So far, Acer's smart phones have been disappointing, comprising a bunch of boring Windows Mobile handsets and a handful of Android devices that have missed the mark. But Acer is looking to make a much bigger impression with the Stream. It includes a number of innovative features, including a HDMI port for hooking it up to a high-definition TV, a huge AMOLED touchscreen and a heavily customised version of the Android user interface.
The Stream is available exclusively from eXpansys, where you can grab it SIM-free and unlocked for £400. You can also get it for free on a £30-per-month, 2-year contract.
The Stream is certainly Acer's best-looking handset yet. It's relatively slim, at 11mm thick, and the combination of the dark aluminium and glossy black finish on the front means it looks every inch the top-end phone. The three media-playback buttons beneath the screen break up the handset's otherwise clean lines.
We love this phone's large, 94mm (3.7-inch) AMOLED touchscreen. It's not only fantastically bright, but it also produces beautifully vivid colours and astonishingly deep black levels. Its WVGA resolution means Web pages and pictures look incredibly sharp and, as it supports multi-touch, you can use the pinch-to-zoom gesture to whizz in and out of Web pages and maps.
The phone runs Android 2.1, but Acer has heavily customised the user interface. Instead of the usual multi-page Android home screen, the Stream has a single-page home screen divided into two parts. The bottom third consists of eight app shortcuts that are permanently displayed. Swiping up on this shortcut bar opens the main Android menu. The Android notification bar has been moved from the top of the screen to just above the shortcut bar.
The top two-thirds of the home screen are used to display three panels that you swipe back and forth between. The central panel simply shows the time and date, while the left-hand one displays a carousel-style menu containing thumbnails of recently used applications. The right-hand panel offers a similar thumbnail view, but this one displays media files. You can click a tab at the top of this panel to switch between music, videos and photos.
Acer's tweaked interface is a brave attempt at trying something new. The thumbnail view of your recently used apps is certainly very useful for diving back in where you left off in an app. But the interface also has its problems. It's not easy to get at your widgets, so you tend not to make much use of them, and the tiny notification bar is much more fiddly and annoying to use than the standard Android pull-down menu.
We got used to the whole system after a while but, overall, we prefer the standard Android interface. Fortunately, you can revert back to this via the main Android settings menu, although switching between the two involves a reboot.
With a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 512MB of RAM, the Stream is not only the most powerful Android handset that Acer has produced so far, but also one of the most powerful Android smart phones available on the entire market. It feels blisteringly fast, and applications load in the blink of an eye. The fast processor and large screen take their toll on battery life, however -- we found the phone needed recharging after just a day and a half of use.
Acer is pitching the Stream as a media-playback device, so you need plenty of space for storing media files. The phone has 2GB of built-in memory and comes with an 8GB microSD card in the box. The memory-card slot can take cards of up to 32GB in size.
The phone's Nemo media-player interface lets you listen to music and view photos. It also supports playback of video files, including 720p flicks captured by the phone's camera. We were able to play standard-definition Xvid files, but we couldn't get the Stream to play 720p MKV videos, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S (although we had to change the file extension to AVI in this case).
The phone's other key feature is the micro-HDMI port that sits just under the micro-USB port on the right-hand edge of the phone. Acer supplies an adaptor cable in the box so you can hook the phone up to any hi-def TV. The port has more limited applications than we expected, however. You can only output pictures and videos from the Nemo application. You can't, for example, use it to play games or view Web pages on your big-screen TV.
The handset's camera is also something of a letdown. Although the 5-megapixel shooter takes decent still photos, the much-touted 720p video-recording mode is poor. It produces quite pixellated and jerky footage that's far from what we'd expect of a 720p recording.
The Acer Stream is a very capable Android handset that feels lightning-fast and offers some innovative features. In terms of hardware, it's on a par with other high-end Android handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S. But its customised user interface takes some getting used to, and the HDMI output and video-recording features aren't as good as we'd hoped they'd be.
Edited by Charles Kloet