Acer Liquid Mini

5th Apr 2011 | 13:09

Acer Liquid Mini

The Acer Liquid Mini is a mid-range Android 2.2 handset with nothing really new on offer

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

The Acer Liquid Mini is a middle of the road Android smartphone with little to distinguish it from the rest. The more we see the quirky Android skin, though, the more it grows on us.

Like:

Responsive screen; Nice colours; Side button for camera; Picks up Facebook and Twitter contacts; FM radio;

Dislike:

Battery could be better; Small screen makes text entry tricky; Quirky Android skin; Camera lacks a flash; Never synced our Twitter contacts;

Acer Liquid Mini review: Overview, design and feel

Acer's Liquid Mini is yet another smartphone running Android. Yeah, Yeah, we know. Been there. Done that. Well, hold on, though. This is a £199 smartphone, so it might appeal to tightwad... those on a budget.

It's small in size so it is good for those who don't want a huge device. And it sports Acer's bespoke Android skin, which is helpful for some people, not so good for others.

The user interface is very similar to that we've already seen on the rather more expensive Liquid Metal, which is currently selling for around £299, and the multimedia-friendly Stream, currently going for rather less at around £240. In price terms the Liquid Mini sits more comfortably against the likes of the LG Optimus One.

The Acer Liquid Mini is available in five different colours, and these have fancy names: royal blue, piano black, lime green, jet silver, light pink. The colour relates to the backplate and long edges. The top and bottom edges are always silver, the front black.

Acer liquid mini

The top and bottom edges are curved slightly, and while this has no effect on usability, it does make for a slightly unusual appearance. That's just as well since, in general, the Acer Liquid Mini looks very familiar.

Under the screen there are four touch buttons for Home, Back, Menu and Search functions. Unlike in some more expensive Android smartphones, these aren't dimmed out when the screen is off. They're always present, though a bright white backlight does kick in when the screen is turned on.

Acer liquid mini

Three of the edges contain buttons and connectors, but the left long edge is entirely blank. On the right sits a pair of volume buttons and a shortcut for the five-megapixel camera. On the top is the power switch and a 3.5mm headset connector. The bottom has a micro-USB slot.

The plastic backplate has a soft finish, which makes it feel comfy in the hand and helps with grip.

Acer liquid mini

The OS of choice is Android 2.2, and you'll find GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and HSDPA all lurking under the hood.

Acer liquid mini

Cost savings have come into play in the choice of a fairly low-spec 600MHz Qualcomm 7227 processor, relatively low 480 x 320 screen resolution and shortage of built-in storage at 512MB. But you get a 2GB microSD card, and at least the screen is capacitive, and Acer has thrown a protective sleeve into the box.

Acer liquid mini

On the whole, then, it seems Acer has made some compromises to meet its price point. The question we have to ask is, are they the right ones?

Acer Liquid Mini review: Interface

Acer Liquid Mini review: Interface

Acer uses a skin for Android that we've seen before, called Breeze, though it has been slightly tweaked this time round. It's a little convoluted, but if you like the concept you'll certainly be able to fly with it.

Switch the handset on and you'll be in the Lock screen, which presents missed call and message notifications, and tells you the date and time. Bottom right of the screen is the name of your network operator, and bottom left is what looks like a curled over corner.

Acer liquid mini

Tap a notification and you can slide the box that appears to go immediately to missed calls or to messages.

Acer liquid mini

Alternatively sweep that folded corner at the bottom left and you are taken straight to the main screen.

Acer liquid mini

This is where things get interesting. The screen is divided into three sections. At the bottom there are two rows of quick shortcuts to apps. Sweep this area upwards and you're into the main apps listing, ranged across three screens, through which you horizontally sweep.

Acer liquid mini

At the very top of the screen is the notifications bar. Acer had toyed with putting this above the shortcuts area in the Liquid Metal, but it's back where you expect it to be now. But the nifty alert bubbles remain.

Tap the notifications bar and up pop bubbles offering access to additional features. Sweep with a finger to move between them. You can set alarms, make connection settings, and see recent notifications. And more bubbles appear as you use some apps, such as during media playback.

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Now, that middle section has a hidden secret. Sweep a finger to reveal a new window on the left where you can see your recent usage history as a carousel of thumbnails. Moving through these to get to recently used apps is a delight. Sweep to reveal a new window on the right and you're into the media browser, where you can access photos, videos and music.

