Acer Liquid S100 £349
10th Feb 2010 | 17:08
Do high end specs automatically make a good Android phone?
Acer Liquid S100: Overview, design and feel
By bringing the fastest Android phone on the planet to market, Acer has good reason to be proud of the Liquid S100. Packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and super hi-res screen, there's a lot to get excited about on this phone.
Acer might be a relative unknown in the mobile world, but that hasn't stopped it making an impression with first the Windows Mobile NeoTouch S200, and by bringing top-end specs and the Android OS, the Liquid S100 will be seen by some as even better.
But one constant problem with Acer phones from the past is that despite bringing some nice parts, they often fail to be anything more than average in general use. So can the Liquid change that?
The phone looks pretty basic out of the box, with a white plastic shell encasing a 3.5-inch screen, but with the large amount of plastic border around the display, it doesn't look anywhere near as big as the iPhone or Samsung H1.
The four touch-sensitive buttons at the bottom offer basic Android navigation, and the hieroglyph look is pretty neat.
The left of the phone houses the power/lock button, and the right has the volume and shutter buttons. Pressing the former is pretty easy one handed, but the chassis creaks a little from time to time.
Weirdly, Acer has decided to go for a miniUSB slot on the Liquid, which seems a little old fashioned. The slot is located on the bottom of the phone, and when charging, a little white battery indicator appears on the top of the chassis, next to the 3.5mm headphone jack, which was a neat touch.
The phone has a single speaker on the back, next to the camera, which is adequate but pumps out basic 'chav on a train' sound quality.
Pulling the battery cover off is a worrying experience – it seems digging your fingernails in at the top and pulling rather hard is the way to do it, and it feels very much like you're going to snap something off.
Overall, the feel of the phone is a little cheap – the plastic of the white chassis and silver buttons makes it feel a little toy-like.
In the box
Acer offers a simple range of accessories in the box – a miniUSB connection lead and separate charger are a nice touch, and the bundled ear phones are decent enough, doubling as a hands-free kit too (although without media control). We're still yet to learn how to use screen protectors on a mobile yet without adding a million bubbles to the screen, but you get a few of these in the box too.
There's also a 2GB microSD card, as well as an adaptor to turn it into a full SD card too. This is pivotal, as the phone won't save any media or photos to the 512MB inbuilt memory for some reason.
Acer Liquid S100: Interface
Acer hasn't played around too much with the interface on the Liquid S100, and that's something we like. HTC's Sense UI overlay is good because it adds so much to Android, but with the Liquid, simplicity works.
This means you get the basic three home screens, one either side of the main display, and the simple bottom drag tab for menu options.
Pulling down from the top will give you access to email, SMS and other notifications, and thanks to running Android 1.6, you can also hit the search key from anywhere and use local or wider search to find content on your phone or the net.
The main difference from Acer is the scrollable wheels at the sides of the home screen, with the left offering music, photos and video, and the right a collection of your internet bookmarks as scrolling thumbnails – this is a great feature in terms of both aesthetics and function, and exactly the sort of thing open-source Android is great for.
The capacitive screen is slick and responsive – you won't feel a lot of difference between this and the HTC Hero. And the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor doesn't disappoint on the home screen – you can swipe away to your heart's content without a hint of judder.
But, we've got a conundrum here – why does the Liquid have a Snapdragon processor, but then limit it to 768MHz? Presumably it's capable of 1GHz as it is on the Toshiba TG01. It surely can't be a battery issue – and seems like a waste.
Unlocking the phone is a simple power-menu key combo, although it would be nice to be able to light up the display by pressing any button to check for messages or the time.
The rest of the Liquid pretty much follows the vanilla Android road map, with the simple system of the application running as you'd ask it to and the physical menu key offering additional functionality, such as settings or navigation options.
However, more often than we could cope with the Liquid gave up on trying to process an application, with the 'problem with X, Force Close or Wait?' option a regular visitor to our screens – not what we'd expect from a phone with such a powerful processor pushing things along.
Android 1.6 brings some neat upgrades, such as a more comprehensive battery power meter, but we hope that the Liquid will get the forthcoming Android 2.1 upgrade, otherwise it's going to feel dated pretty quickly.
Acer Liquid S100: Calling and contacts
Google has brought an irritating problem with Android – when you start the phone up and synchronise your Gmail account, all your contacts are automatically thrown at the phone. This would be great, but unless you've spent a good three hours sorting through them, it's a veritable mish-mash of nonsense.
