It’s clear that a lot of people will look at the Acer E130 as another BlackBerry clone, which is running on the Android operating system. However, the reality is that this is more of a clone of an Nokia E-series device, like the E5 or the E72 than a Bold or Curve.
For a start, it is much larger than all but the original BlackBerry Bold 9000, although this allow for larger keys that should aid typing at speed. Unfortunately, the lettered keys are white, which is the same as the illumination. As a result, the combination of white and white makes it very hard to see the letters in daylight. One must wonder how this got past quality control, unless everyone worked in the dark.
Some of you might have noticed a running theme with Acer handsets, and it’s a shame that there’s nearly always something to spoil an otherwise impressive package. The horizontal strip between screen and keyboard is near identical to a Nokia, but with clearly defined keys that will prevent accidental mishaps that fire you back to the home screen by mistake. A rollerball aids navigation, but an optical pad would have been preferred.
Having used many BlackBerry and Nokia devices, I found it quite hard to get used to the fact that this also has a touchscreen. With the keyboard and rollerball, it’s possible to do most things without ever reaching up to the screen, which is possibly just as well as it is of the resistive type that is less responsive.
It also lacks the resolution of a BlackBerry Bold. Being only 320×240 pixels, the same as a Curve or Nokia’s E5, is disappointing for something that might be used for email, web access and running applications. Although many apps are now appearing for QVGA screen Android devices, due in part to the success of entry level Android phones entering the market on an almost weekly basis, Android apps work best with higher resolution displays.
On the back of the phone is a 3-megapixel camera, without flash. There’s no camera button either, and besides the volume keys the only thing to break up the casing is the micro-USB charging socket and a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top.
But what of the phone itself? Well, besides the keyboard issue with making out the letters when the illumination is on, it’s very easy to use and benefits from having Android over Nokia having Symbian. However, the phone ships with Android 1.6, which will rule out a number of apps from the Android Market. It also means losing features like Live Wallpapers, although these do tend to slow down the phone and drain power unnecessarily.
The home screen is designed for landscape orientation, which works well for the email client and other apps. You can’t change the text size though, which does hinder its usefulness for work if you want to squeeze a lot of text on the page at once. If you could, the lack of pixels would probably render the text illegible. But, given the ability to get instant email without any need to subscribe to the BlackBerry Internet Service, you can’t really complain. Your same Google account will also sync your calendar and phonebook just as easily, while the phone comes with a Twitter client and Facebook app pre-installed.
The E130 is a possible alternative to a BlackBerry, but the decision will have to come down to what you main priority is. A BlackBerry works perfectly for email, and with a Bold 9700 (or the Torch if you want a touchscreen too) you get the resolution to get richer text on the screen. The Acer, however, has access to thousands of apps – many more than for BlackBerry – and at better prices than on either BlackBerry or Symbian, should you prefer the Nokia route.
Could a corporate user switch? Probably not. But, you could use this if you were buying for your own business and want to be able to install a range of apps and games, and even change the homescreen launcher and menu. Android, even with the ageing 1.6 version, is a very flexible platform.
What’s more, inside the phone is a whopping 1,500mAh battery that should keep you going considerably longer than if you’re tempted by a snazzier phone with a large, power-sapping, display that will keep you tethered to your charger throughout the day to ensure you can still use it until you get home.
The E130 lacks any real excitement and without any official network distribution, is not going to be pushed heavily on the high-street, but if you want a small phone with a full keyboard and the Android OS, this is really the only choice you have with this form factor. At under £200, it’s cheaper than a Nokia E5 or Curve 3G – and a lot less than the Bold or Torch.
It’s nice to see a smartphone with a BlackBerry form-factor that runs on Android, to give heavy texters and emailers some more choice, but with the lower-resolution display and Android 1.6, there are many limitations. The keyboard also needs a light sensor to stop the white keys illuminating in white and making the characters almost invisible. However, the battery performance is excellent and the combination of a touchscreen, real keys and a rollerball makes using the E130 very simple indeed. Dedicated call/end keys will also help those who want to make regular calls too.
Ratings (out of 5)