While the name 'Acer' is one more synonymous with desktop and laptop computers, over the past couple of years the Taiwanese company has released some solid budget and mid-range smartphones, such as the Liquid Z4 and E3.
Acer, like a number of other Asian smartphone manufacturers, is continuing to push the boundaries in regards to value for money, recently showcasing four upcoming budget-oriented devices at MWC 2015, including the promising Liquid M220 and Jade Z.
Last year, it was in the mid-range category where Acer showed signs of progress, giving us the curvaceous Liquid Jade. While at the time it was the firm's best shot at a smartphone, a number of gripes, including underwhelming performance, prevented Acer's flagship from really competing outside of Asia.
This year's iteration, the Liquid Jade S, looks to boost performance without altering the overall design of its predecessor. The Liquid Jade S retains the 5-inch 720p display from the Jade, covered by a single piece of curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3, with the same 13MP rear snapper with LED flash combo around the back.
Inside, Acer has added a more powerful Mediatek MT6752M processor with 2GB RAM and 4G LTE, and upgraded the internal storage to 16GB with the option to expand by a further 32GB via a MicroSD card.
Unlike many of their Chinese counterparts, the majority of Taiwanese Android smartphones come with Google apps and services such as the Play Store pre-installed. The Acer Liquid Jade S is no exception and a SIM-free model can be snapped up for £229.99 (around $336, AU$438).
While on paper the specs have seen a welcome upgrade from the original Liquid Jade, it remains to be seen how the Liquid Jade S fairs against current mid-rangers such as the Honor 6 and the Oneplus One.
Acer has really thrown the cat amongst the pigeons here. It's rare to see a smartphone in this price category with such a slick and minimal design. At just 120g, the Liquid Jade S is incredibly light. While the aesthetics won't appeal to everyone, the flowing curves are more than merely aesthetic and contribute to a superb in-hand feel.
An Acer logo, an earpiece somewhat reminiscent of a watering can rose and a 5MP front snapper are the only noticeable elements on the face of the Liquid Jade S. Proximity and ambient light sensors, as well as an LED notification light, are hidden away under a single piece of Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which tapers gently into the faux-chrome surround.
Despite the 5-inch IPS display having a resolution of only 1280 x 720, resulting in a pixel density of 294 PPI, text and images look crisp.
Viewing angles are also impressive with little-to-no colour shifting and thin bezels helping to create a pleasant, immersive viewing experience.
There's very little to see on the bottom edge of the Liquid Jade S, with Acer keeping things minimal once again. The microUSB port takes up a wide position flanked by a single microphone, which sits precariously close to one of the many rounded corners.
The dual-SIM card and microSD card slot is located on the left-hand side of the Liquid Jade S, with the volume rocker on the right. In terms of positioning, the volume keys are perfect.
However, they feel rather cheap when pressed, giving off a far from confidence-inducing click. The volume '-' key also has a habit of sticking, which doesn't bode well for longevity.
Although the Liquid Jade S is not particularly tall for a device with a 5-inch display, it is still a little awkward to reach the power button on the top edge.
Thus, as when using the HTC One M8, some hand-gymnastics will be needed for those with small-to-medium sized hands.
Fortunately, the power button is considerably better feeling than the volume rocker, and while not stellar, it does provide a certain amount of tactile feedback.
Around the back, the Liquid Jade S retains the protruding 13MP camera and single LED flash combo from the Liquid Jade. Acer has decided to do away with the silver ring around the outside of the camera lens, resulting in a more polished and understated look.
The Acer branding, DTS-HD logo and spherical speaker also return from the Liquid Jade, but the Taiwanese firm has decided to tone down the overall appearance of the rear.
Instead of using the same glossy plastic as the Liquid Jade, the Liquid Jade S features a matte brushed metal-effect finish. As well as being less of a fingerprint magnet, the matte rear makes for a much improved in-hand feel.
As you'd expect, even with curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and durable matte plastic around the back, the Liquid Jade S still feels a lot less premium than metal/glass flagships such as the HTC One M9, Samsung Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6. Nevertheless, for an affordable mid-range device, the design and build of the Liquid Jade S is impressive.
If the black Liquid Jade S is a little too understated for your liking, white, pink and red variants are also available.
Key features and interface
The dual-SIM functionality of the Liquid Jade S may not be a high priority for every user in the UK, US and Australia, but in other countries, particularly in the developing world, being able to use two SIM cards in one device is a highly valued feature.
This feature, despite its limited implementation in the West, is extremely useful for those who normally have to carry around both a work and personal phone.
Frequent travellers, especially those who often go to one particular country for business or leisure purposes, can keep both a local and foreign SIM inside their phone; thus reducing the need to go through the laborious task of hot-swapping SIM cards every few days.
