Acer Liquid Metal £299
20th Dec 2010 | 14:08
Acer's follow up to the Stream brings Android 2.2, but dials back the specs slightly.
Acer Liquid Metal review: Overview
Acer has stuck with the same UI as the Acer Stream for the new Acer Liquid Metal, and if you hated it before, you'll probably still hate it. But the Liquid Metal costs £299 SIM free, while the Stream costs £329 as we write.
The relatively low price puts the Stream on a par with the likes of the Motorola Defy, or, if you look outside the Android arena, the Nokia C7 which will set you back a little, but not a huge amount more than £299 SIM free.
Unlike the Android 2.1-toting Stream, the Liquid Metal runs Android 2.2. The processor has also changed, down to 800MHz from the Stream's 1GHz.
The Stream has a 3.7-inch screen, the Liquid Metal a 3.6-inch one, though both offer 800 x 480 pixels. Both have b, g and n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and HSDPA, though the Stream tops out at 7.2Mbps download with the Liquid Metal going to 14.4Mbps.
The Liquid Metal has a very different build ethic from the Stream. Where the latter was all metal-look, media buttons and sleek lines, the Liquid Metal, despite its name, is mostly plastic, chrome, and curves.
Well, apart from a sliver of stainless steel on the back. The stainless steel adds some strength to the chassis, and has an etched finish that looks great. It is a deep, chocolate brown in colour and we rather like it.
But it does seem very out of place when set against the sides and front of the chassis. The sides are chrome coloured, the front black. It's a mish-mash.
And there's something else a bit odd about the chassis: it's curved in a couple of different ways. The back has a noticeable curvature so that it (theoretically) sits better in the hand.
We can't see the point, really. It makes no difference at all to the feel of the Liquid Metal in the hand, and when you prod at the screen with the device on a desk, it rocks annoyingly from side to side.
The other curve does have a purpose, and a very good one. The front of the chassis bows outwards so slightly that you'll probably not even notice it. But the curvature has the effect of making the 3.6-inch screen look somehow bigger and brighter than it has a right to. It's jolly clever.
We do like the screen, actually. Though it's a smallish LCD at 3.6 inches, its 800 x 480 pixels make it able to show plenty of detail, and it's bright and vibrant.
As far as the sides and front are concerned, the Liquid Metal is almost – but not entirely – conventional. Under the screen, there are four touch buttons for Android Home, Search, Back and Menu functions.
On the top edge, you have the 3.5mm headset connector and on/off button. The left edge is clear, the right edge has the volume rocker and camera button, and the bottom edge has a micro-USB port. All very normal.
However, on the top edge there are also three white lights, which illuminate when you have messaging notifications, missed calls, and when you're charging the battery. They show up well when it's dark, but then you might not care about the notifications at such times.
Acer Liquid Metal review: Interface
Acer has come up with a name for its Android skin – Breeze. We aren't sure you'll think it's a breeze to use, though. You'll either love it or loathe it. If the latter is the case, you can switch it off and revert to vanilla Android.
Breeze relies on a two-tier approach to getting about. When you switch the Acer Liquid Metal on, the Home screen shows the time and date, missed calls, notifications and the weather.
You can flick left and right to move through five Home screens, each of which can contain widgets. Nothing odd there. But you can't put shortcuts onto any of these screens with a tap and hold. You have to be in what we think of as 'layer two' of Breeze to do this.
You get to this by dragging a curled up corner of the screen on the bottom left.
You can long press the home button to get to the add widgets area, or you can drag upwards on the row of four application shortcut icons at the bottom of the screen to see a full apps list, and tap the Widgets app at the bottom of the screen.
It is a bit of a round the houses way of fiddling with widgets, and it seems to us that it takes some of the spontaneity out of personalising your Android device. If you're keen on ever-changing widgets, it might be a step too far.
That 'layer two' Home screen has a few tricks on offer, too. It comprises three separately controllable elements. We've already seen that you can drag the four shortcuts upwards to reveal the full apps menu.
When you do this, the four app shortcuts that were at the bottom of the screen move to the top. The full range of additional apps are set across horizontally scrolling screens. Any you want to be in the set of eight that are always available can be dragged into position where they'll swap with the app that was previously present. A quick tap on the back button takes back you to the 'layer two' Home screen.
Just above the four apps shortcuts is the Android status and notifications bar, which is more usually at the top of the screen. Tapping it brings up a host of scrolling menus and options. The bar is narrow, so you have to be careful to tap it accurately. You can do things like fiddle with connection status, see notifications and set alarms.
If you've got music playing, there's even a small playback controller.
Quite oddly, this notifications bar often moves to the very bottom of the screen when you're in an app. This feels strange if you're used to other Android devices where it sits at the top of the screen.
The greatest bulk of the 'layer two' main screen is given over to the upper two thirds of the screen. This initially shows just the date and time, but sweep left and you can see a carousel of recently used apps, sweep right and you can see carousels of music, movies and video on the device.
You can't personalise what these carousels show, but they do give you quick access to history and media, so are till quite handy. But the whole thing feels like an overly complicated way of getting round the Acer Liquid Metal.
