Acer might be better known for making computers, but every so often it gets bored of churning out laptops and throws a phone into the mix. This time it's the Liquid Z2.
It's a 3.5-inch Android blower, packing a 320x480-pixel resolution display, a 1GHz single core processor and a 3-megapixel camera. You might be thinking that those are some uninspiring specs and you'd be absolutely right. The Z2 saves it however by costing only £90 SIM-free.
You can pick it up now from Asda.
Should I buy the Acer Liquid Z2?
Its low-resolution 3.5-inch display and single-core processor isn't going to win any favour among those of you who crave top specs. However, it makes up for it by packing recent Android Jelly Bean software and costing a mere £90.
If you're looking to take the step into the smart phone world, but don't want to splash your cash on top end kit, the Z2 is a good choice to consider. Its stock Android interface is easy to use and its size will be less of a shock to your hands than the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.
If you're making your way to this summer's music festivals and live in fear of leaving your beloved Galaxy S3 behind in a pool of mud, the Z2 is a good option to consider as a temporary phone. It'll give you full access to your social networks and won't break the bank if you lose it.
Design and build quality
With its 3.5-inch screen, the Z2 is much more suited to sitting in the palm of your hand than the smart phone Goliaths like the 5.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 2. It measures only 110mm long and 61.5mm wide which, together with the rounded back, makes it very comfortable to hold. You also won't struggle to get it into your jeans pocket.
The smaller display does of course mean that there's a lot less space to enjoy videos and Web pages. If you're already a smart phone veteran, addicted to videos and full-screen apps, the bigger phones will still be a better choice for you. For the casual user, recent smart phone convert, or simply if you require an emergency phone, the portability of the Z2 is likely to be more of a bonus than screen real estate would be.
Design-wise, the Z2 is nothing special. There's a lot of black plastic surrounding the screen which immediately makes it look less expensive but the metal grilles above and below it help keep the Z2's face mildly interesting. The back panel is a creamy silver affair, broken by the camera lens, Acer logo and round, silver speaker grille. It's hardly superstar stunning, but it's inoffensive enough and, for the price, you could do a lot worse.
It feels generally well put together too, which is something that's all too often a problem at this price. There's no flex in the back casing and the buttons all provide a sturdy, satisfying click when pressed. The back panel is removable and feels cheap and flimsy, but even the Galaxy S3's back panel feels unpleasantly weak when detached. Keep it firmly snapped on and you won't find a problem with it.
Beneath the panel is the battery, under which you'll find the SIM card and microSD card slots. It's a little annoying that the SD card slot is under the battery as it stops you from swapping them it when the phone's in use. It's better than having none at all though, as the Z2 only comes with a measly 4GB of internal storage. You can blow through that in a matter of minutes, so you'll really need to grab a card before you start.
At 3.5 inches, the Z2's screen doesn't offer quite as much space to fill with apps and games as the smart phone whoppers, but it's still roomy enough to provide a decent experience. Let's not forget that the iPhone 4 had the same screen size, and that certainly didn't stop it from selling by the ship load.
The iPhone 4's screen, however, was of significantly better quality than the Z2's. For a start, its Retina display meant it had a resolution of 640x960-pixels to play with. It made small text around icons and high-resolution photos look deliciously sharp. The Z2 meanwhile has a lesser 320x480-pixels.
Small text isn't particularly well defined and images don't have the same crispness you'd see on better displays. Colours too aren't as well displayed, thanks to the display's unimpressive contrast and rather cold colour cast. It also has extremely poor viewing angles -- you'll need to keep your face pretty much square on to the screen if you want the best image.
For the essential tasks of social networking, messaging and playing the odd bit of Angry Birds it's fine, particularly given the low price, but reading long pages of text on Web pages isn't very comfortable. You also shouldn't bother wasting your data allowance trying to stream high-definition videos.
Software and processor
The Z2 comes preloaded with Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, which is almost the most recent version of Google's operating system. That's pretty impressive on a budget phone as they typically come loaded up with older software to save costs and put fewer processing demands on weaker processors.
Many companies tend to customise Android, but Acer hasn't really changed very much. It's tweaked the lock screen, from which you're able to launch straight into one of four customisable apps. When you simply unlock the screen, it opens with a vertical blinds animation which I found quite irritating.
The interface hasn't been customised at all, meaning existing 'droid users will feel at home surrounded by stock Android. It's not difficult to get to grips with either, but if you are a severe technophobe, you might benefit from 'Quick Mode'. Quick Mode is essentially an app that, when opened, shows a minimalist layout of apps and options that looks rather like the interface you'd expect to see on old feature phones.
The idea is to provide an extremely basic layout to help novice users get to grips with smart phone features. It's great in theory, but as it's only an app, you have to manually launch it when you start the phone -- if it could automatically load into Quick Mode, I could see it being more useful.
You'll have full access to the hundreds of thousands of apps and games from the Google Play store, as well as Google's music, movies and magazines services too. There are numerous homescreens for you to swipe through as well as plonk down your favourite apps and widgets.
It's powered by a 1GHz single core processor, paired with 512MB of RAM. That's far below the dual-, quad- and even octa-core phones we're used to, so the mobile elitists will want to look towards the HTC One and the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S4. Still, multi-core processing for £90 might be a bit of a stretch.
I loaded up the Geekbench benchmark test to see where it falls against its competitors and was given the score of 579. Against the 2,668 achieved by the quad-core HTC One, that's not an impressive score, but the Z2 is about a fifth of the price of the One. It casually beat the similarly priced HTC Explorer -- which scored 335 -- though and wasn't far off the dual-core Samsung Galaxy Ace 2, which managed a 682.
In general use, the Z2 was reasonably responsive. Swiping through homescreens was smooth -- thanks to Jelly Bean's 'Project Butter' increased frame rate -- and loading menus was prompt. High-resolution photos did take a bit longer to render than I'd have liked, but generally I found the Z2's power to be adequate.
It had enough juice in it to handle some gaming too. Riptide GP played mostly quite smoothly, although frame rates did noticeably drop at some points, causing juddery motion. The Z2 isn't going to shine when it comes to playing the latest, glossiest 3D games, but for mobile classics Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Plants Vs Zombies or Temple Run, it'll cope fine.
An area I did have trouble with however was the Z2's Wi-Fi connectivity. I found its signal to be extremely weak and it cut out on several occasions. The wireless Internet I was using to test is far from brilliant, but all other phones didn't struggle with the connection so I was disappointed at the Z2's effort here. It's possible that this is simply a software hiccup that could be fixed with an update, but it's certainly worth keeping in mind.
You'll find a 3-megapixel camera tucked away around the back. It's not going to challenge the 8-megapixel-plus snappers found on the top phones, but at £90, you shouldn't expect it to.
Results in my tests were pretty much to be expected. The camera was good enough to give a general impression of what's going on in the scene, but it completely lacked colour, definition and significantly overexposed the area around the window in the background.
It'll just about do the trick if you only want to take some snaps in good lighting for Facebook, but don't buy this phone expecting to become the next Ansel Adams.
There's no flash, so don't expect to light up your friends in those dingy bars. You also don't get a front-facing camera, so video calling over Skype is going to be an issue. You won't find front-facing lenses on many of the super-cheap handsets, so if video calling is a priority, you'll need to consider stretching your budget to the Galaxy Ace 2.
The Acer Liquid Z2's small, low-resolution screen and single-core processor aren't going to tempt smart phone elitists to splash their cash. Its extremely reasonable £90 price tag, however, makes it a good option for those of you who want to enjoy Android smart phone features but don't fancy the lofty prices of the top-end mobiles.