Think of a mobile phone manufacturer, and Acer is rarely one of the first companies to spring to mind.
The arrival of the Liquid S1 might just change that.
Leaping headfirst into the burgeoning phablet market, Acer is releasing the Liquid S1, a 5.7-inch device which owes as much to the company’s PC heritage as it does mobile phones.
From a first glance, it’s clear that the Liquid S1’s design has been inspired by laptops and notebooks, with curved features on the front and sides with flashes of aluminium.
The phablet market is currently dominated by the Samsung Galaxy Note II, and while the Liquid S1 is only 0.2-inches larger than the Note, when they’re side by side it dwarfs Samsung’s pioneering device. Nonetheless, the S1 still feels perfectly manageable and after a few minutes of use, it no longer seems so gigantic.
That doesn't mean that friends' reactions are any less cartoonish. Whip this bad boy out in company and the reactions range from incredulity to amazement. Measuring 163 x 83 x 9.6mm and weighing 195g, it’s a big specimen, but even those who laugh quickly want to have a play with it.
The traditional Acer influences continue inside the device, too - more specifically with the additions made to Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.
The Acer Float user interface means several app windows can stay open at the same time, making multitasking on the Liquid S1 much easier. Hold down the active apps button, and you’re presented with a menu that lets you jump to regularly-used apps or pick from a selection of four apps that appear on a translucent window and float above whatever is on the main screen.
That means you can use a calculator while still shopping via the browser, or use the camera while writing an email. These windows can then be minimised to toolbars that can be dragged around the screen, waiting to be opened back up.
Another very cool feature is the Float Caller mini window. Normally, if you’re texting, emailing or browsing the web and someone calls, the whole screen is lost to the call alert. On the Liquid S1, when someone rings, a small window pops up, which can be dragged around while you decide whether to take the call or reply with an automated voice message.
The Liquid S1's 2,400mAh battery is smaller than we expected, and holds less than the Note II’s 3100mAh power pack, but in our time with the device it still performed well and comfortably lasted a day even with heavy use.
That’s a surprising result, given the huge 1280 x 720 display which guzzles power like nobody’s business. The screen isn’t as high-quality as other devices, but then a lot of the specs aren’t at the top of the tree.
Although there’s a nippy 1.5GHz quad-core processor, there’s just 1GB of RAM and only 8GB of storage. Thankfully this can be increased via microSD and we didn’t encounter any problems with performance.
Another downside is the lack of 4G connectivity - something that would really seal the phone’s status as a phone/tablet everyman hybrid. It’s understandable, as it’s not a premium device, but it would have been nice to see.
When it comes to camera, there’s an eight-megapixel f2.0 lens on the Liquid S1's rear which takes perfectly acceptable images, and a two-megapixel front-facing camera.
The main camera is capable of taking up to 16 shots per second with one tap, which is always cool, while the front-facer has a brilliant 88-degree wide viewing angle, meaning it’s great for wide-angle photos and video conferencing.
Like most of Acer’s output, the Liquid S1 supports AcerCloud, which is still not exactly a proper cloud and relies on the storage capacity of your own physical devices. It’s a useful feature to have, but no replacement for true cloud storage.
One built-in feature that really appeals is MoodAgent – a music app that creates playlists based on mood. Tell it whether you want sensual, tender, happy or angry music and it’ll choose from your music library. You can even create a playlist based on tempo. And because the tunes are drawn from your device, there’s no lag while songs load into a stream. It’s very cool, and the audio quality on the Liquid S1 is ridiculously good.
Pricing hasn’t been finalisedby Acer yet, but at the moment the Liquid S1 is going to be priced at about €349 (£299) – a significant chunk off the Samsung Galaxy Mega (£449.99) and the Galaxy Note II (£500+). If a budget, supersized phone with basic Android is your bag, this could be worth a closer look.
We’ll have a full, in-depth review of the finished Acer Liquid S1 in the very near future.