding games will guzzle the juice faster than a CNET reviewer at an open bar. Like all smart phones, you should definitely expect to be charging it every night.
With its quad-core processor and bold screen, the Acer Liquid E2 will happily munch its way through most tasks you're likely to throw at it -- although serious gaming is severely limited by its internal storage. Its affordable price does mean you won't need to decide between buying it or paying your rent. It's a good all-round budget option, but you will need to put up with its miserable design.