What’s that I hear you say? You want four cores in your phone’s processor but you don’t want to pay for a top-end handset? That feels somewhat like asking for the impossible, but if those two things are the only factors in your mind for your next Sim-free purchase, then the Acer Liquid E2 can be yours for less than £200. For £185, in fact, from Clove at the time of writing this review.
How on Earth can Acer manage to deliver this level of capability in a handset while keeping the overall price so low? Well, there are lots of things about the Liquid E2 that are much more about the lower end of the price scale than the processor would perhaps suggest. Some you might like, others not so much.
Let’s start with the build which is, frankly, uninspiring in the extreme. The measurements of 68 x 9.9 x 131mm (WxDxH) aren’t in themselves a complete turn-off, though the thickness is dangerously close to being so. However, there are chassis details that really do put me off the design.
On the front there’s a lip all the way round the border of the phone which looks a little tacky and a few generations behind the times. A curve at the top, just above the Acer brand marking, could be a spark of genius, but sadly it isn’t. It delineates a small recess which is backed in red. Now, this isn’t an alert light, just the front speaker, and its recessed nature makes it a dust trap. This is just silly.
Beneath the screen Acer has placed three touch buttons, and managed a neat design touch. The usual design of the Home button has been replaced by two concentric circles. It’s a small thing, but it’s a nice one. Another smart design element is the soft touch finish to the backplate, which helps make the phone grippy. And I rather like the slightly curved shaping of the band that separates front and back on the long edges. Oh, and the small front notification light that’s just above the screen.
However, turn the handset over and you see the worst bit of design I have come across in some time. Acer has built two speakers into the Liquid E2 and the indented circular silver grilles that sit on the back of the case are little short of vile to my eye.
Excellent quality sound would go some way to compensating – but sadly that isn’t the case here. There’s plenty of volume through those speakers, but when set at full blast music is tinny and can get distorted. Streamed video sounds okay, as does movie playback, but favourite tunes are not pleasant to listen to unless the volume is turned down.
That quad-core processor I mentioned at the start of the review runs at 1.2GHz and is partnered by 1GB of RAM so it is not at the leading edge, but it didn’t let me down during testing and I’ve no complaints in terms of everyday performance. Screen sweep responsiveness is good, websites resolve quickly, and video streams and plays from microSD without stuttering.
Those latter two uses, the web and video playback, are aided by the size of the screen. At 4.5in it is big enough for reasonably comfortable video watching, and the IPS LCD has very good viewing angles. But the screen is quite reflective, and the resolution of 960 x 540 pixels is some way behind the leading edge these days. To be fair, I didn’t find text noticeably fuzzy or blocky to read, and I managed to read eBooks without irritation or eye strain.
There’s only 4GB of built in storage, so you are likely to want a microSD card if you are interested in music or video. The bad news on this front is that you have to remove the battery before you can get to the card, so fans of hot-swapping data will be unhappy. There’s really no excuse for handset design that doesn’t allow card hot-swapping.
There’s an 8-megapixel main camera on board, and a fairly standard array of features including smile shot, panorama, and a multi-angle mode that lets you take shots around an object and then view them in quick succession. The camera is okay, but not brilliant, though the fast processor helps it focus quickly.
While the E2 launched with Android 4.1 my review sample had been updated to 4.2.1, which is pretty decent. Android is not skinned, which can be a real plus point if you like a clutter-free phone. Acer hasn’t fiddled with Android to add third-party apps either. If you want the likes of Evernote, Dropbox, and the rest you are welcome to download them, but they are not foisted on you from the moment you switch the phone on.
Instead, what Acer has chosen to preload is the kind of stuff we can all find useful. There’s a backup app that will safely put important data onto your microSD card in case the handset goes pear shaped. There’s a file manager that’s really easy to use and handles microSD card storage as easily as internal memory. There’s a “to-do list” manager and a barcode scanner – a bit more spurious, that one, as not everyone is into scanning, but it worked well.
There’s also an FM radio, and Acer’s own Acer Cloud app that gives you cloud-based storage if you sign up for an account.
Acer has also built the Swype keyboard in, and has set this up as the default option. You can switch back to the native Android keyboard in the phone’s Settings if you prefer.
Overall, the Acer Liquid E2 is quite a pleasing handset on the inside, less so on the outside. It’s certainly responsive, and the screen is fine as long as you aren’t in situations where its reflectiveness will spoil your ability to read it easily. Still, the speakers are a let-down, and internal memory is in short supply. While this is certainly a solid handset, you might want to consider the Nexus 4 as a possible alternative at a similar price (the 16GB model is still available from Google for £199 currently, at any rate – but of course you may want to wait and see if the Nexus 5 emerges next month).
Manufacturer and Model
Acer Liquid E2
GSM 850/900/1800/1900; HSPA 900/2100
4.5in, 960 x 540
131 x 68 x 9.9mm