Two nano SIMs can be inserted into the Liquid Jade S' SIM tray side by side, with the option to swap one SIM out for a microSD card if the 16GB onboard storage is not enough for you.
While having to sacrifice storage for a second SIM is not ideal, this is one of the compromises that had to be made in order to keep slender profile and curves of the Liquid Jade S.
Other than the international version of the Moto G (2014), there have been very few widely available dual-SIM mid-range smartphones. The Liquid Jade S can be purchased directly from Acer, and thus is a much safer alternative than buying a dual-SIM smartphone, with no international warranty, through a third-party import supplier.
As well as dual-SIM functionality, Acer touts the prowess of both the Liquid Jade S' 13MP rear-facing shooter and the 5MP selfie snapper. That's a similar combination to those found on pricier mid-rangers such as the OnePlus One and Honor 6.
The Taiwanese firm also emphasises the "epic speed" of the Liquid Jade S, mainly due to the inclusion of an octa-core Mediatek processor. Both the overall speed and camera performance will be covered later in the review, it's just worth mentioning them here as they are two of the most noteworthy features.
On the software side of things, the Liquid Jade S runs a lightly skinned version of Android 4.4.4 KitKat. The absence of the latest version of Android could be a blessing in disguise, though, considering the numerous issues current smartphones running Lollipop are facing.
Acer's custom Liquid user interface is certainly not the prettiest, but it's light, functional and easy to navigate around. The Acer Launcher is very similar to the old stock Android launcher found on devices such as the Nexus 4 and features separate tabs in the app drawer for apps and widgets.
Many of the additions to the UI, such as the slew of Acer's own apps and 'Quick Mode', will not be immensely useful to most. That being said, there are a few helpful software features that aid multitasking and ease of access.
The 'Float Apps' feature works very similarly to Samsung's 'Multi Window', allowing you to use certain mini apps simultaneously on one screen. While there are only a limited number of mini apps to choose from, a small consolation is that any widget can also be used in a floating window.
'Quick Touch' gestures are a much-needed inclusion considering the hard-to-reach power button on the top edge of the Liquid Jade S.
By drawing certain letters on the screen while the phone is in standby/sleep mode you can either jump directly into your homescreen or open the dialler, music or camera app.
Yes, the gesture options are fairly limited at present, but at least they cover the basics and are pretty reliable. Hopefully more functionality will be added in future software updates.
Like the Liquid Jade and a number of other Acer smartphones, the Liquid Jade S includes DTS enhanced audio.
While the DTS-HD branding is proudly displayed on the rear above the circular speaker, the overall audio experience is decidedly poor.
'DTS-HD Premium Sound' can be enabled within the general settings menu, and despite there being a number of tweakable options present, the feature fails to provide fantastic audio quality through headphones or the Liquid Jade S' rear speaker.
With a decent pair of headphones, you can notice a considerable difference when toggling the 'Premium Sound' option on and off.
However, the improvement in audio quality with this option enabled only brings the sound quality up to a level comparable with other mid-range smartphones.
Another disappointing aspect of the audio experience on the Liquid Jade S is the muted and rather tinny rear-firing speaker. Even with the volume level set to maximum, audio was extremely quiet.
Whilst playing the same YouTube video, the Liquid Jade S – set at maximum volume level – was almost completely drowned out by a Nokia Lumia 735 that was set to only half volume.
Performance and battery life
Sluggish overall performance was a major thorn in the side of last year's Liquid Jade. Acer has sought to rectify this with the Liquid Jade S, opting for a much more powerful 64-bit MediaTek MT6752 octa-core processor and Mali-T760 GPU.
Despite a powerful processing package, the Liquid Jade S runs Android KitKat which, unlike Android Lollipop, does not fully support 64-bit architecture. Thus expect to see an increase in performance after the Liquid Jade S receives it's next update.
Even in its present state, the Liquid Jade S still delivers impressive benchmarking results, scoring an average of 3517 on the Geekbench 3 multi-core test. While the Liquid Jade S is a fair way behind the all-conquering Samsung Galaxy S6 (4850), its score is not far off that of Snapdragon 810-powered flagships such as the HTC One M9 (3803).
When factoring in the price of the Liquid Jade S and the scores of its mid-range competitors, performance seems even more remarkable. The Liquid Jade S scores considerably higher than the ever-popular Oneplus One (3050) and Honor 6 (3148), demolishing cheaper offerings such as the Moto G (2014) (1142).
As you'd expect from such a fine benchmarking score, real-world performance is superb. The raw power of the processing package combines extremely well with Acer's minimal user interface, resulting in a snappy and responsive experience.
Flicking through numerous homescreens, the app drawer and the UI in general is a smooth, snappy affair.
Multitasking was also handled without a hitch, thanks partly to the 2GB RAM, and graphically intensive games, such as Asphalt 8: Airborne, run very well indeed with no noticeable frame drops or lag.