Acer Liquid Metal review: Contacts and calling
Any smartphone worth its salt needs to be able to import contacts from a wide range of external sources. As well as coping with your SIM, the Acer Liquid Metal can add contacts from Facebook, Twitter, Exchange and Google.
Twitter support has been added since the Acer Stream appeared, but our review device refused to perform its synchronisation duty with Twitter, indicating that maybe there are some teething problems.
When it comes to synchronising, you've got some options to sync all contacts, just sync info with existing contacts, or not sync at all. This runs for both Twitter and Facebook.
When you've been through the process, you can see an individual's contact details drawn from different accounts in the People section of the Acer Liquid Metal. Mobile numbers and email addresses are drawn right in.
A quick tap on the Facebook profile link takes you through to the web interface where you can view a contact's wall, info and photos, and write messages.
Alternatively adding a contact in by hand lets you enter a range of information about an individual including their names, two phone numbers (mobile and home), two email addresses (work and home), postal address, work details (title and company) an IM handle, nickname, a web site address, photo and some notes.
There's no problem with making a call using the dialler, and we like the large Call button that means you really can't miss it with a thumb. Tapping the button at the head of the screen takes you to your contacts.
During out testing period, the Acer Liquid Metal held its signal strength well, though we did find ourselves getting annoyed at the notifications bar which was sometimes in the lower third of the screen and sometimes at the bottom.
Looking to see if we had notifications was a bit more of a chore than usual – we normally just glance at the top of the screen for the relevant info.
Conversations we had with people were clear enough, and we didn't experience any dropped calls. We had no real worries with voice-based conversations.
Acer Liquid Metal review: Messaging
There's not a lot of excitement where messaging is concerned.
When it comes to creating a message, be that a SMS or an email, typing in text on the capacitive screen was easy especially in wide mode where the keyboard is large and there's a small haptic feedback and some good predictive text to help.
Incoming message notifications appear on the notification bar and you can tap the icon to see the full message in a bubble window.
The main lock screen also gives you a message notification, and if you tap the notification and then slide upwards on screen you are taken straight to the messaging window where you can compose a reply.
It is a shame the conversation view is rather bland, but it works well enough. If you've got photos of people in the Acer Liquid Metal then you get to see those instead of the mono-colour Android logo.
On the more interesting side, there's a variety of support for other messaging options, with easy set-up for both web and corporate mail - simply pop in your username and password, and in the majority of cases you're good to go.
Acer Liquid Metal review: Internet
The 3.6-inch screen doesn't sound like an ideal size for web browsing, and indeed if the internet is key for you, then you might think about looking for something with a larger screen.
But in fact, the 800 x 480 pixel screen is sharp and vibrant, and while you can't see enough detail to read text on a crowded, complex web page, you do get enough of an overview to work out what you want to zoom in on.
The good old double tap to zoom in and out works smoothly, and once you've zoomed in you're usually close in enough to text to be able to read it – and the text reflows too.
If you want to zoom in further you've got pinch to zoom, and this too is smooth and efficient. Really, the 800MHz processor was not troubled by manoeuvres around web pages.
Flash 10.1 is supported, and we streamed video from the BBC website with just a little slowness over Wi-Fi and a bit of jerkiness at the start of playback sessions. The main bulk of playback sessions were unproblematic.
However here's an oddity. When you first switch the Acer Liquid Metal on having deboxed it, you're invited to install Flash for yourself.
Now, at this point you won't have logged on to a wireless network, so we suggest skipping, and popping into the Android Market later to make the download. But we can't understand why Acer didn't take this little chore off our hands.
There's a YouTube client on board, and it was a real star. Fast, clear, sharp, we found ourselves wasting a lot of time watching videos.
A real plus point is the fact that sound delivered through the Acer Liquid Metal speaker is quite loud and good quality.
Acer Liquid Metal review: Camera
The five-megapixel camera on the Acer Liquid Metal has a few tricks up its sleeve, such as an anti-shake mode, smile shot and face tracking in stills mode.
The range of stills effects is limited to mono, negative, sepia and aqua, so there's nothing really fancy on offer, though there is a macro mode for taking the odd close-up and an LED light to help a little with indoor shots.
INDOORS:The reasonably bright lighting of a shopping centre delivered fairly well-lit images, but you can see a huge white mass in the ceiling and the focus isn't all that wonderful
POOR FOCUS:Problems with focusing were consistent in all our shots. This outdoor scene is pretty poor for a five-megapixel camera, with lots of the tree badly out of focus. Again the sky is a large white mass, giving more credence to our theory that the camera doesn't deal with variations in lighting very well
GREY:More focus issues here, and while the colours of the playground equipment are fine, the sky is quite a poor mishmash
DETAIL:We were fairly close to this subject, and the focus is, for once, fine. But the mirrored tiles of the mosaic reflected a bit of light even on our very dull winter's photography day, and again the lens fails to deal with the fluctuation
Acer Liquid Metal review: Video
The 720p video on the Acer Liquid Metal is a little jerky to start with, but becomes smoother as the phone gets into its stride. The same problem with dealing with brightness variation that the stills camera has persists here.
