Acer may not be a huge player in the North American smartphone market, but it has slowly been improving its game, and it's had some measure of success with its Liquid E -- which, for a little while at least, was one of the better budget-priced Android options around. That phone has now gotten a proper successor in the form of the Liquid mt (otherwise known as the Liquid Metal), which first rolled out in Europe last fall and recently made its North American debut on Rogers in Canada. We managed to get a brief look at the phone at Mobile World Congress last month, but we've now had some additional time to properly test the phone and see how it stacks up. Will it finally earn Acer a bit of respect? Read on for our full review.
Acer Liquid mtSee all photos
The Liquid mt certainly isn't the thinnest or sleekest Android phone around, but it is unquestionably a big step up for Acer, and may just even be capable of turning a few heads. As the name suggests, the phone is largely enclosed in metal, including some shiny chrome around the edges and a stainless steel back that's been given the appearance of carbon fiber. It slides up to reveal the battery, SIM card and microSD card slot -- the latter of which is blocked by the battery, which can be a slight inconvenience but seems to be an increasingly common occurrence.
On the front of the phone you'll find four capacitive touch buttons that keep things as minimal as possible, along with a 3.6-inch display that boasts a standard 800 x 480 resolution. The glass on top of the display is also slightly curved, which unfortunately allows for a bit more glare than the screen would presumably have otherwise. Visibility proved to be even worse outdoors, where we sometimes struggled to see anything on the phone in particularly harsh lighting conditions.
The screen itself is otherwise decent, although we noticed that the color temperature leaned considerably towards the cool side of the spectrum. It's not to the point of being distracting when you're actually using the phone, but it is certainly noticeable when compared to other devices. Both the front and back of the phone are also unsurprisingly something of a fingerprint magnet and, as you can see, the phone is also somewhat bigger than it had to be given the screen size, although it's certainly still more pocketable than most jumbo phones. On the whole, however, the phone is solidly built and looks good even next to some higher-end phones, which is no small feat.
Performance-wise, the phone is... decent. It packs the same 800MHz Qualcomm msm7230 processor found in the likes of the T-Mobile G2 and managed to score around the 1100 mark in our Quadrant tests (that's in unmodified HTC Evo 4G territory), but the phone just felt a bit more sluggish than we would have liked in general use. In fact, navigating around Android proved to be noticeably less snappy than something like the LG Optimus One (and its various iterations), which only has a 600MHz processor. That sluggishness was prevalent when using both Acer's "Breeze" Android skin or stock Froyo (more on that later), though stock did fare ever so slightly better.
Battery life is also solid but unremarkable. It'll easily handle a day of average use, but you'll likely run into trouble if you leave the next day without remembering to charge it. One other nice little touch is a hidden status display at the top of the phone, which shows the phone's charging status when plugged in, and flashing icon when you have new email -- something that we wouldn't mind seeing on more phones.
As for call quality, it's decent as well, although we found the volume to be a tad low for our tastes -- folks we talked to didn't seem to have any trouble hearing us, though. The Liquid mt is also actually Rogers' first phone to support 14.4Mbps HSDPA, although we unfortunately weren't in an area where we could test those speeds.
Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot to say about the Liquid mt's 5 megapixel camera (with an LED flash). You'll get some decent enough stills and video outdoors under ideal conditions, but just about any other situation will likely leave you wishing your brought a point-and-shoot along as well. Even in the best conditions, however, we found our shots to be excessively sharpened (see a 100% crop here), and the colors were generally just a bit off in most every situation, and occasionally a lot off. Check out the gallery below for a general idea of what it's capable of.
Acer Liquid mt sample shotsSee all photos
As is its nature, Acer has chosen to customize Android with its own skin, dubbed "Breeze." It actually includes a few features we like -- most notably multiple lock screens with widgets that you can customize, another idea we'd like to see on more Android phones. It also replaces the usual slide to unlock screen with a nifty page turn animation, but, for the most part, Acer's customizations hurt more than they help. The status bar actually moves around the screen depending on what you're doing, for instance, and the apps menu confusingly splits up the screen and is less than intuitive to navigate. There's also unfortunately quite a bit of bloatware pre-loaded on the phone, both from Acer and Rogers, but nothing that can't be moved out of your way.
The good news is that Acer has made it easy for you to simply switch to stock Android 2.2 -- the option shown above is right under applications in the settings menu. That, of course, offers few surprises, but it's certainly a better experience overall. As we mentioned earlier, we also found that the phone performed slightly better with stock Android than with Acer's skin, and it also returns the capacitive buttons to the behavior you'd expect -- when using the Acer UI, the menu button actually brings up the applications screen.
One problematic thing we noticed in both instances, however, is that Acer has for some reason chosen not to include a silent ringtone for notifications. You can add your own, of course, or turn off notifications altogether -- but out of the box, we had no way to silence email notifications while still receiving other notifications, which is a pretty basic thing for Acer to overlook.
We didn't have huge expectations for the Acer Liquid mt, so we can't really say we were disappointed by it. The phone performs about as well as you'd expect for a mid-range Android device, and it even manages to punch a bit above its weight when it comes to design and construction. Unfortunately for Acer, there's simply a lot of much better options available for the same price or just a little bit more -- at least when when it comes to the Canadian market.
In the case of Rogers, for instance, the Liquid mt is priced the same as the Samsung Captivate on a three-year contract and, at $400, is only $150 less off-contract. Elsewhere on the Canadian landscape, the Motorola Atrix is just $20 more on-contract on Bell, while Telus is currently offering the HTC Desire HD for free on-contract. Acer may well have a winner on its hands if the phone were, say, $200 off-contract like the aforementioned LG Optimus One is on some carriers but, as it is, it's a pretty tough sell.