What's hot: High res display, fast CPU, 3G HSPDA on AT&T's 1900MHz band.
What's not: Currently runs on the older Android 1.6 OS, battery life is so-so.
Reviewed March 9, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
To say that AT&T's selection of Android smartphones is underwhelming would be an act of kindness. The first Android phone hit the US in the fall of 2008 and now there are more than 10 available from US carriers. AT&T didn't have a single Android phone until March 2010. That phone, the Motorola Backflip, appeals more to newbies and midrange folks-- it's almost as if they avoided a high end, powerful first Android phone to not threaten the iPhone 3GS. Android phones appeal to a range of folks, but we'd wager that techie types and early adopters are still a significant segment of the market for these powerful, Linux-based Google phones.
Despair no longer, Acer has the answer with the Liquid. Yes, it has AT&T 3G HSDPA up to 7.2Mbps on their 1900MHz band. No, by unlocked phone standards, the price isn't astronomical at $420. Acer has a strong rep as a PC maker, but less so as a phone maker, at least in the US. Their acquisition of E-TEN (maker of Windows Mobile smartphones) has accelerated their product line development and Acer has added that touch of quality that E-TEN phones lacked. So where do you buy the Liquid? It's available online from importers and ours came from eXpansys USA. They're an established, reputable e-tailer of import phones and their prices are competitive. Unlike small eBay shops, they actually have customer service, support and business locations, including one in the US (they're based in the UK).
The Liquid has high end specs that include a Snapdragon processor (underclocked from 1GHz to a still impressive 768MHz), 256 megs of RAM, a 5 megapixel autofocus camera, WiFi, Bluetooth and a GPS that works with (what else?) Google Maps. The 480 x 800 display puts it on par with high end adversaries like the Nexus One and Motorola Droid (Milestone in Europe). The only disappointment here is the Android 1.6 OS-- with phones like the Droid shipping with 2.0 and the Nexus One with 2.1, 1.6 seems a bit old. And this is a vanilla Android phone-- we can understand when Motorola's highly customized MOTOBLUR Android phones take some time to work up to the new OS, but the Acer is pretty much stock Android. We do hope they offer an update to 2.1, so folks don't have to buy the Liquid E to get it (that new Liquid isn't yet for sale but Acer announced it at Mobile World Congress in February 2010).
The Liquid looks pleasingly different from other Android phones, in fact its curved lines and colorful yet tasteful plastic casing look different from most phones of any sort. We have the Liquid in white, and Acer also makes it in red (something close to burgundy) and black. It's a little wider and thicker than the Nexus One and about the same size as the iPhone 3GS, which means it's a large slate phone. The curves make it comfortable in hand, and the added thickness relative to the Nexus One means it's easier to hold and pick up without dropping.
The side controls are out of sight from the front view since they're behind the curve. That puts them closer to your fingertips when holding the phone, though the camera button is too hard to press when holding the Liquid like a point and shoot camera (resulting in camera shake if you're not careful). The four touch sensitive buttons aren't my favorite: there's no haptic feedback and you really have to lay your finger across the button to activate it; a quick tap with the fingertip won't do the trick. Acer uses different button icons than do most Android phones: the rectangle is the home button, search is the normal one with the magnifying glass, the < is back and that stack of 4 horizontal lines is the menu button.
The phone has a peel-off back: stick your fingernail in the groove at the top right and pull off the back to access the battery, SIM card slot and SDHC microSD card slot. A 2 gig card is included.
Phone and Data
The Acer Liquid A1 is an unlocked GSM phone that's sold without a contract (eXpansys may offer contract and pre-paid SIM deals as well). It's a quad band GSM world phone with EDGE on the 850/900/1800/1900MZ bands, and that means it will work anywhere GSM service is available and you can use any GSM SIM card with the smartphone. It has 3G HSPA 7.2MBps on the 900/1900/2100MHz bands: it works in Europe, Asia and in the US where AT&T has 3G coverage on the 1900MHz bands. AT&T uses both the 1900MHz and 850MHz bands, and in most 3G locations they have 1900MHz coverage. Here in the Dallas metroplex, the Acer Liquid managed 3,000kbps average download speeds on AT&T's 3G network (that's fast!). We used the speedtest.net application available on the Android Market to test the phone's data speeds.
Voice quality was good with crisp and clear audio and slightly better than average volume. Our call recipients said we sounded good and the phone's DSP kept background noise to a minimum. The Liquid has a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and a stereo earbud headset is included in the box. The phone has Bluetooth 2.0 with support for headset, handsfree and A2DP stereo profiles.
Here's our 8 minute video review of the Acer Liquid with comparisons to the Nexus One.
Performance and Display
The Liquid's Snapdragon CPU is currently cream of the crop, and even though they've underclocked it from 1GHz to 768MHz, it's a fast smartphone. It doesn't feel quite as fast as the Nexus One (currently the fastest Android phone) but it's even more responsive than the Droid. The phone has 256 megs of RAM which is fairly standard for a current Android phone and it has 512 megs of flash storage. You'll put music, videos, photos and documents on the microSD card while applications must be installed on that 512 megs of flash storage (Android currently can't install apps to a card).
The 480 x 800 pixel capacitive display is simply lovely. It doesn't have the incredible color saturation of the Nexus One's AMOLED display but it's equally sharp and bright. The 3.5" display has a proximity sensor and automatically rotates using the accelerometer. This is the first capacitive display we've seen that offers 3 pressure sensitivity settings.
Camera and GPS
The Acer has a 5 megapixel camera with an autofocus lens and no flash. Photo quality isn't among the best and doesn't rival Nokia and Sony Ericsson high end camera phones. Outdoor shots have good color and reasonable clarity but there are JPEG processing artifacts that reduce image depth and reduce clarity of details (leaves on trees and grass that isn't in the foreground both look processed and indistinct). Foreground subject matter is generally quite sharp. Indoor shots are noisy and lack detail unless you've got very good lighting. As we mentioned, the shutter button is hard to press so be careful to not move the phone when pressing it.
Video max resolution is VGA at 20fps in .3GP format. The quality won't wow you if you've been using the iPhone 3GS or a high end Samsung or Nokia camera phone, but it's not bad and is certainly better than the Motorola Backflip's video.
The phone has a GPS that was quick to get a fix in our tests, and like all Android phones, it works with Google Maps. Google Maps has layers and even street view but there are no spoken turn-by-turn directions since that feature requires Android 2.0 or newer.
Though underclocked, the Liquid's 1350mAh battery is only good for a day of moderate use on a charge. This is still a fast CPU, and the large display and 3G wireless are power-hungry. It's no worse than Motorola phones running MOTOBLUR, but our Nexus One lasts about 50% longer on a charge. As 3G smartphones go, the Acer isn't going to win the Energizer bunny prize but it can make it through the day.
The Acer Liquid A1 is a solid high end Android smartphone. The no-contract price isn't bad, in fact it's less expensive than the Nexus One. We like the sharp and bright high resolution display, the overall design and fast CPU. We'd like to see a newer version of the Android OS, but that's a problem with many recent Android smartphones-- they just don't ship with the latest OS. Since the Liquid lacks heavy manufacturer software customizations vs. HTC Sense, MOTOBLUR and Samsung TouchWiz, the Liquid is good for those who want and like vanilla Android. If you're looking for a high end Android phone that works with AT&T 3G (in most but not all locations), the Acer Liquid is definitely worth a look. It's a phone we wouldn't mind using as a daily driver.