2014 may have been branded the year of wearable tech, but there's another trend that's put in an appearance this year, and that's the mid-range smartphone. The Acer Liquid E3 is one of the many new mid-range smartphones we saw at MWC 2014 in February, with interesting software, good design and a low price tag. Here's our Acer Liquid E3 review. See also: Best smartphones of 2014
Acer Liquid E3 review: Price
As a mid-range smartphone, the Acer Liquid E3's price tag will be appealing to many. It costs £160, which is much lower than the Sony Xperia M2's £230, but slightly more than the Motorola Moto G's £135.
Acer Liquid E3 review: Design and build
In terms of design, there's nothing overly different about the Acer Liquid E3. It has a decent sized 4.7in screen and not too much bezel to the left and right of the display. It has a nice weight at 135g and is reasonably thin at 9mm, making it feel solid and compact in your hands. That's lighter than both the Motorola Moto G and Sony Xperia M2, though the M2 is slightly thinner at 8.6mm
It does seem to be more of a masculine device, though, from its squared edges and red, grey and black colours right through to the software design.
There are a few too many dust and fluff-storing crevasses for our liking, including the front facing speakers (which we'll talk more about later) that are set slightly back from the display in a thin groove that's perfect for grit and grime to build up in.
Acer Liquid E3 review: Hardware and performance
As mentioned briefly above, the Acer Liquid E3 has a 4.7in display. It's an impressive one, too, particularly for the price. The IPS screen is one of the phone's best attributes, boasting a really good 312ppi from its 720 x 1280 pixels. We found the viewing angles of the Acer Liquid E3 to be good too. This sets the Liquid E3 apart from some of its closest rivals, including the Sony Xperia M2 with its 229ppi 4.8in display, and not far off the Moto G's impressive 326ppi display.
Making that display even better is the fact that it's paired with front-facing speakers, making watching videos and movies on the device a much better experience than on many rival devices.
The Acer Liquid E3 definitely feels slow, though. Sometimes, the phone would take a fraction too long to wake up when the sleep button was pressed, causing me to automatically press it again and therefore turn the display back off. Annoying.
It's powered by a Quad-core MediaTek 1.2GHz processor, paired with 1GB RAM, but the Acer Liquid E3 doesn't have a lot of built-in storage. The 4GB it comes with will fill up in no time, so you're going to need a MicroSD card that's for sure. You can boost the space on the device by up to 32GB using a MicroSD.
The Acer Liquid E3 scored 328 in the single-core GeekBench 3 test and 1131 in the multi-core test, which is higher than the Sony Xperia M2 despite the lower price tag. It's slightly lower than the cheaper Moto G, though.
The E3 didn't fair well in the graphics tests though, with speeds of just 4.9fps. That's compared with the 15.4fps of the Sony Xperia M2 and 11 of the Moto G, so it's pretty poor and means that the Liquid E3 isn't ideal for mobile gamers.
The Liquid E3 proved to be quick compared with rivals in the Sunspider browser test though, with an average of 1410 compared with the Xperia M2's 1647 and the 1512ms of the Moto G.
On the back of the Acer Liquid E3, you'll find a clear button beneath the camera. That's the AcerRAPID button, which is similar to LG's rear button. The AcerRAPID button is designed to give you quick and easy access to apps. By accessing the settings on the E3, you can change which app launches when you press the button. We found the phone app was useful, but you might prefer Email or Facebook, for example.
You can long hold the AcerRAPID button to launch the camera app, but we found that you have to hold it for a bit too long. It would be quicker just to unlock the phone and launch it from the home screen.
Acer Liquid E3 review: Camera
One thing that sets the Liquid E3 apart from rivals is the front-facing LED flash, which is perfect for selfie addicts. The front-facing camera is only 2Mp, but we imagine that the selfie generation isn't too worried about the quality of its pouty Snapchat photos.
What's more, the Camera app even comes with 'Face Beauty' options to help even the colour and smoothness of your skin in those selfies. That's in addition to exposure, colour and scene options.
The rear-facing camera, which also sports flash, is a pretty impressive 13Mp. Many high-end smartphones have cameras with 8Mp sensors, so Acer has given equipped the Liquid E3 with some strong camera options.
Overall, we were really impressed by the photos we took with the Liquid E3, particularly when taking the low price of the phone into consideration. Video is good too, at 1080p HD.
You can see a selection of photos we took with the Acer Liquid E3's rear-facing camera below. Click the photo to enlarge.
Below is a full scale crop of the photo. It's not the sharpest, that's for sure, but the images taken are huge so it's unlikely you'll ever need to blow them up to their full scale.
Acer Liquid E3 review: Software
The E3 comes with Acer's Liquid UI, which is very green (not our favourite) but not much different to the stock Android. It's Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, unfortunately. Acer says that 4.4 KitKat is coming to the Liquid E3 at a later date, but it has yet to arrive and we've not had confirmation of a date so far.
The main feature that sets Liquid UI apart from others is the Quick Mode feature. It lets you switch to different styles of Android, one designed to restrict kids' ability to make phone calls or send texts, for example, or to make things easier to navigate for older, less tech-savvy users.
Unless you fall into one of the categories that Quick Mode caters for, you probably won't need to use it. Plus, it requires some setup and isn't always as straight forward as it makes out to be.
There's also a new sharing app called Acer LiveScreen, which lets you share a location or image with another LiveScreen-equipped smartphone over 3G or WiFi. You can doodle or write on that screen for others viewing it to see. It seems a bit gimmicky and won't be particularly useful to most people, though.
Acer Liquid E3 review: Battery life
During our time with the Liquid E3, we found the battery life to be reasonable but not as good as some of the other mid-range smartphones we've tested. On days when we watched videos, took lots of photos and browsed the web at various points, we needed to charge it in the evening.
We found the Sony Xperia M2's battery life to be better. There is a handy Power Save mode available, but that still wasn't as good as Sony's Stamina Mode during our testing.
Like the M2, the Liquid E3's battery is non-removable, so there'll be no carrying a spare battery to swap in if you're running low on power.
Buying Advice The Acer Liquid E3 is a tough phone to rate because it has some really outstanding features like the camera options, the display and the front-facing speakers, but suffers from a slow processor, a design that won't appeal to everyone, old software and a lack of storage space or 4G. If you want a phone with a great camera at a low price, the Acer Liquid E3 will probably satisfy you, but if you also want to play games, store lots of files or get faster internet connection, the Acer Liquid isn't for you. We'd recommend carefully considering options like the Motorola Moto G and Sony Xperia M2 before opting for the Liquid E3.