Acer liquid mini

You want to know about widgets, right?

Well, you can set up five screens of them. There's a small widgets icon on the main screen, or you can tap and hold the Home button when you're on the main screen to get into the widgets screens.

Acer liquid mini

Now you can scroll left and right to see widgets, and use the plus button at the bottom left of the screen to choose new widgets from a list.

Acer liquid mini

Just as we've found before with Acer's use of these widgets, it's a bit of a round-the-houses system, but it does work, and if you look on the bright side you get five widgets screens plus a flexible Home screen and an interactive Lock screen - all of which work pretty well, if a bit fiddly at times.

Acer Liquid Mini review: Contacts and calling

Acer Liquid Mini review: Contacts and calling

Twitter and Facebook are handled by Acer's somewhat quirky SocialJogger. You sign into accounts and then the Acer Liquid Mini is ready to start picking up posts.

Acer liquid mini

Once you're into the SocialJogger, posts are shown on a carousel wheel that you can move through by finger sweeping. Rather bizarrely, if you choose 'Auto Play' from the menu the carousel slowly rotates through messages so you don't even need to sweep.

You can add 'pages' to the social jogger showing only specific people you follow on Twitter or Facebook friends, helping you to focus on what's really important. You switch between these by swiping a very thin bar towards the top of the screen. This is a nice feature, but to be honest we find SocialJogger a bit clunky.

And rather bizarrely, if you want to add Facebook and Twitter contacts to contacts, you need to do this separately by going into Contacts, Choosing to Add Account from the menu, and then signing in for a second time.

Acer liquid mini

Do that, though, and you can add status and pictures from Facebook. Our review handset consistently reported a sync error with Twitter over several days, so we can't say how it handles Twitter data or what the process of linking is like.

When in contacts, tapping to get to the Facebook profile of someone takes you straight to their wall, while the contacts listing picks up any available phone numbers.

You can search contacts by tapping into a little search box, but we found the autocorrect system kicked in rather too readily, so that searching for people with oddly spelled names wasn't easy.

Acer liquid mini

The Contacts app enables you to mark people as favourite and access a straightforward dialler that's designed exactly like what we've seen on other Acer smartphones.

Acer liquid mini

We didn't have any problems with voice calls. The in-call menu is easy to manage, and volume was good. People we called said we sounded fine, and we didn't experience any problems with dropping signal strength either.

Even better, the dialler screen supports smart dialling, and this is by far an easier way of searching through the contacts in the Liquid Mini than trying to fiddle with the search tool mentioned earlier.

Acer Liquid Mini review: Messaging

Acer Liquid Mini review: Messaging

With Twitter and Facebook dealt with by SocialJogger, you might think that's those two done and dusted. But you'd be wrong.

For the newcomer to Android, the Acer Liquid Mini offers a confusing array of options. There are Facebook and Twitter widgets too, the latter in both large and small variants, and a SocialJogger widget. It's a bit of an overload.

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

The good news is that in all cases widgets offer easy scrolling through messages and a simple tap opens up a fuller screen so you can compose replies.

SMS is well catered for by a good client that shows threaded messages. It might not look very stylish, but it does its job, and it picks out the numbers in SMS messages offering a 'Call' option on the menu so you can quickly follow something up by phoning.

Acer liquid mini

The keyboard, though, might prove to be a bit of a problem. The Acer Liquid Mini has a smaller screen measuring just 3.2 inches, and as a result the keyboard is a little cramped in widescreen mode and very cramped in tall mode. Sausagefingers need not apply.

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Mobile email is supported, of course. Your Gmail comes into its own inbox, the rest is handled by an email app that you configure with details for any or all of your POP accounts. In many cases you only need user name and password.

Acer liquid mini

Acer Liquid Mini review: Internet

Acer Liquid Mini review: Internet

The Acer Liquid Mini has a 3G connection with HSDPA offering 7.2Mbps downloads. Add that to the Wi-Fi that supports 802.11 b and g connections, and you shouldn't have any trouble accessing the internet.

As usual, the web browser offers full page views of sites, though the 3.2-inch 480 x 320-pixel (HVGA) screen is obviously a bit limited in terms of how much detail it shows, and if you look at a fullscreen page you probably won't be able to read much.

