As we've mentioned, Acer decided to mostly keep its sticky fingers out of the Android experience, which will please many users. While we're not against manufacturers adding a dash of spice and flair to the phone's software, it's much better when it's just a light dusting of features, rather than a heavy-handed attempt at making over the software. Fortunately, the team at Acer liberally sprinkled in a few unobtrusive treats that largely enhance -- or, at least, don't detract from -- the overall experience.
As far as the bread-and-butter features go, it's all Android (4.0.4, in this case). The on-screen buttons, WiFi, battery and signal icons remain unchanged. The same is true for the app tray, home screens and core app icons (camera, browser and so on). In fact, you might not even spot the differences immediately. But when you do, the first will likely be the pull-down notification list. Unlike stock Android's slide-to-dismiss notifications, the CloudMobile has its own list, which can be discarded with "X" buttons. When in this screen, you might also notice that there are some quick access controls at the top. These allow you to dive right into the music player, notifier, quick settings (WiFi on / off, Mobile data, etc.) and the alarm clock.
Another welcome addition are shortcuts on the lock screen. Press the stand-by button to wake the phone up, and you can either swipe to unlock, or press, then swipe, one of four icons along the bottom to be dropped straight into that app. These can be configured to applications of your choice by long pressing an empty location on the home screen. You might also be pleasantly surprised to find that Swype is installed out of the box, so if you're an ace with that, then you are good to go. If not, you can always turn it off, or install your own preferred keyboard.
The last software function we're going to mention is the cloud piece -- you know, the set of features hinted at in the phone's name. Though the handset was clearly named after its cloud-connected services, this functionality actually has a rather low-profile place in the phone's software. Once opened, a pre-installed AcerCloud app will prompt you to register for an account. After you do that, you can set your phone to automatically sync photos, videos, music and documents across any other devices with the app installed. Currently, this is limited to Windows PCs and Android devices.
The service works as expected: take a photo, and then it'll appear in your synced folder on other devices. From what we can tell, however, there's no way to view these files online via the browser, which seems like a key feature to be missing. It seems, therefore, that the feature is more about helping you sync your media across different devices. That's nice, but this functionality is already available in several different popular incarnations like Google Drive, SkyDrive and Dropbox, among others -- none of which require a hardware buy-in. It's a shame that this feature wasn't more fleshed-out, but perhaps this is something Acer intends to build on with later releases.
If it feels like we've kept the the lid on our enthusiasm throughout this review, well, we have. It's no surprise that a phone we first saw back in February isn't offering swoon-inducing specifications in November. However, there are a few occasions where excitement levels touch the red. That screen, for example, is a delight to look at, and some of the tweaks to Android are good enough that we'll miss them when we go back to our daily drivers. All told, it's a phone that just keeps calm and carries on.
Most importantly, Acer has created a device that stands its ground against some pretty big competition. It's just that with Google's Nexus 4 newly on sale for about £50 less SIM-free, it's hard to find a reason to pick this over the other. If there's any consolation Acer can take from this, it's that it's a challenge other Android handset manufacturers are likely to face over the coming months. The big takeaway here is that Acer can deliver Android handsets worthy of your time -- it just needs to speed up the release cycle.
Special thanks to Expansys for providing us with a review unit.