Hands-on with the Liquid Leap: Acer's first wearable tries to be everything to everyone

Hands-on with the Liquid Leap: Acer's first wearable tries to be everything to everyone

Thanks to a quick tease a few weeks back, we already knew Acer was on the verge of revealing its first smartwatch. Until today, though, we had all talk -- It's a smartwatch! It's a fitness tracker! -- but virtually no details. Now, at Computex, we're getting our first look at the Liquid Leap, due out later this year. The best way to think of this (other than as a "me too" device) is that it's a wristband trying really hard to be a jack-of-all-trades. In addition to doing typical smartwatch things (call and SMS notifications), it tracks your sleep, steps, distance traveled and calories burned. It can also pause, play and skip music tracks. Like other fitness trackers, it's waterproof, though it's far more discreet than your average sports watch. For now, Acer is being coy about the price, except to say it'll cost less than €99 in Europe. Without a price, then, it's hard to say how good a value this will be when it goes on sale in Q3. That doesn't mean we can't tell you more about how it works, though. So join us, won't you?

At first glance, the Liquid Leap reminds me a little bit of the Jawbone Up: Both are thin (this one is just 17mm wide) and both come in an array of bright colors (white, black, aqua, pink and orange in this case). The main difference, of course, is that the Jawbone Up doesn't claim to be a smartwatch, so it can get away with having no screen, thus passing for a piece of jewelry. With the Leap, there is indeed a display, though it's at least slim -- as slim as it can be while still being useful. All told, it's a little like the Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit in that respect, except the screen here basically sits flush with the band, making it less conspicuous. What I'm trying to say is, this looks more like a watch than a bracelet, but it's at least lightweight and delicate enough that it doesn't call much attention to itself.

The Leap has an adjustable design, with fasteners that fit into cut-out holes on the wristband. Particularly because of that rectangular display, the watch stays put -- that long watch face is designed so that it lies flat on the wrist and can't go anywhere else, especially if the fit is already snug. Also, you thankfully can't tell at first glance that this is made of rubber, so while it feels soft and pleasant against the skin, it's not immediately obvious how sporty it is (because let's face it, sporty watches don't usually look good with everyday outfits).

Another reason the design here is so sleek: There aren't any physical buttons. Rather, to wake up the watch, you do a long-press on the touchscreen. From there, the UI is idiotproof, if a bit tedious. Whatever you want to do -- check notifications, control music playback -- you need to swipe from left to right. Right now, at least, there's no way to customize the order of those home screens, so if the feature you want most happens to be four screens in, you're out of luck; just brace yourself for a lot of repetitive swiping. Eventually, as you're swiping through, you'll get to the so-called apps menu -- tap that and you'll find the sleep-tracking feature (Acer will eventually release an SDK allowing for third-party apps, but hasn't done so yet). What's odd -- and slightly annoying -- is that once you're ready to exit the apps menu, there's no way to navigate backward into the main set of home screens. All you can do is wait a few seconds for the apps menu to go away. There has to be a better way.

As a fitness tracker, the Leap does all the basics: It counts steps, calories burned and distance covered. Similarly, too, it uses an energy-efficient Bluetooth 4.0 radio to ensure long battery life -- five to seven days, to be precise. Unlike, say, the Up, it has no altimeter, so you can't count flights of stairs climbed; just steps taken. There's also no workout mode, per se, so steps really are the only measure of how active you've been. As for sleep tracking, you can monitor your sleep habits, though you will have to manually enter sleep mode, and there isn't yet any sort of sleep-estimate feature, as there is on the Up.

In the beginning, at least, Acer is making some compromises in terms of device compatibility as well. At launch, the Leap will only work with Acer's new Liquid Jade phone, with other Android devices to be added in due course. Even then, of course, your phone might not make the cut. Acer says an iOS app will follow later on, though who knows? Maybe that unicorn iWatch will be out by then.

Zach Honig contributed to this report.