Acer liquid mini

The browser sports a familiar double-tap to zoom feature, and if you zoom into pages there's good text reflowing so that you don't have to pan around too much to read text.

Acer liquid mini

The browser supports multiple windows and opening a new one is as easy as hitting the menu button and choosing 'New window'. Bookmarks are similarly easy to use. Each one is saved as a tiny thumbnail, and you can add one by tapping an icon on the main viewing page.

Drop into bookmarks view and as well as seeing bookmarks themselves you can see a list of your most visited websites and your browsing history.

Acer liquid mini

Unfortunately for fans of embedded video, the Acer Liquid Mini has dodgy Flash support. We weren't able to stream video from the BBC website, for example. But at least there is a YouTube client and that worked fine.

Acer Liquid Mini review: Camera

Acer Liquid Mini review: Camera

Acer liquid mini

The five-megapixel camera is flashless and lacks autofocus capabilities. It can be activated by a side button, which you need to hold in for a bit rather than simply press, or through a Home screen icon.

You can cut down on storage size by reducing the quality of JPEGs the camera saves, though we can't really see the point. Exposure can be set as centre weighted, spot metered or frame average, which adds a little more utility, and you can fiddle with the ISO settings too, should you want to get technical. Geotagging is also an option.

There are various colour effects – mono, negative, sepia and aqua – and a rather useless digital zoom. When you've taken a shot, you can view it in the gallery and choose between a number of sharing options.


Acer liquid mini

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OUTDOORS:Taken early on a fairly sunless morning, this shot shows how bad the Acer Liquid Mini camera can be at capturing enough light. Zoom in and the pixels are dull and fragmented

Acer liquid mini

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CLOSE UP:Indoors in a dimly lit cafe, this close up makes our snack look inviting

Acer liquid mini

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INDOORS:Indoors in a well-lit shopping centre, a normal mode shot is perfectly acceptable

Acer liquid mini

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BLACK AND WHITE:In the same shopping centre we tried the mono mode to good effect

Acer liquid mini

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NEGATIVE:Negative shooting mode adds a little fun to proceedings

Acer liquid mini

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SEPIA:Sepia mode gives a photograph that air of oldness

Acer liquid mini

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AQUA:We can never really understand why cameras include an aqua mode. Do you want your photos to look like they were taken underwater? Us neither

Acer liquid mini

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ZOOM:And here's why you should never use the digital zoom feature on any camera. We're at full stretch here, and it shows

Acer Liquid Mini review: Video

Acer Liquid Mini review: Video

The Acer Liquid Mini also captures video, of course, but not too much should be expected from it. The maximum resolution is 720 x 480 pixels, which isn't too bad, but you have none of the shooting effects such as aqua and sepia that exist in stills shooting mode. At least you can flip between the default MPEG4 to H.263 if you choose.

Acer liquid mini

Shot quite early in the morning, the first video is pretty poor. The sky tones are too pinkish and the lens simply can't let enough light in to do a decent job.

There is a slight jerkiness to this moving tram in the second video, but on the whole it's is passable for quality.

Indoors, in a reasonably well lit room, the attempt to capture some fairly close-up footage in the third video suffers from a lot of blurring, since the Acer Liquid Mini moves around in our hands due to the smaller and more difficult to handle dimensions.

Acer Liquid Mini review: Media

Acer Liquid Mini review: Media

There's quite a bit going on media wise with the Acer Liquid Mini, though nothing particularly new. There's barely any internal memory – just 512MB, in fact – so you're going to need a microSD card to store music and video, and Acer supplies a 2GB card to get you started.

The music player is basic looking, but functional, with playback controls offering what you need.

Acer liquid mini

When you're listening to music, there's a little control bubble available in the notifications bar, so that you can fiddle with playback from within any app.

Acer liquid mini

The loudspeaker delivers a fairly poor quality, tinny sound, and its volume isn't great. The Acer headphones do a reasonable job, but the flat, in-ear buds never stay in our own ears very well. In short, the music player does a job, but not spectacularly well.

Video playback has to be done via the Gallery. The screen quality isn't really good enough for hugely vibrant rendering, and the screen is too small to double up as a frequently used video player, but we found it coped fine with the MP4s we threw at it.

