Acer has a very chequered history as far as smartphones are concerned. The company has been making smartphones for a very long time, and has put in some impressive efforts, but has never quite hit the heights that could make it a top tier player. Its latest handset, the Liquid Z2, is an attempt to muscle in on the budget sector and it sells at £109. This is a busy section of the market, and Acer will have to do something quite special to stand out.
Acer’s own description of the Z2 mentions that the handset is optimised for first time smartphone users. In practice that means there are a couple of instructional features. There’s some help when you encounter different screens – the lock screen has the text ‘slide to unlock’ on it, and you get help on other screens too. However, this is far from a unique feature of Acer handsets.
A better idea, at least as far as justifying the “made for novices” theme goes, is the Quick Mode concept. This is an easy to access user interface that Acer touts as being much more basic in function than full Android.
It looks very much like the old graphics-based user interface design as seen on what we used to call ‘feature phones.’ This mode is accessible via a shortcut on the main home screen – you can’t get the phone to boot right into it.
There’s a learning curve to using Quick Mode – apps are grouped under top level headings. Tap Media, for example, and you are presented with icons for the FM radio, Gallery, music and video players, YouTube and the Play movie store. Sure, this is close to the feature phone way of doing things, but when you do decide to advance to Android in full you’ll need to forget what you learned with Quick Mode and start again.
You can flick back into the full Android OS whenever you want from the Quick Mode main screen, so it might serve some newcomers as a good intermediary between their old phone and Android. But on balance I’d be inclined to suggest novices just ignore Quick Mode altogether. Moreover, Android is barely skinned here, so there’s no confusing overlay to get in the way of newcomers to the OS developing an understanding of how it works.
As far as design goes, the low price of the Acer Liquid Z2 is evident in the build quality, but at least some thought has been put into making the handset look distinctive. So, the top and bottom edges are bowed outwards rather than square, the curvature into the backplate is very marked rather than being blocky, and the backplate itself is a pearlescent off-white which will appeal to some people. I do rather like the styling of the round speaker grille on the back.
None of this can mitigate the fact that this is a fairly thick handset at 12mm. This is just 0.1mm thinner than the less expensive LG Optimus L3 II I reviewed last week. It feels fairly comfy in the hand, but pocket bulges are unavoidable.
One area where the Acer Liquid Z2 beats the LG phone is when it comes to the screen. At 3.5in across the diagonal it is a little larger, and at 480 x 320 pixels the resolution is a little greater. Now, it is still not brilliant – remember the ZTE Blade 3 which I also reviewed recently comes in at just £80 and has an 800 x 400 pixel 4in screen. With the Z2, there’s a lot of scrolling and zooming to do if you want to read most web pages. Legibility is not too bad providing you look at the screen head on. Tilt it even slightly off centre and text fades – and this viewing angle issue the most annoying aspect here.
Still, the screen is very responsive to taps and sweeps – a factor that’s very important for good usability.
There is absolutely nothing remarkable at all about the ports and connectors. There’s a micro-USB port on the bottom, headphone slot and main power switch on the top, and a long, narrow, silver volume rocker on the right. Your sim card fits under the battery and unfortunately that’s also where your microSD card goes too. There’s no hotswapping of memory cards if you own this handset.
Under the hood a 1GHz single core processor provides the power, working with 512MB of RAM. There’s no surprise in those two specs, both the LG and ZTE handsets I have already mentioned share these features. But the Acer Liquid Z2 feels quite slick under the fingers, and that’s helped by the use of Android 4.1 which is well known to be a sleeker OS than version 4.0. Jelly Bean 4.1 runs more smoothly than 4.0 by some margin on relatively low powered handsets.
There is 4GB of built-in memory, but only about 1.2GB accessible for your own stuff. You’re going to need that microSD card slot.
The camera tops out at 3 megapixels which is surely below entry level by now. While there are some “fun features,” as Acer calls them, such as a burst mode which you activate just by holding down the on-screen shutter button, a panorama mode, and a few colour distortions such as sepia and negative, the camera suffers from a lot of shutter lag and shots are barely passable. There’s no autofocus and no flash, either. It’s low grade stuff.
Acer doesn’t go mad bulking out the basic apps. It is always nice to see an FM radio, and there’s a little app called My Style which lets you personalise wallpaper, the lock screen shortcut apps, and select between what are frankly a pretty vile selection of ringtones (that’s only my opinion, yours may well be different). There’s a simple to do list manager as well, but basically you’re left to roam the Play store to bulk out what’s on board.
The Acer Liquid Z2 shouldn’t break the bank, and if calling and contact management are all you need it is serviceable enough. But the screen is too small and poor for much work with websites, and you could outgrow this handset quickly.
I can’t really see the point of the Quick Mode user interface, either, and the camera is very disappointing. Of the trio of low cost handsets I’ve reviewed recently I prefer the ZTE Blade 3.
Manufacturer and Model
Acer Liquid Z2
GSM 850/900/1800/1900; HSPA 900/2100
1GHz single core MediaTek MTK6575M
3.5in, 480 x 320 pixels
110.0 x 62.5 x 12.3 mm