Of course you can choose not to see these, but there are always some you need to keep, and that makes life a little harder when trying to organise your contacts book.
Android's contact list is pretty basic – slide up and down to find the person you're looking for, grab the tab on the side to move through quickly and alphabetically, or just type a name in through the search box to open things up and find it easily.
Contacts are listed with photo and personalised ringtone and so on – and we were pretty excited to see the ability to link social networks with contacts as well. However, sadly the problems within the Acer Liquid system were too great to ever see how this worked as trying to synchronise Facebook or Flickr within the phone led to the application throwing up an error message and asking us to close it down.
So it means we're back to only seeing the Android contacts menu, which isn't all that bad in fairness. We're not fans of the tabbed system which is used for everything calling-based, but it is nice to be able to choose your favourites and have them in a separate list to offer quick access to those you call and text the most.
The dialler is nicely laid out, although it would have been nice to have some smart dialling on offer, as it's not always easy to navigate through to your favourite friends using the contacts tab, which can be a little hard to grab and slide.
And when you've added in Google contacts, it's nigh on impossible for the Acer Liquid to manage to sort them all alphabetically for some reason, with it spiriting away a portion of your friends to a hidden, impossible to find location.
Calling on the Acer Liquid is OK - the call quality isn't brilliant but it's stable enough, although we had trouble finding the speaker hole with our ear in that expanse of plastic at times.
Coverage was good enough to function in most places, although it dropped out fairly regularly when in a moving vehicle - in fact, it wasn't even worth bothering with at times. We've tested other devices in the same situation, such as the HTC HD2, so we know it can be done well.
Acer Liquid S100: Messaging
Messaging on the Acer Liquid S100 is a, well, difficult experience if we're trying to put it in a balanced way.
The thing about using the messaging functions on the phone is that while the Android system is good and can handle elements like threaded conversations and improved contact integration, there are some companies that can't seem to get the basics right when it comes to text entry, and Acer is one of them.
The Acer NeoTouch S200 was one such device, with it's impossible-to-use Windows Mobile keyboard, and while the Liquid's is miles ahead of that, it's still sorely lacking.
For one, when you're trying to reply in a threaded conversation, trying to press the 'Tap to compose' screen just doesn't work - if we hadn't known the trick of holding down the menu icon on the touch sensitive row to force the keyboard open, messaging would have been impossible.
And while the Acer Liquid does support predictive text (like on the HTC range, where it works out which word your fumbling thumbs were trying to type) it's nowhere near as good, with it basically capitalising the letter 'I' and putting the odd apostrophe in here and there.
But most infuriatingly, if you try and write 'and' or 'an' the Liquid will decide you actually want to write 'Android' instead and insert it in.
On the plus side, the Liquid does have RoadSync as standard, which means that you've got access to Exchange email instantly. We're big fans of this being offered, as it makes any Android phone instantly more useful as a device. The interface and synchronisation are good, as is the calendar support, so a big well done to the company for including that.
Acer Liquid S100: Internet
The web browser on any Android phone is always good, and the Liquid is no exception. The excellent capacitive screen, while not multi-touch to offer pinch and zoom, is tip top for navigation around the mobile and full web, which is once again delivered speedily on the Acer Liquid.
We're still massively confused as to why the Liquid hasn't beefed up its processor to the full 1GHz capability, but at least when browsing the internet it doesn't show.
Instead, pages are generally loaded very quickly with minimal lag and few incomplete sections, and the mobile web pages, such as those from the BBC, are an absolute breeze.
As with all Android phones, we like the way Google has put this browsing experience together - being able to share the page you're looking at directly to Twitter (through the excellent Twidroid) is a great example of how to interweave APIs, and the ability to see your history and bookmarks visually is a nice touch.
We also like the fact the web browser on the Acer Liquid remembers your most visited pages, meaning you don't have to go trawling back through the history to find that page you forgot to bookmark.
And while there's no Flash player on this phone (boo) it means you're less likely to visit those sites that you might not want your partner to find you've been trawling through when she has a play with your shiny new phone - every cloud...
Acer Liquid S100: Camera
As you can imagine on a phone that comes from a company with no photography heritage and at this price range, the photography options on the Acer Liquid aren't that great. Sure, the headline specs are good enough - 5MP, autofocus and so on - but the absence of flash, LED or otherwise is a bit of a downer.
The photo processing also falls a little short in our eyes as well - not only does it take an age to shoot a photo, but it also doesn't manage to capture it quickly enough. This often leads to a bad case of blurry pictures when you move the camera away from the subject when you think the photo has finished being taken.
