Acer has been around for several year in the PC and Laptop market but when it comes to smartphones they are still only taking baby steps. Acer made their Android debut with the Liquid A1 then followed it up with the Liquid E which is succeeded by phone being reviewed today; the Liquid MT aka. Liquid Metal. With the move to more premium materials like metal, Acer looks to shake its reputation for making cheap products.
Given the emphasis on design and materials in a sea of other Android Phones, Acer has definitely stepped it up with the latest version of the Liquid. Sporting a stainless steel back plate as a battery cover, chrome accents and a convex curved screen the Liquid MT certainly has surprisingly good overall construction and feel for a midrange device made by Acer.
It isn't the slimmest of devices, but it certainly isn't bulky enough to be a huge deal. Given that this is a midrange device the dimensions are more than adequate. The general convex curvature of the back and the front of the device make it feel quite a bit thinner than it actually is.
While the overall aesthetics of the phone are good it has to be pointed out that the chrome accents are simply painted plastic. Although this was probably a technical, economical and weight problem since the top chrome bezel has to let light pass through for notifications and all metal parts would, not only, be more expensive but would add significant weight overall.
Speaking of the notifications that pop up on top of the device, this is quite an innovative idea from Acer and while it would be nice to have this feature on all Android phones I believe phones are getting much too thin to be able to pull this off. Nevertheless it’s a great spin on the classic notification LED.
In designing this iteration of the Liquid line Android phones, Acer seemed to place the screen as the centerpiece to the entire device. Boasting a 3.6" 480x800 pixel capacitive touch screen the Liquid MT is certainly well equipped compared to other midrange devices and can certainly hold its ground compared to some high end phones.
The screen has decent colors although a bit on the cold side although not a deal breaker by any means. Brightness levels are good and black levels are okay.
Being a touchscreen device it is a magnet for fingerprints and as far as I can tell there is no oleophobic coating to ease the task of wiping down the screen. While the metal back is also a fingerprint magnet it is significantly easier to wipe down.
Also, worth mentioning is the effect of the curved glass on touch accuracy and the perception of the screen to the user. Generally speaking touchscreens digitizers, the part that detects your fingers on the screen, perform better when the there is less space between it and the user's fingers. In this case the curved glass raises touch presses by a significant amount of space and this had an effect on touch accuracy as well as viewing angles. This claim is somewhat reinforced by the fact the Acer’s keyboard seems to be a modification of Froyo’s stock keyboard (more on that in the software section of the review). Both aren't particularly alarming problems since the touch accuracy is a matter of getting used to the screen and the image warping at extreme viewing angles shouldn't be a deal breaker.
For the Android specific buttons on the device found at the base of the touchscreen, Acer opted for the increasingly popular capacitive buttons. They are responsive and placed far enough apart so that you don’t accidentally press one when aiming for another. The power button on the top of the device has a good feel to it needing the right amount of pressure to activate it but is a bit too flush with the top of the device. Conversely, the volume rocker is raised just the right amount to know that you are pressing the volume rocker buttons and has a distinct separation between the volume up and volume down buttons. Lastly, Acer included a two-stage camera button on the right hand, something that I personally feel should be included on all Android devices.
Battery life has been relatively normal, like most Android phones it will certainly get you through the day with its standard 1500mAh battery. But expect to run out of juice the next day should you forget to charge overnight which is to be expected of almost any Android device.
As far as internal hardware is concerned the Liquid MT is rocking;
- 800MHz Qualcomm 7230 processor
- Adreno 205 Graphic processor
- 14.4Mbps HSPA+ capable chipset
- WiFi b/g/n
- 5MP auto-focus camera with LED flash and 720p HD video capabilities
If you follow Android phones and the hardware of these given phones, these specs will be very familiar as they are identical to the HTC Desire Z. Given that performance should theoretically be on par with the Desire Z but unfortunately is not, more on that later in the software section of the review.
HSPA+ “4G” Capabilities
Rogers hasn’t really emphasized it but the Acer Liquid MT, to my knowledge, is the first phone in its lineup to be “4G” HSPA+ capable. That being said since HSPA+ is a significant improvement over HSPA, a few speed tests were needed and the results are actually quite good.
In HSPA+ covered areas of Montreal, the phone would constantly reach speeds of 4+Mbps, while it is a far cry from the 14.4Mbps that the the chipset is capable of it is still pretty good results. In contrast Sprint’s “4G” WiMAX and AT&T’s “4G” HSPA+ networks in the US averages out lower than that at around 2-3Mbps and is about on par with T-Mobile’s “4G” HSPA+. That being said 4Mbps is more than enough go get your pages loaded nice and quickly and certainly good enough for using as a WiFi hotspot to tether a laptop or tablet. Upload speeds were also solid at a constant 1+Mbps.
