Acer isn't a manufacturer that you'd typically associate with mobile phones, despite having numerous handsets under its belt. With this experience, Acer is hoping to make a success out of its latest mid range offering, the Liquid E3.
A quick look down the spec sheet leaves little doubt where the Liquid E3 is going to be pitched, coming with a 4.7-inch 720p screen, a MediaTek quad-core 1.2GHz CPU and 1GB RAM this is certainly not going to set the world alight.
Elsewhere there is a 13MP rear camera and a 2MP front sensor, which interestingly both come with flash, as well as 4GB of internal space to store all your snaps. Thankfully the Liquid E3 does come with microSD support.
But how much does all of this cost? Signing up to a two year contract will get you the Liquid E3 from as little as £14pm (around $23, AU$26) or SIM free from £128 (around $210, AU$237).
Measuring in at 136 x 68 x 9mm (5.35 x 2.68 x 0.35 in), the Liquid E3 is by no means the smallest handset in the world, but at 134g (4.73 oz) it is not the heaviest.
This lightness is thanks to the (non removable) plastic casing which fits in perfectly with the budget price tag.
The size did mean that I had a little trouble hitting all aspects of the screen one handed, but this never proved to be a problem. Other than size, resolution is the big factor that comes into play when talking about mobile screens, and I am pleased to say that the Liquid E3 is not a let down.
Of course the same pop and sparkle that graces the full HD screens of mobile flagships was missing, but the Liquid E3 certainly gives the Moto G a run for its money at this level.
Fans of the HTC One series might be pleased to hear that the Liquid E3 employs a similar stereo speaker set up, with the speakers set back in stylish metallic red. Despite the cool colours, I really didn't like the design as they are set back from the screen, making it feel like the glass display doesn't fit the rest of the handset.
These speakers are backed up by DTS Studio Sound though, so the sound quality should be pretty good.
In terms of other key features, the Liquid E3 comes with a microUSB port at the base for connecting to a PC and charging. The volume rocker and covered microSD slot are on the right, with the covered microSIM slot on the left and headphone port on the top alongside the power/lock key.
The Liquid E3 also employs the use of capacitive keys rather than Android's on screen wares, something that I am still undecided on. I like having dedicated keys but the Liquid E3 could have benefitted from being that little bit smaller.
When it comes to the sales pitch, there are four areas that Acer is keen to push. The first of these is the curved design, thanks to a slightly curved back plate and bezel.
This certainly helps to make the Acer Liquid E3 more comfortable to hold but I struggle to see how this is a talking point of any handset.
Don't get me wrong the Liquid E3 is certainly very comfortable to hold, although I have to say that the set back speakers are very noticeable when holding the E3 in landscape. That said, the Moto G was also very comfortable to hold as is the ageing Galaxy S3.
Acer also wants to highlight how good the Liquid E3 is for watching and listening to your favourite movies and tracks, thanks to the HD screen and front facing stereo speakers.
First off is the screen, and I can say that I certainly never had a problem. Doubtless those that want a truly marvellous portable multimedia experience will opt for a tablet, or a larger full HD flagship handset like the HTC One M8 or LG G3 but there is little that the Liquid E3 can do wrong at this price tag.
At only 4.7-inches the lack of full HD isn't really noticeable (there will be some critics that press their noses against the screen, determined to pick out every individual pixel), and the Liquid E3 still manages to pack a rather impressive 312ppi.
My only real concern with the screen is that the colours didn't seem as bright as I would have expected, certainly an area that Samsung seems to have nailed with its Super AMOLED screen technology.
The stereo speakers certainly help with offering a decent all round multimedia performance. One of my biggest gripes with the Sony Xperia M2 was that it had just the one base mounted speaker that made it difficult to listen to any media whilst holding the handset in landscape.
Sound came out loud and clear, without any of the usual problems that beset cheaper handsets when blasting out at full volume. Even the DTS sound enhancements seem to make a difference; turning it off and listening to the same movie clip again did not give the same experience.
As a multimedia handset then, the Liquid E3 certainly has the play back credentials, but can the same be said for its creation of media?
In short? Just about. The 13MP camera is certainly one that Acer would want to shout about, given that the standard is around 5MP. After all, just look at the Moto G.
There is no doubt that the Acer Liquid E3 can take some decent photos, but these have to be done in pretty good lighting conditions. Outdoor photography can leave lighter areas seeming a little washed out, but macro photography does highlight the level of detail that 13 million pixels can collect.
Acer is also keen to highlight the forward facing flash on the Liquid E3, but throughout my extensive time testing the handset I was unable to work out how to engage it. For starters, there doesn't seem to be a manual button and it doesn't automatically engage in darker areas. In all, I was a little disappointed.
Interface, performance and battery
When it comes to using the Acer Liquid E3 in day-to-day use, there is very little that will leave you disappointed. Unfortunately the review model that I am using only has Android 4.2 Jelly bean but Acer told TechRadar back in February that Android 4.4 was on the horizon for this smartphone.