The options for snapping away are good enough, with the ability to mess around with the ISO settings, the white balance and the effects (we're big fans of 'Posterise' which adds a certain Andy Warhol effect to your photos). However, it's not going to trouble the likes of Sony Ericsson and Samsung who are at the head of the mobile photography game.
To be fair to the Acer Liquid, there still aren't any decent cameraphones on Android, so it's a bit harsh to say that it's a negative point as yet. But we do miss the little review pane in the top corner of the photo-taking screen where we could check out our latest snap.
Video is similarly only OK - taking something in QVGA resolution isn't going to cut it here, which is why the option to take video in VGA mode is a welcome sight.
We can't find any published specs on the frame rate it records in, but the video we shot in good light was a little choppy, so again this isn't going to be a great substitute for a dedicated device.
Acer Liquid S100: Media
The coolest thing about using media on the Acer Liquid is the ability to scroll through your files and whatnot from the home screen, as we mentioned above. Less good news - the Acer Liquid eschews the standard Android player as the default media application.
If you've read any of our other reviews of Android phones, you'll note that there's a distinct lack of love for them, but what's been bundled on the Liquid is an even worse option, which surprised us.
The substitute is Nemo player, an application that bizarrely wants to crash the phone every time we used it to open a video. Want to watch more than one in succession? You can't. Want to watch a three minute music video smoothly? You can't... you just get a choppy, out of sync effort that frankly we found awful.
Of course, you can always look at the videos through the Android video player, and this is a nice option to have, with the playback smooth enough and, while not as clear as other programs on other phones, perfectly passable.
However the problem is the Acer Liquid's little scrollwheel on the side of the home screen is set to use Nemo Player, and there doesn't seem to be any way to change that. This means that if you want to use the one feature of the phone that uses the cool Android home screen overlay you'll have to put up with poor playback.
Music is a little better, as despite the Liquid using the Nemo player again, it has at least managed to eke some better performance out of the device with a large and easy-to-use interface - although we're not sure it adds much on top of the default player.
Music playback on the Android OS is satisfactory - upgrades over time from Google and the rest of the Open Handset Alliance (the group behind Android's development) have made it into a useable program thankfully.
A set of four large buttons take you into a finger-friendly media player, with album art a prominent part of the display. Sadly there's no way to update this cover art from the program itself, but it's not a deal breaker.
There's the usual other range of Google goodies on board for media too, with the top being Google-owned YouTube, which is well-implemented. You can watch videos in high quality with ease, and the interface loads quickly with minimal search lag.
If you're going to download something to make the media better on the Acer Liquid, the first place you should go is beeb Player. Essentially an unofficial port of iPlayer, it allows streaming of current programs over the internet, although there's no download option, but we expect to see it in the official application whenever it appears.
Acer Liquid S100: Applications
The Acer Liquid is surprisingly devoid of native applications when you turn the phone on for the first time (compared to its peers), with only RoadSync catching the eye thanks to the way it extends the Liquid's functionality so much through corporate connectivity.
Google Talk is also included as part of the Android firmware, and offers a simple way to communicate with your buddies over the chat service. You can switch between windows of friends relatively easily, but there's no ability to add the video chat functionality from this service over the internet.
Acer has added Spinlets to the Liquid as well, which initially seemed pretty cool - music from albums that you could stream for free from your device. However, the range is limited to around 10 albums, and we only recognised music from The Killers - hardly the Spotify slayer we were hoping for.
File viewer Documents To Go also gives the Liquid another business edge, with the ability to view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint presentations. Datawiz has been sneaky in putting this onto the Liquid S100, as you can't edit docs on the go until you buy the full version.
And, of course, there's Google Maps, which is complete with StreetView as well. This works very well on the Acer Liquid, with pictures loading up fast when you move into the map to scope out an area before you get there, and navigating across vast terrain in the 2D mode also rendering quickly.
When thinking about applications on the Acer Liquid, we do think it's important you download a third-party application manager from the Market, as this will help conserve the battery life (which is crucial, as you will see later on in this review). There are a few good free ones, so just try them out and see which takes your fancy.
Given the expanding nature of the Android Market app store, we're not sure this and future Android phones will need a vast amount of inbuilt applications to be rendered a decent device - the core things from Google are there and for us that's all we really want out the box.