Of course none of these tests are definitive as they are not broad enough to make a general assumption but they should give you an idea of what the phone is capable of.
Speaker and microphone
The speakers had okay sound, one call was oddly full of static interference but did not reoccur in other calls. Although it would be appreciated if it was louder at the maximum levels, but nothing really pressing. While microphone quality was standard.
The external speakers has okay sound, but again nothing really to write home about. The Dolby digital logo on the back left the impression sound was going to be excellent on the exterior speaker, so there was some slight disappointment there.
The Liquid MT sports a 5MP Auto-focus camera, has an LED flash for night shots and is capable of 720p recording. There isn’t much to say about the picture quality or the video quality as both are pretty mediocre but that’s somewhat expected of a midrange device. Nevertheless they will be useful for those times where you need camera or camcorder but don’t have one on hand.
Acer’s Breeze UI
The first thing one will notice is the custom UI put in place by Acer. This isn’t anything new or unexpected as device manufacturers will usually put a spin on the UI to differentiate themselves from the competition.
In Acer’s case they named their's Breeze UI. This includes a set of Acer widgets, a completely re-worked launcher and notification pane , as well as completely different homescreen and lockscreen setup including small changes like a slightly reworked software keyboard.
The launcher is completely different from the stock Android app launcher or any other manufacturer UI for that matter. Instead of having a tray button to open your app tray you either drag the shortcut panel up or hit the menu button to show the app drawer. On the subject of shortcut panel, it holds eight app of your choice for quick access and at the top has you notification area that is handled with a tap and swiping left and right instead of pulling down a notification pane.
The homescreen is also significantly different as widgets are now all relegated to the lockscreen while swiping the homescreen to the left reveals the last picture taken with the camera, your music or videos taken with the Liquid MT, while swiping to the right shows all of the last used apps including screen captures of those apps. Since this is how multitasking is handled, lock pressing the home button opens the lockscreen customization page instead of the apps you last opened.
The lockscreen has five pages can be populated by the widgets of your choice. This implementation is interesting but in many ways takes away the usefulness of widgets.
The last modification is that on the keyboard. The inclusion of arrow buttons as well as elongated Q and P button lends to the theory that the curved screen significantly affects touch accuracy.
Of course Android purists will argue that Custom UIs, like the Acer Breeze UI, are the reason for many of the OS’ most pressing issues, but with that aside Acer included a very novel idea that should be a feature on all Android phones. The Liquid MT has an option in the manage applications settings to switch from Breeze to Stock Android UI. We really must applaud Acer for including this option, but as a fair warning changing the UI does require a restart and apps installed on one UI will not necessarily be carried over and/or functional on the other UI.
One downside to the Breeze UI is that, in its current form, it might be too heavy for the 800MHz processor. As mentioned earlier, it has the same internal hardware to the HTC Desire Z, suffers from a significant amount of sluggishness when compared to the Desire Z.
That being said the sluggishness shouldn't be that much of a deterrent for non-Android power users or first time smartphone buyers and for those looking to do some casual gaming the custom UI does not affect graphical performance.
Dolby Digital Audio
The last significant difference that the Liquid MT has over most other Android devices is the inclusion of Dolby Mobile. While I personally am not an audiophile there was a noticeable difference in the sound of games, videos and music on this phone and generally it was a pleasant experience.
In the settings page there are different presets you can choose from depending on what you’re listening to or the way you want to hear things.
The Rogers Acer Liquid MT is decent phone in most respects, when pitted against it’s midrange counterparts like the LG Optimus One/3G on TELUS/Koodo, the Liquid MT has some pretty appealing features and is definitely something worth looking at if your are a first time smartphone buyer.
But to a seasoned Android users looking to upgrade there are probably greener pastures with higher end phones. This phone would be an upgrade to any early Android adopters, meaning HTC Dream and Magic Users, but it would be a hard sell to suggest this device. Especially given that the hardware subsidy requires a $50/month voice + data plan, its something of a hard sell to the budget minded crowd looking for their first smartphone.
Overall Appearance: 8/10
- Impressive effort on Acer’s part especially given their reputation
- Not very fond of the convex curved screen
- Responsive Capacitive buttons, excellent volume rocker and camera key and power button is too flush
Internal Hardware: 8/10
- Good hardware for midrange device, good HSPA+ speed and excellent data signal retention
Speaker and Microphone: 7/10
- Status Quo, just average
- Camera and Video performance is not very good
UI Changes: 6/10
- Not a huge fan of “Breeze”, visually appealing, interesting concepts but needs optimization
Additional Enhancements: 8/10
- The addition of Dolby sound is great
Included Apps/Bloatware: 6/10
- There are several included Apps (many redundant) and some good preinstalled apps like Documents To Go
Final Score: 6.9/10