While the likes of HTC, Samsung, Sony and LG duke it out for the title of most-coveted Android flagship phone, the middle and lower end of the market is populated by just as many companies keen to snap up budget-conscious buyers with low-cost devices.
Acer, arguably more famous for its laptops than its telecoms tech, is one such company, and it has been attempting to crack the sector with its Liquid range of handsets for the past few years now.
The Liquid E3 is very much in line with Acer's previous offerings; it has some nice ideas for the price, but is curtailed slightly by some performance issues. Even so, when placed alongside its rivals, which include the best-selling Moto G, its shortcomings are easier to overlook.
Acer Liquid E3 review: Design & Display
Acer's phones rarely feel as cheap as their price tags would suggest, and the Liquid E3 is no exception. Granted, it's an entirely plastic handset, but the build quality is excellent; everything feels solid and dependable, something made possible by the fact that it's an entirely sealed unit. Because of this, you can't access the battery and there are flaps on the sides of the device for inserting your microSD and Micro SIM cards.
The front of the Liquid E3 is dominated by the 4.7-inch 720p HD display, which is flanked by stereo speakers, very much like those seen on the HTC One M8 and Nexus 6. These speakers come with DTS enhancements which ensure a punchy, impressive sound. Below the screen you'll find capacitive buttons for the three usual Android functions, while above it there's a handy LED notification light.
What's also noteworthy about the design is the button on the rear of the phone, which can be configured to instantly fire up a selected application. Acer calls it "AcerRAPID", and it's something we found ourselves using quite a lot during the review period. Just above this button you'll find the 13 megapixel camera, which annoyingly juts out from the casing making it awkward to lay the phone down on a flat surface.
Acer Liquid E3 review: Software & User Experience
The Liquid E3 ships with Android 4.2.2, putting it way behind some of its rivals, the Moto G in particular which runs Android Lollipop. An Android 4.4 update is available, but we'd be very surprised if this handset gets an upgrade to Android Lollipop.
While Acer has wisely kept much of the stock Android experience, it has added some of its own embellishments to the mix. You can alter audio profiles for example, selecting from pre-defined settings to match different environments, be it work, home or outdoors. It's also possible to mute certain notifications from the settings menu, or wake the phone by flipping it over. Auto power-downs are also supported by Acer's modified OS.
As usual, there's some duplication when it comes to apps. Acer has included its own photo viewer and cloud storage solution, and these take up valuable space alongside Google's own Android-based offerings. The default Swype keyboard is also something you'll want to replace with Google's own alternative almost as soon as you boot the phone up.
The phone's MediaTek Quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7 chipset is hardly going to blaze any trails, but it keeps things relatively smooth despite the demands placed upon it by that impressive 720 x 1280 screen. Games run smoothly, even quite recent 3D ones, and predictably it's only when you have several processes running in tandem that the device really begins to strain. It goes without saying that Acer's phone isn't going to set the world alight when it comes to pure processing power, but in its class, it is more than capable of holding its own.
Acer Liquid E3 review: Battery, Memory & Camera
The Liquid E3 comes with a 2000mAh battery which provides a surprising degree of stamina, especially when you consider that its being tasked with powering a HD-standard screen. We found that we could get well over a day of use out of a single charge, and using Acer's supplied power saver app, that could be extended further at the expense of certain functions.
The amount of on-board memory is something of a disappointment, especially when you consider the multimedia possibilities afforded by the phone's roomy screen and powerful stereo speakers. There's a mere 4GB of memory here, with just under 2.5GB available to the end user. With this in mind one of the first things you'll need to do as a Liquid E3 owner is purchase a microSD card; these are relatively cheap so it's not too much of an issue. In terms of RAM, the phone has just 1GB, and that naturally impacts on the smoothness of the experience when you have a lot of things happening at once.
By offering a 13 megapixel snapper in such a cheap handset, Acer is making quite a statement. The camera on the Liquid E3 isn't perfect by a long chalk; photos look rather washed out and it struggles in settings where there's a strong contrast between light and darkness, but the detail is impressive. The front-facing camera is perfect for selfie-takers as it comes with its own LED flash, although when this flash fires seems rather unpredictable, as there's no option to manually enable it.
Acer Liquid E3 review: Conclusion
When you're looking at a phone which costs just over £100, you have to be realistic about its shortcomings. The Liquid E3 has many –– low internal memory, skittish performance under pressure and no foreseeable upgrade path to Android Lollipop being just three –– but the positives arguably outweigh the negatives. The screen is great, the camera way above average for this price range and the stereo speakers make it an appealing media device. Add in decent battery life, expandable storage and an attractive design, and you have a phone which feels more expensive than its £120 price tag might suggest.