Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:59:04 PM
Excellent web browser; friendly interface; Google Maps supports voice navigation
The slightly unresponsive touch-screen with sluggish keyboard means email isn?t a great feature despite an excellent email interface; flimsy hardware, mediocre camera
If we were going to be Android fanboys about it, we’d say that there’s no greater proof of the platform’s glory than the fact a company like Acer that makes clunky, off-putting Windows Mobile phones can consistently drum out smooth, friendly Android ones. Last year’s Liquid was a surprise triumph, and it’s successfully passed the baton on to the Android 2.1 running Liquid E.
In the hand, the Liquid E feels quite wide, with the same over-glossy, slightly cheap looking white plastic we saw in the Liquid. In fact, it's the exact same chassis with the only difference in its upgraded Android OS and a slower processor. The body seams are pretty obvious, the plastic feels flimsy, and even the ports look slightly larger than they have to be. We’re fans of the 3.5-inch screen though, with a WVGA resolution that is great for movies and browsing the web. A five-megapixel lens sits at the back, while the sides are lined with silver buttons – on/off, volume rocker and camera shutter. There’s a 3.5mm audio jack at the top of the device. There is a certain style to it, thanks to the black and white retro design. But the touch-screen, though of the higher-end capacitive type, isn’t quite as responsive as on handsets like the HTC Desire or Apple iPhone 4. We had to tap a bit harder for input to be recognised, which isn’t so bad when simply navigating a menu, but gets quite frustrating when typing. The 768Mhz processor is a downgrade from the Liquid’s 1Ghz Snapdragon chip, but we noticed no lag when running large programs like Spotify with web, maps and camera going. The phone loads up very quickly, and offers ‘true’ multitasking – you can leave programs loading while you use or open other ones. Like all Android phones though, there’s no way to kill open programs unless you download a separate task manager app. Notifications of messages and missed calls display as lit icons at the top of the phone.
There are five customisable home screens and a handful of Acer widgets. Like the Liquid, the Liquid E has cute web and media widgets, which display a fan of bookmarked sites for the former, and most recent photo, tune and video for the latter. There’s also a great Acer Settings app that shows the Wi-Fi, GPS, 3G, battery and memory statuses. It’s easily managed, with two icons next to each spec – one to turn it on and off, the other to adjust settings. Facebook and Twitter Android apps are preloaded, which is handy for first-timers to this whole downloading business. The all-programs menu has a great scrolling animation too, where the rows of icons slide over a corner, rather like a sheet wrapped around a cube. Less impressive is the camera, which has auto-focus but no flash. Daylight shots are fine, but lack true colour, and clarity is only average. We found that pictures were often overexposed too. The shutter is hard to depress, and there’s a lag of a second or more before the picture is actually taken. The weight of the device means it feels quite unwieldy when held as a camera.
Unlike many smartphones, the humble phone call is a well implemented feature. There’s an excellent phonebook that syncs contacts and their Facebook profile picture. Tapping the picture brings up different ways to contact them – email, call, text, or via Facebook. Favourite contacts are automatically migrated from your last Android phone, and we were ecstatic to find you can simply type the first few letters of a friend’s name for a list of possible contacts to pop up. Email is great. If you use Gmail, it looks just like it does on a desktop, with access to all custom folders, plus sent mail, drafts and trash. Non-Gmail mail goes to a separate inbox, which looks similar, but you can’t access sent mail. HTML graphics display fully though. Whichever mail program you’re in, there’s a great extra where typing in the address field brings up a list of possible contacts that you’ve ever emailed. Meanwhile, you can also use the preloaded RoadSync app to sync Microsoft Exchange calendars and emails.
Our only gripe is that the touch-screen keyboard is just too slow for fast typists and the auto-suggest isn’t always on-point. It wouldn’t do for any long messages, though the odd Facebook post or short text would be doable. The grammar correction is excellent though, with auto-capitalisation for a good range of proper nouns, and correction for contractions like ‘where’d’.
Like most Android phones, web is a highlight of the phone, with a full HTML browser that loads pages in about five seconds. Non-mobile optimised sites are autofit to the screen. Pictures render quickly, while fonts are smooth edged. The phone supports multi-touch so you can pinch to zoom. We had to tap quite hard for our input to be recognised though.
Holding down on the address bar lets you copy or share the page URL via email, text or social network, and you can also copy and paste in the browser, but it’s not nearly as well implemented as on the iPhone or HTC Desire. Hit the menu button and choose ‘select text’. Then you can drag your finger across the bit you want for it to be automatically copied. You can’t paste it in an email or text though, only in the search bar.
You can also paste to the search bar of Google Maps, which is more useful. The maps load quickly, and the GPS was quick to fix, though it was off our actual location by some 50m. The digital compass reorients quickly, while the Android 2.1 OS means voice navigation is supported. You’ll have to download an add-on to Google Maps, but the first time you try to use it, you’ll be automatically directed to the appropriate link at the Android Market.
It’s hard to believe the Liquid E came from the same company that made the neoTouch P400. Unlike its Windows Mobile behemoths, Acer’s Android phones are smooth and easy to use, with enough software tweaks to set it apart from basic Androids. It’s a pity the touch-screen keyboard is slow enough to be frustrating, because aside from its failure as a proper email device, the Liquid E checks off on just about everything else a smartphone should be.