That was a whole six months ago though, so I am not holding out much hope, especially with Android Lollipop just around the corner. If Android 4.4 KitKat does eventually make it to the Liquid E3 then perhaps we are looking at a different proposition, but until then I am left more than a little disappointed.
Those that like the look of stock Android will be left pretty well catered for, although Acer has thrown in some of its traditional green colouring. Thankfully this is very easily turned off through the settings menu because the green can get more than a little much.
Once turned off though, there was still way too much green running through the device for my liking.
The Liquid E3 also has a very useful quick launch feature. Rather than having a dedicated camera shutter key on the side of the handset, there is a button on the back that can launch any app of your choosing or fire up the camera if you long press.
This button isn't something that I can see being used an awful lot though, unless you really must open up Facebook or WhatsApp that second faster than normal.
Swiping around the home screens and through apps was well handled by the four MediaTek cores and I never felt that the Liquid E3 was lacking in power in that department.
This was reflected in the Geekbench scores, averaging a score of 1120. Unsurprisingly, this puts it right up against the Moto G but behind the ageing Galaxy S3 (an older phone, yet more powerful and running newer software).
Even when gaming the Liquid E3 managed to hold up pretty well. One of my favourite test games is Temple Run 2; it scores highly on the downloads list and can often prove a little too much for lower powered handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy Fame.
That said, the Liquid E3 held up extremely well under this test. The graphics were displayed incredibly smoothly, and there wasn't a single point that I missed a jump or turn thanks to a slight hold up in processing.
When it comes to performance as a whole, it really doesn't matter if your handset has a billion cores and hundred RAM's if the battery can't cope. Thankfully it seems that Acer has managed to tool the battery inside the Liquid E3 to cope with what is thrown at it.
Interestingly Acer hasn't chosen to release the information about how big the power pack is inside the Liquid E3, but in the end that is just a number, and the only number that should be worried about is how long it lasts.
With the standard TechRadar battery test (a 90 minute video played at full brightness) recording a battery drain of 22%, the Acer Liquid E3 is on par with some of the better handsets out there. Looking at the Moto G with its drain of 33%, there is a clear difference.
That said, the Sony Xperia M2 managed only a drop of 17% but its subpar screen will certainly have helped it, as will the newer more battery efficient software.
During my time with the Acer Liquid E3 I can't say that I was ever really left wanting, it matched my HTC One percentage for percentage during my own testing. One of these involved running a 12 minute video from my Google Play library, resulting in a 5% drain on both the HTC and the Acer.
I was left a little worried that the HD screen was going to end up draining a lot of battery, but this was not the case. Yes it was still the primary drain on the battery, but that is to be expected of the modern handsets that are pretty much all screen.
The essentials and camera
Obviously there are certain areas that the Acer Liquid E3 is going to have to succeed in to be considered a phone, even before it can be considered a smartphone.
The first one of these is calling, and I can categorically say that the Liquid E3 does indeed make phone calls. That is about as far as it goes though, because call quality is nothing short of atrocious.
Even with a decent signal on both the Liquid E3 and on the HTC One that I was using to call, the call sounded extremely fuzzy. Don't be under any illusions that the call was made in extreme circumstances either, I was upstairs in a quiet room with my test subject downstairs also in a quiet room.
No TV on, no radio, no crowds of people, traffic or even road works that all too often make phone calls too hard to make.
This gives the Liquid E3 a major disadvantage to start, making the rest of the call stuff seem a little obsolete.
That said, Acer has given calling some thought elsewhere. The contacts app is really well designed, giving Samsung's version a run for its money. Contacts are large and easy to read, with nice big pictures. My only real gripe with it was the colour. If you can get past the green, it's a very nice app.
This continues into the messaging app. Again, if you can get past the green the messaging app is well designed, if focussing more on the functional than on aesthetics. There isn't a whole lot that can be said about the messaging app, or the native email or Gmail apps that hasn't been said in other reviews though. They all work, and they all work well but that's about it.
In order to make the most of these though, you will need a decent keyboard. Acer's offering here is a bit of a letdown though. Yes it provides a continuous swiping input, but the accuracy leaves a lot to be desired.
This meant that inputting passwords was really difficult, especially if you aren't able to see the characters that you are punching in. In order to get it to accept my Google password, it took six attempts, even typing each character slowly one by one.
The notifications are pretty much handled the same as every other handset, complete with the quick toggles that allow you to turn off things like Wi-Fi a lot easier.
Also included is the ability to mute a certain type of notification. This can be done permanently, or for an hour, meaning you can stop annoying notifications
Those looking at media will certainly need to invest in a decent microSD card as there is only 4GB of internal storage. I can't work out how a phone that has been so heavily engineered to creating a decent media experience can have such little space.
