If you thought it was hard enough choosing a new phone between the major phone manufacturers before, be prepared for an onslaught of new handsets from other major manufacturers new to the smartphone business — namely computer manufacturers. Though some have dabbled in this space before, the new breed of smartphone operating systems are giving major electronics companies the confidence to stake a claim in this extremely competitive space. Acer has three Androids ready to ship, with the first to hit our desk named the Liquid E.

While its title suggests something expensive, illicit and all-too familiar to police sniffer dogs, the phone in person is far from the nightclub-hopping, rave party-crashing image its eyebrow-raising name alludes to. the Liquid E is dressed for business in a stiff, glossy black plastic chassis with a 3.5-inch WVGA capacitive touchscreen. the screen is activated by a power/standby button on the top left-hand side of the phone, with a volume rocker and a dedicated camera key on the opposite side. on the bottom you’ll find a mini-USB charging port — a departure from the micro-USB standard adopted by just about everyone making phones — and on top a 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s also an LED light beside the headphone jack with an image of a battery that flashes either when the phone is low on battery or when it’s connected to a charger.

The user interface is basic Android 2.1 with a dash of Acer design flare, and we mean it when we say “just a dash”. there are a couple of unique widgets to use, including a funky bookmarks Rolodex-style widget, but mostly the interface is left as Google had originally designed it.

There are four capacitive touch buttons below the display used to access the majority of Android functions, like search, home and the context menu. these buttons are surprisingly responsive as well as being reasonably difficult to touch by mistake. We wish we had similar praise for the 3.5-inch touchscreen, but if there’s one major area of fault in this phone’s design, it belongs to the screen. Though the display looks fantastic, and boasts an impressive viewing angle, the touchscreen is far from being as responsive as we’d like from a phone of this calibre. the screen feels kind of sticky when you drag a finger across it, and the phone only responds to slow, deliberate gestures.

Alongside the vanilla Android 2.1 interface, Acer takes no risks in delivering features above and beyond what you’d expect from a new Android product. the hardware is a decent mix of mid-tier components, there’s HSDPA rated at 7.2Mbps download and HSUPA rated at 2Mbps. There’s also Wi-Fi, but only support for 802.11b or g connections — no wireless N. You’ll also have an A-GPS chipset and software for using Google Maps and Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP for connecting to wireless stereo headsets.

Acer has included a few bits of unique software to sweeten the deal, including a nicely designed custom media player. Called Neoplayer, this app does a nice job of organising media, as well as showing off album art and photos you’ve taken. the only downside to Neoplayer, and it’s a strange one, is that it doesn’t support multi-touch gestures, namely pinch to zoom. So while you can do this in the web browser and Google Maps, you’re left to zoom with crappy old, on-screen buttons. There’s also a very handy Acer Settings tool, which hotlinks you to essential areas of your phone’s settings, like Wi-Fi. if you’re a music lover you’ll be stoked when you discover Spinlets, a free-to-play music discover tool that offers a few dozen tracks to listen across a range of music genres.

The Liquid E packs a 5-megapixel camera but no flash, suggesting Acer intends it for basic use only. Photos we’ve taken with the Liquid E have been vibrant in colour, but the autofocus is only just passable and requires the user to take extra care when lining up a shot.

Under its business-like exterior, the Liquid E houses very business-like hardware. Running a Qualcomm 728MHz processor and 512MB RAM, the Liquid E is somewhere in the middle in regards to modern smartphone components, and our benchmarking showed exactly that. It pulled a satisfactory 27 frames per second in the Neocore 3D benchmarking app and a respectable 20,595 in our browser tests, which is roughly the same as the HTC Desire.

Battery life for the Liquid E slightly disappointed us compared with our average expectations. With low to moderate use, the Liquid E manages to get through a full day, requiring a charge after about 20 hours, but failed to make it through a work day with more strenuous testing.

Acer’s Liquid E is not a fun-looking phone, &#0
98;ut it has the processing performance to match its business attire. Though this phone handles Android and its basic suite of tools extremely well, our issues with the touchscreen, and the just-passable performance of the camera and battery makes it hard to recommend this Acer against the swell of other excellent Androids on offer at this time.

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