Due to the thinness of the Liquid Jade S, heat dissipation isn't the greatest. The rear gets pretty hot during gaming and even when undertaking less intensive tasks such as web browsing.
The slender profile of the Liquid Jade S has prevented Acer from including a high capacity battery. Although the non-removable 2,300mAh battery seems respectable on paper, considering the power efficient MediaTek processor and 720p screen, battery life on the whole was average.
For most light-to-moderate users the Liquid Jade S will make it through a full day of mixed use, with around four to four and a half hours of screen on time. Those who regularly use the dual-SIM functionality and 4G LTE will need to be a little more frugal with their use in order to avoid the dreaded low battery warnings.
Playing the TechRadar test video at full brightness and volume for 90 minutes drained the battery of the Liquid Jade S from 100% to 73%. That's 11% worse than the ZTE Blade S6, a fellow mid-ranger, which sports a similarly sized battery and 720p screen.
Initially, things don't look too great for the Liquid Jade S, but when delving a little deeper into the specs, there may be a glimmer of hope. As previously stated, the Liquid Jade S has a 64-bit processor.
However, unlike the Blade S6, it does not currently run the latest version of Android. Android KitKat is not fully optimised to support 64-bit architecture and an update to Lollipop would solve this issue, potentially reducing overall power consumption.
As of now, the battery life of the Liquid Jade S is not fantastic, but it's not dreadful either. For most, the battery will suffice for a day's worth of use.
Although if you're a heavy user who likes to play graphically intensive games or stream videos, expect to charge the Liquid Jade S before the day is out.
The essentials and camera
Unfortunately, despite it's snappiness, the Liquid Jade S does only a mediocre job of providing the core smartphone features.
Call volume, rather than call quality, is the major sore point here. The earpiece on the Liquid Jade S looks elegant and delivers a crisp sound. Yet, due to the low maximum in-call volume, it's extremely difficult to decipher what the person on the other end of the phone is saying when you're in a loud spot.
The problem can be alleviated by using a hands-free headset, but that's a compromise you shouldn't have to make.
The rear speaker's quiet output is also not the greatest when you're listening out for notifications and calls. While the speaker is difficult to muffle, the low maximum volume often results in missed calls and notifications if you don't have the vibrate setting enabled.
On a more positive note, Acer's decision to subtly customise the stock Android dialler, contacts and messaging apps, rather than adding features for the sake of features, results in a functional if not spectacular core experience.
Some of Acer's pre-installed apps, such as the FM radio, torch and file manager are handy in day-to-day use. However, a number of Google apps, also pre-installed, offer better options than the Acer alternatives.
Prime examples include Google Chrome and Photos, which are far more refined and feature-full than the stock browser and gallery apps.
That being said, you'll encounter little slowdown when browsing the internet via Google Chrome or the stock browser on the Liquid Jade S. Webpages load up in a flash and swiping through multiple tabs is a fluid affair.
Being able to save webpages for offline viewing is certainly a useful feature of the stock browser; although it's not one that would persuade me to switch from Chrome, as I prefer the integration with Google's ecosystem.
Typing in the stock browser, or in any other app for that matter, is swift using either of the two pre-installed keyboards.
Swipe is enabled by default and while many prefer to type via swipes, the on-board Google Keyboard offers better English prediction and well-spaced keys.
Even though the 5-inch display on the Liquid Jade S is not the most pixel dense, consuming media should be at least a satisfactory experience. This is unfortunately not the case due to the poor, muted output of the rear speaker.
The microSD card slot in the SIM tray does offer media junkies extra storage for music and movies, yet in order to get audio of an acceptable quality, you'll have to slip on a pair of headphones.
One of the most common misconceptions is that if a smartphone camera has more megapixels, it will produce better images. While megapixels are important, they're not everything and the Liquid Jade S certainly illustrates this point.
A rear-facing 13-megapixel shooter with a f/1.8 aperture and single LED flash, combined with a 5MP snapper up-front sounds respectable for a mid-range device in 2015. Yet both cameras on the Liquid Jade S ultimately flatter to deceive, producing pretty grainy results that display a fair amount of noise upon closer inspection.
In order to squeeze the most out of the protruding camera on the Liquid Jade S, you'll have to change the aspect ratio from 16:9 to 4:3. That's not ideal for those who enjoy taking landscape snaps on a regular basis, but the increase in resolution is noticeable when bumping the megapixel count up from 10 to 13.
Feature-packed, rather than elegant, is how I'd describe the camera interface on the Liquid Jade S. There's an impressive array of shooting modes and options, akin to those on high-end flagships such as the Sony Xperia Z3. Although, I feel that inclusion of a dedicated manual mode, like the one found in Lumia Camera on the Nokia Lumia 930, would have been a handy.