There is an alternative for media playback in the shape of Acer's own Nemo Player which brings music, photos and video together in one place.

Acer liquid mini

It has a slightly nicer looking skin and the added advantage of going online to Gracenote and finding information about playing tunes. That's really handy if you don't have album art available.

Acer liquid mini

There is an FM radio on-board, too. It'll autoscan, and you can save stations individually and make a favourites list. RDS support is good, and with supporting stations you get a ticker of what's playing. You can't record from the radio, though.

Acer liquid mini

As well as all this there's DLNA in the shape of an applet Acer calls its Media Server. This will send photos, video and music stored on the Acer Liquid Mini to compatible devices. It works fine, but it is a shame Acer doesn't bother to include any information on how to set it up.

Acer Liquid Mini review: Battery life

Acer Liquid Mini review: Battery life

With a 1300mAh battery driving everything forward, you can't expect the Acer Liquid Mini to last for ever. On standby, with almost no use being made of it, it went for days without seeming to lose any battery charge at all.

Acer liquid mini

But start asking it to do things and it's a different story. We went from a nearly full charge to needing to recharge in six hours after thrashing the 3G, Wi-Fi and music player.

Acer liquid mini

We reckon you'll probably need to recharge daily, as with any other smartphone, and if you're a power user – by which we mean you actually use features like GPS and 3G data a lot – and don't have ready access to mains power, then you may need to look elsewhere for a smartphone with better battery life.

For the record, Acer gives a quotation of 6.5 hours 3G talk, 8 hours on 2G, and 480 hours of standby on 3G, 400 hours on 2G.

Acer liquid mini

We've mentioned already that the Acer Liquid Mini has all the necessary connectivity accoutrements to count as a smartphone. GPS, HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and even DLNA.

Acer Liquid Mini review: Maps and apps

Acer Liquid Mini review: Maps and apps

You won't get an Android 2.2 phone that lacks Google Maps, and it is right here complete, of course, with satellite and street views. You also have the new 3D mapping that is starting to roll out in some places. Birmingham, for example.

Acer liquid mini

There's a separate app for Google Maps navigation and you can use the usual features to help you get around, including spoken destinations so you don't even have to bother with tapping at the small keyboard.

The GPS was fast when we used it in fairly non-built-up areas – we certainly had no complaints.

Acer liquid mini

Like many other users of Android, Acer tries to add value with its own apps.

We have familiar critters like the media streaming service Spinlets and the rather useless avatar creator urFooz. There's also a nice little weather app that delivers a full week forecast and some news updates.

Documents To Go is here too, but only for viewing, not editing files.

Acer liquid mini

Acer Liquid Mini review: Hands-on gallery

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Acer Liquid Mini review: Official gallery

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Acer liquid mini

Acer Liquid Mini: Verdict

Acer Liquid Mini review: Verdict

Acer liquid mini

The Acer Liquid Mini does a fair job of offering a range of Android features in a small format. There isn't anything startlingly new here, though, and what you do get is cramped into a relatively small screen that doesn't really cut the mustard for things like web browsing and video playback.

Whether or not the quirky Android skin appeals to you will be a matter of personal taste. It's growing on us the more we see it.

We liked

The hardware design is attractive, and we like the choice of chassis colours. We'd have liked swappable backplates even more, though, Acer.

Acer provides a slipcase in the box. This is a real rarity and it does very well for keeping the Acer Liquid Mini clean and scratch-free.

We like the way the Nemo Player pops online and gets album art for our tracks. This means all we needed to do was copy a few tracks onto an SD card and then get their album art later. Simples.

We disliked

We were miffed about the lack of streaming video support via websites. Really that's a must these days.

We don't really see why Acer feels it necessary to offer two media playback apps or quite so many Facebook and Twitter options. It's just designed to make life difficult for newcomers to Android.

Acer really should provide instructions for using its media streaming DLNA service in the box. There's a printed quick start guide, but it doesn't cover it.

The 600MHz processor also let things down a little at times, running a tad slower than we'd have liked. Instant response to taps just wasn't always there.

Verdict

The Acer Liquid Mini is yet another mid-range, middle of the road Android smartphone. It doesn't do anything spectacularly well, and if you're able to stump up a few more quid and still want Acer, we'd advise you take a look at the Acer Stream instead.

Android 2.2 smartphone touchscreen budget phone
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