Acer Liquid S100: Battery life and organiser
If we were ranking the problems of the Acer Liquid S100 in order, the battery life would likely be right at the top. Simply awful, the battery on the Liquid gives up easily within the day and will begin dropping sometimes within minutes of being disconnected from the charger.
We're not sure what's taking up so much power, as when we consult a third-party application manager there's always very limited memory available for new programs.
We suppose in a good way, turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth doesn't actually help the cause at all, but it does add to the mystery of the poor battery life. At least this means that it's possibly just a rogue piece of code within the system that's pulling the battery meter down too fast, and this could be updated in the future.
We never thought a phone would be able to have a worse battery life than the Samsung Galaxy, but barely three months later, the Liquid has arrived to take that crown.
RoadSync is also the best bet with this phone when it comes to organisation - the calendar function synchronises with your Exchange server to communicate all your important meetings and suchlike, and Google calendar does the same for your (probably) less important ones.
What is odd is that you can't synchronise the two - a dual calendar surely is easy to implement, but Acer hasn't managed to do that here, adding to the irritation.
Acer Liquid S100: Connectivity and PC software
Android phones are well specified when it comes to connectivity, and the Liquid is no different. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 and GPS are included by default, and while there's no inbuilt tuner, an FM radio can be downloaded from the Market.
GPS is a little disappointing on the Liquid, as it takes a while to connect to the satellites, and pretty much gives up when in a crowded city at times.
We've had a few handsets that can lock on to your GPS signal from indoors - so we'd have hoped this would have been included in the Liquid as well.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are good enough at finding other devices when you need them to - there's no way to send your pictures over the latter, which we still find a strange thing to leave out (although Apple does it with the iPhone too).
PC software with the Acer Liquid is non-existent - it's pretty much just a case of you plugging the phone into your PC, waiting for it to have a think about being connected and then being allowed to transfer files across in mass storage mode.
There doesn't seem to be any dedicated software to allow you to use the Acer Liquid as a mobile modem, and the CD in the box is nothing more than a dedicated user manual.
Acer Sync seemed to be the place to go to connect to your PC - but the interface only offered us the chance to synchronise with Google in the way Android already does, so this seemed a redundant icon.
However, being able to interact with the file system on both the phone and the memory card is vital, and pretty much all we need the connection for (although the internal storage level is rubbish) so we can't criticise this feature too much - although it was irritating not to be able to use the phone as a mobile modem at times.
Acer Liquid S100: Hands-on gallery
Acer Liquid S100: Official gallery
Acer Liquid S100: Verdict
We all raised our eyebrows at the Acer Liquid when it arrived, and we were especially excited by the premise of the first Android phone to rock a 1GHz processor.
Early tests we ran on it seemed to confirm our suspicions - it was nigh on impossible to make the phone crash or judder, such was the awesome processing power.
The Acer Liquid is a decent device to hold in the hand - while the plastic chassis is a little flimsy feeling, and the buttons a little low quality for our tastes, the overall shape and build is good.
When the phone is in comfortable territory, it pretty much flies along in terms of application management - we were able to run multiple programs at once with little hint of a problem.
We liked the spinny things at the sides too - being able to see your bookmarks and media files visually was a lot of fun and the kind of thing we were expecting from the Android platform.
And seeing RoadSync included was pretty cool as well - the ability to receive your work emails and calendar information expands the Acer Liquid's range from a simple mobile device into something that can actually be useful in your day-to-day working life.
The problem with the Acer Liquid is that while the above elements are great, only RoadSync didn't cause us any grief when using the phone.
The messaging function was beyond irritating - the lack of auto-corrected text is irritating (despite a promise of such a feature in the settings), the bug that means you have to force the keyboard to open in threaded conversations is a real rookie mistake and we found ourselves not wanting to text on the Liquid.
And while most of the time the phone would function really easily and cope with most tasks, there were far too many instances of Android crashing and asking us to wait while it sorted out the issue - not cool on a phone with such a powerful processor.
While most of the early promise of the Acer Liquid is realised, a lot of it isn't and that's a real kick in the teeth for a phone we had real hopes would be the dark horse of the Android world.
Perhaps a number of the issues can be sorted out with firmware updates - the HTC Hero managed to polish it's reputation with this, but the Nokia N97 didn't - and given the limited profile Acer has in the mobile world it can't afford such a slip if it's to get a good word of mouth review.
While the overall package is actually fairly slick and functional, this certainly isn't the phone to upset the natural order in the mobile arena, and we can only hope future Android handsets from Acer (many are promised in 2010) will manage to take things to the next level.