The majority of capture and scene modes are useful, especially HDR and Night Mode. More unconventional modes such as 'Beautification' and 'Presentation' seem to work well enough, but will appeal only to a niche group of users.
Hitting the cog icon in the top left-hand corner of the the camera app opens up yet more tweakable settings. The menu here includes toggles for options such as continuous shutter and video stabilizer, two that arguably should be enabled by default.
Being able to select your preferred capture mode for the "Favourite shot" button to the left of the main shutter key is also a nice touch.
Much like the voice control feature of the Galaxy S6's camera app, voice command on the Liquid Jade S allows you to control aspects of the camera without having to touch the screen.
Aside from being unable to start a video recording via voice, the feature on the Liquid Jade S has more functionality than its Samsung counterpart.
As well as being able to snap a shot by saying one of the three trigger words, switching between the front and rear camera, selecting capture modes and even taking selfies, with the countdown timer, can be accomplished using your voice.
Thanks to the f/1.8 lens on the Liquid Jade S being able to let in more light, high ISO values can be used, resulting in fast shutter speeds. Autofocus is also pretty nippy and tap to focus is always available if needed.
Despite the competent camera app and promising specs, the Liquid Jade S manages to deliver only mediocre results. In well-lit conditions, you can take some passable shots with the 13MP rear snapper. Colours are not particularly vibrant and images are soft, lacking detail. Zooming in reveals a large amount of noise, and in general they're not the kind of photos you'll want to crop.
Macro shots look a little better, with the camera able to capture a decent amount of detail on close-up subjects. The Liquid Jade S also does a reasonable job of creating a shallow depth whilst keeping the subject in focus.
'Night', 'Night Portrait' and 'HDR' modes help to maximise the amount of light that the f/1.8 lens on the Liquid Jade S receives. Images taken in low light are a little grainy and far from spectacular, yet some detail still remains.
Videos recorded using the rear camera of the Liquid Jade S are just as disappointing as the stills it snaps. The 1080p videos, shot at 30 frames per second, lack detail and the camera fails to adjust quickly to changing light conditions.
Much like the 13MP unit around the back, the 5MP front-facing shooter on the Liquid Jade S is underwhelming. Noise is once again visible and images lack sharpness.
The overall camera experience on the Liquid Jade S is far from the worst out there but, considering the specs, it performs poorly. Images from the rear camera will suffice for sharing on social media and the front snapper is adequate for the occasional selfie and video chat, but nothing more.
In terms of performance and design, Acer has improved upon its flagship from last year with the Liquid Jade S. Yet it is still far from the finished article and exhibits a number of issues that, unless you are looking for a dual-SIM device, are hard to overlook.
Thanks to the octa-core processor and Acer's minimal software tweaks, the performance of the Liquid Jade S is simply stellar. For just over £200, it's arguably one of, if not, the most powerful mid-range smartphones currently available – and even gives flagships a run for their money.
Design is another major high point with the lightweight, curvaceous build resulting in a solid and comfortable in-hand feel. The dual-SIM card slot is well integrated into the phone's aesthetic and, while the feature is not essential for everyone, it's incredibly handy for many businesspeople and frequent travellers.
Expandable storage in the form of a microSD is a welcome addition, although you do have to sacrifice one of the nanoSIM card slots for the privilege.
On the software side of things, Acer's Liquid UI is functional and includes the useful 'Float Apps' multitasking feature, allowing you to use multiple mini apps at once on one screen.
The rather quiet pair of speakers on the Liquid Jade S really hampers the overall core experience. If you're in a loud spot you'll be hard to pushed to hear anything through the earpiece, and due to the muted output of the rear-firing unit, it's easy to miss a call or notification.
Even DTS enhanced audio cannot save the rear speaker from sounding faint and a little tinny. If you want acceptable audio, you have to slip on a pair of headphones.
Battery life is average at best and only light-to-moderate users will make it through the day without needing to charge. Power-saving mode is present, but heavy users will definitely rue Acer's decision not to go for a removable battery.
Linked into the issue of battery life, Android Kitkat is currently on-board the Liquid Jade S and despite being stable, it doesn't include optimisations for the 64-bit processor. An update to Lollipop will rectify this, but at present it still hasn't been released for the Liquid Jade S.
Considering the promising optical specs and impressive camera app, results are disappointing. Both the primary 13MP unit and the 5MP snapper up-front produce noise-filled images and videos that lack clarity as well as detail.
Acer is heading in the right direction with the Liquid Jade S, showcasing its ability to combine an impressive design and blistering performance with an affordable price tag.
That being said, there are still a few key areas where it suffers in comparison to other mid-range offerings, and as a result, the Liquid Jade S may not be at the top of everyone's wish list.
However, if you are in the market for an affordable dual-SIM smartphone that is powerful and well made, you'll be hard pushed to find one better than the Acer Liquid Jade S.