The final area that is essential to the modern smartphone is the mobile browser. Like pretty much every handset that gets launched with Android Jelly Bean or above, Sony being the only notable exception, the Acer Liquid E3 comes with both a native browser and Google Chrome.
You'll end up picking one and sticking to it, because in the end they're both very similar if not almost identical. They both sync with your Google account and can download your bookmarks, but I would always give the nod to Chrome as it syncs across all your devices just that little bit better.
For a phone that has made such a song and dance about the 13MP sensor that is packed into it, the Acer Liquid E3 doesn't offer much in the way of software. Instead you're left with a pretty standard affair, one that certainly doesn't live up to Sony handsets, or even some of the Samsung offerings.
There are a few options to keep you entertained; scene modes including night, sunset, and snow, as well as the pretty standard colour filtering in monochromatic or sepia fashion. Also included are a negative, aqua and black/whiteboards effects.
Those with a little more camera experience will also be able to make use of the exposure and white balance toggles, but I have found that these settings often go unused. If I wanted to really take my time and compose a shot like that, Acer can rest assured I would have a dedicated camera rather than a phone.
Elsewhere is face detection and a self timer, in order to help you get the 'perfect' shot, as well as the ability to change the picture size.
However, the quality of the app doesn't have any real effect on the quality of the images, and this is where the real strength of the Liquid E3's camera lies, in theory at least.
While the test shots have generally come out okay, I was hoping for a little more given the amount of pixels packed inside and the level of promotion that Acer has given to it on the Liquid E3.
Colour reproduction has come out well, however the level of contrast between light and dark areas in wider shots is disappointing. On the plus side, the extra pixels help with the 4x digital zoom.
When it came to using the forward facing camera, the Liquid E3 has a trick up its sleeve, and one that it hopes will appeal to those like myself who have taken the selfie craze to its current level. Having a front facing flash may seem like a novelty, but it is one that I can see more manufacturers getting on board with.
My biggest problem with it though was that for the life of me I couldn't find a way to manually engage said flash. This led me to the conclusion that it must engage automatically when in darker areas, although testing this theory in an almost pitch black garage proved me to be wrong.
Again, the front facing camera suffered with the contrast between brighter patches and darker patches when taking outdoor photography, and the lower resolution delivered acceptable results.
If you're in the market for a phone that doesn't cost the earth, chances are you might have stumbled across the Acer Liquid E3, a handset from a manufacturer more associated with computers than mobile devices.
With a price tag as little as £14 per month in the UK or £134.99 (around $224, AU$240) SIM-free and a spec list that includes a quad-core CPU, 13MP camera, forward facing flash and HD screen there seems to be a lot to shout about.
The HD screen is certainly something that the Liquid E3 can shout about. It gives a pixel density of 312ppi and makes watching movies and playing games that bit nicer, and out strips almost every other handset that can be had for this price. Only the Moto G and the Korean ex-flagship in the form of the Galaxy S3 can match it.
The forward facing speakers are also a really nice touch for a handset of this price tag. They're loud and produce a really clear sound. That DTS sound enhancement also helps boost them in a similar way that HTC's Boomsound does. In all, they make for a very comfortable movie watching and music listening experience.
The quad core CPU certainly kept everything running along smoothly. It might not come up with the same high powered insides that now dominate the flagships and even the upper mid range, often referred to as the "mini" generation, but it keeps the Liquid E3 ticking over very nicely.
One of my biggest qualms with the Acer Liquid E3 was the design. Other than being a nice big black square, in much the same way as nigh on every handset that has ever been produced, there is little to say.
The stylish red colour used on the stereo speakers is offset by the fact that they are sat back from the display, making the front feel like it doesn't quite fit.
Another area that really got to me was the colour scheme. It is something that is only a third party launcher away, but when you've just spent out money on a brand new handset the last thing you want to do is download something to change the whole feel, for something as minor as an annoyingly bright colour scheme.
Finally is the biggest problem of all, one that shouldn't beset even the most basic of phones. Call quality on the Liquid E3 was poor, and that is somewhat of an understatement. Despite test calls in quiet conditions, complete with a decent level of signal on both handsets, the Acer was very hard to hear. Even with the volume turned up the call still sounded muffled.
After spending a lot of time with the Acer Liquid E3, there is no doubt that this handset has been aimed at younger students, those that are in high school rather than at University. The price tag screams of a handset that you won't mind if it gets bashed up on the playground, and the forward facing flash is aimed very heavily at the selfie loving youngsters.
It is these people that will probably not care too much that the Liquid E3 can't make the world's best calls, because they're too busy Snapchat-ing or sending Facebook and WhatsApp messages. This won't appease the people buying the handset though, the parents that want to be able to get a hold of their kids at a moment's notice.
Yes the Liquid E3 does a lot of things well, but as an overall handset it is still left looking up to the Moto G as the handset of choice in this price bracket, and with software that is older than that found on the Galaxy S3, the reasons to choose the Liquid E3 over any of its rivals are quickly diminishing.