Acer Liquid Metal review: Media
You've got two media players on the Acer Liquid Metal for your own music. The standard player locates music, finds album art where you've got it available and gives you serviceable, if not spectacular, playback controls.
As an alternative, nemoPlayer brings together music, photos and video in a slightly nicer looking interface.
However use nemoPlayer and you get neither access to the music control widget nor to the control tool that sits on the notification bar on the main screen. You have to be playing tunes through the standard Android music player to have access to those.
But if you're in nemoPlayer, you do get access to Dolby Mobile equaliser settings, and separate equalisers for both audio and video, and you don't get that through the standard Android media player.
Our sample MPEG 4 videos played perfectly through both the nemoPlayer and the Gallery app. You're a bit spoiled for choice, and the abundance of options might be a bit confusing for some users.
There's no FM radio. This isn't a dealbreaker, but we're so used to seeing FM as an added extra that its absence does jar a little.
As a final element to media services you've got UPnP for media sharing and Acer's somewhat lacklustre Spinlets service for media streaming. We've never really found Spinlests very exciting.
Admittedly there is more streaming content in Spinlets now than there was when we first saw it as a fresh, bright and new service, but the range is limited. If you really want media streaming then Spotify is the one to beat.
Oh, and there's something else to add to the media mix. Shake control. Yes, we know. The last thing you probably want to do is shake your Acer Liquid Metal left to move on to the next song and right to move to the previous song. But if you really want to, you can.
You can also shake to stop an alarm sounding.
Acer Liquid Metal review: Battery, apps and maps
A 1500mAh battery powers the Acer Liquid Metal and does a pretty good job. We aren't sure where Acer gets its estimated 11 hours of talktime from, but we found that it did a little better than the norm in everyday use, getting us through nearly two full days between charges, where one day had minimal use and the other day was closer to average.
Now, admittedly our 'average' might not equate to your 'average', but we're confident that a medium-to-heavy user will get through a day without having to rush off and find a mains outlet.
The Acer Liquid Metal has an app called Social Jogger which has its own widget. Its role is to bring together Facebook and Twitter feeds. Very annoyingly, if you've already signed into both apps for contacts syncing you have to sign in again for sync with Social Jogger.
Once you've done this, Social Jogger brings messages from both sources together in a rather weird user interface that has a round dial wheel to the left of the screen, which you use to move between posts.
Social Jogger can't show the whole of a tweet at once – you need to tap it to get a full screen rendition, which is very annoying.
It's easy to write something though. You just tap into the box at the bottom of the screen, choose Share, then decide whether you want your pearls of wisdom to go to Facebook or Twitter.
Once you've got Twitter and Facebook set up in Social Jogger, there's also a nice widget that delivers info to one of the 'level one' widget screens.
You've probably already guessed that Google Maps is present, alongside A-GPS, and we found the Acer Liquid Metal good at maintaining a GPS fix. Despite what we said about the battery earlier, you probably won't want to use the GPS for long point-to-point navigation sessions, because it's a real power hog.
Acer Liquid Metal review: Hands-on gallery
Acer Liquid Metal review: Official gallery
Acer Liquid Metal review: Verdict
If we sit the Acer Liquid Metal next to its own stablemate the Acer Stream, we think we like the Stream more. A bigger screen, faster processor, more pleasing physical design and FM radio give it a lift. But then, it's a little more expensive.
Looking further afield, the (soon to be) Android 2.2-toting HTC Wildfire is still a good buy and considerably less expensive than the Stream, while the Samsung Wave, though not an Android handset, might be a viable alternative for some people.
Our top alternative choice, though, has to be the Motorola Defy. With its toughened glass, water resistant design and generally shockproof credentials, it adds in Motorola's MotoBlur social networking system and gives the Acer Liquid Metal a good run for its money for a roughly similar price.
The screen, while small, is clear and sharp, and very responsive. A definite plus.
Facebook and Twitter are integrated into contacts, and it was great to be able to start making calls and posting on walls within minutes of powering up. Note, though, that the contacts app refused to pick up our Twitter contacts, indicating an early glitch.
Sound quality is relatively good thanks to Dolby mobile, and video playback smooth. We could easily fritter away time on YouTube.
We aren't too sure we like the physical design of the Acer Liquid Metal a great deal. That curved back causes desktop usage problems without having a strong plus point.
The user interface, despite being called Breeze, is a bit of a pain to get used to. Some people may like it, but we found it rather convoluted.
The camera seems to have trouble focusing and dealing with light variations. Maybe it was just a problem with our sample, but if you really care about your phone's camera, give it a try before you buy.
We didn't appreciate having to install Flash for ourselves or to needing to sign in to Facebook and Twitter twice.
Acer has followed up its Stream with another smartphone that doesn't quite live up to expectations. The price is attractive, and the screen is very good, but there are some irritations too. We aren't sure we like Breeze as a user interface, the camera needs some work, and for all its social media integration we don't appreciate how convoluted the process is.
This is a step in the right direction for Acer, but we still struggle to see how this phone really differentiates itself from the rest of the Android crowd. Its mid-range price and standard specs are pretty consistent in the market these days, and although Breeze is a different UI, it's hardly a Breeze to use.