The Acer Liquid isn't the fire-breathing Snapdragon beast we've been waiting for, but it's still got the bite of a good Android-powered smart phone. Sporting a big capacitive touchscreen and flat buttons, its sleek design is a huge improvement on Acer's previous mobile efforts, although it feels plasticky in places. Acer's additions to the standard Android operating system are nothing to write home about, but we're not complaining either, since the Liquid should be more than capable of slaking your smart-phone thirst.
The Liquid is available SIM-free for around £330.
The Liquid doesn't quite live up to its Snapdragon hype, because its processor doesn't hit the fiery 1GHz speeds we were promised, running at 768MHz instead. That's still nothing to sniff at, though, and, just as more megapixels don't necessarily make for a better camera, more megahertz don't always translate into a faster phone. Nevertheless, we can't help but feel slightly disappointed.
In our tests, multiple applications ran happily in the background as we surfed the Web, browsed photos and listened to music. Web pages loaded quickly too. We found there was occasionally a tiny lag when typing with the on-screen keyboard, but it wasn't enough to be annoying, and the Liquid is better in this respect than the majority of touchscreen phones we've tested.
The keyboard itself doesn't rank among our favourites, but it's not on our most-hated list either. It's somewhere between that of our beloved HTC Hero and the less-popular effort on the Samsung Galaxy i7500. We found it took some time to get used to hitting the keys accurately, and the spelling correction isn't as good as on the iPhone. We also had trouble when typing at top speed. Unless we proceeded slowly and steadily, we found the Liquid didn't register every key we tapped.
Acer hasn't done much messing around with the little green robot, and the Android user interface is almost untouched. There are a handful of custom widgets, like a scrolling list of thumbnails that shows your Web bookmarks, and there are only three home screens, rather than the usual five. This could be a problem if you like loading up multiple home screens with widgets and shortcuts, but, unless you're used to having more, we don't think it'll be a problem.
All Android's usual fantastic features are present and correct, including great Gmail support, the handy Google Maps and access to the Android Market, which is stuffed full of mostly free apps that give the Liquid even more powers.
Acer's subtle additions to Android include the ability to merge your Facebook contacts with your address book. This doesn't work as smoothly as the similar feature on the HTC Hero -- you have to log in on a Web page, for example, rather than a form optimised for the phone's screen. It also doesn't make it easy to merge contacts if you end up with a few duplicates.
The Facebook integration is a good example of the Liquid as a whole -- it does what it needs to, doesn't make a fuss, and doesn't have too many bells and whistles. The Liquid doesn't reach the heights of usability and innovation reached by the Hero, but Android is already excellent, so you won't miss any smart-phone goodness.
Screening your calls
The Liquid's screen also belongs in the middle of the pack. At 89mm (3.5 inches), we like that it's bigger than the Hero's display, and it sits flush with the bezel around it, which looks great. But, despite its WVGA resolution, it doesn't look as sharp as the Hero's screen, and neither compare to the stunning AMOLED display on the Galaxy.
We also found we had to turn the brightness up to get the most out of the screen. Once done, videos looked great. With its speedy Web-browsing capability and excellent YouTube app, we think this phone is ideal for YouTube addicts.
Button be gone
The Liquid isn't the sexiest phone around, and its shiny plastic case makes it feel rather cheesy. But we love the fact that Acer has stripped down the buttons and trackballs usually found on Android phones in favour of four sleek, touch-sensitive controls.
There's also a power button on the side, which you press to wake up the phone. This is something of a pain, since you have to then press the menu button to unlock it. With the two buttons on opposite sides of the phone, it's a faff to press them in sequence.
The buttons don't include a call or cancel key, so you don't have easy access to the phone dialler, but you could always chuck a shortcut on the desktop, so we don't think it's a problem. Potentially more troublesome is the fact that, during our tests, the screen once fell asleep while we were chatting, preventing us from pressing the on-screen end button. Kinks like this are common, even on high-end smart phones -- for example, the iPhone can barely make a call. But the Liquid makes it so easy to communicate in other ways, from Twitter to instant messaging, that we think it's worth sacrificing the straightforward calling capability of a simpler phone.
Take your best shot
The Liquid has a 5-megapixel camera on the back that takes decent shots in good light. Colours are vivid, although images could be sharper. The camera is almost useless in the dark, as it doesn't have a flash or LED light. The shutter button is also hard to press, because of the way it's hidden behind the front bezel, and there's no on-screen alternative.
A 2GB microSD memory card is helpfully included in the box, along with an adaptor for plugging it into a card reader. There's also a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can use your own cans to listen to music and so on.
The Liquid offers a refreshing gulp of Android goodness, with some average Acer apps sprinkled here and there. Despite a processor that's slower than the pre-launch hype led us to believe, it's still sufficiently speedy, and great connectivity and a big screen make the Liquid an excellent Web-surfing phone. The smooth, touch-sensitive buttons make for a good-looking, although slightly plasticky, handset that's available for a very accessible price.
Edited by Charles Kloet