Look around and you’ll see no shortage of smartphones with huge screens, but what about the people ready to get their first smartphone that don’t fancy something the size of a DVD case in their back pocket?
Sony Ericsson recently told What Mobile that the rapid move by the phone industry from feature phones to smartphones was leaving a large number of people struggling to find something comparable to replace their old phone.
To satisfy this market, Sony Ericsson brought out the Xperia X10 mini and X10 mini pro models. They did exceptionally well too, proving these people existed, prompting two new models that will come out later this year.
Unsurprisingly, it has also prompted other manufacturers to get in on the action with their own ‘mini’ models, including Samsung (Galaxy Mini), HTC (Wildfire S) and now Acer with the Liquid Mini.
The first miniaturised Sony Ericsson smartphones had low-resolution screens and lacked power, and Acer has taken the same approach by using a rather sluggish 600MHz processor, albeit with a decent amount of RAM (512MB). By comparison, the two new Sony Ericsson Xperia mini models will have the latest-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, running at 1GHz, and with the latest graphics co-processor.
This does mean the Liquid Mini is going to find it tough going in a market where anything below 1GHz is going to be associated with being entry level, or for people on a tight budget.
The otherwise impressive five-megapixel camera is fixed-focus (using an Enhanced Depth of Field sensor) and it lacks an LED flash. On the video side, it also lacks HD, but it can record at 720×480 pixels at 30 frames per second. Not bad, but not great either.
If you assumed the Liquid Mini was a smaller version of the latest Liquid Metal, think again. The Liquid Mini isn’t actually that small. It has a footprint that is slightly bigger than a Motorola DEFY, although it is slightly thinner. Compared to Samsung’s Galaxy S II, LG’s Optimus 2X or Sony Ericsson’s Xperia arc it is small, but Acer has perhaps missed the point slightly.
The screen resolution is higher than an Xperia X10 mini, at 320×480 pixels (the same as the new Sony Ericsson Xperia mini) but it has to be given it is 3.25-inches. The X10 mini got away, just, with QVGA (240×320 pixels) because it had a much smaller screen. It was also released a year ago.
But, size aside, the phone doesn’t look bad, with a nice curved design and rounded edges. The mix of black and silver works well, and you can also get other side and rear colours if you prefer – although the front always remains black. It’s minimalist, inoffensive and has a decent balance between the screen and its surrounding bezel.
It’s good to see a dedicated camera button too, making the camera easily accessible even if the lack of autofocus and a flash could discourage you from using the camera very often.
What is a lot less welcome is Acer’s continued use of its custom front-end UI that is completely at odds with the whole way that the Android operating system works.
When using the Acer UI instead of the native Android UI, the menu button toggles between the home screen and the app folder (although it continues to work as designed within apps). The notification bar also requires scrolling to view different information, although one nice feature is the lock screen which conveys useful information like missed calls and messages.
Overall, it’s not worth keeping for the sake of one nice thing. The first thing you must do is go to the settings menu (via the menu; as you can’t press Menu to select ‘settings’ directly), go into the Applications Setting Menu and open the ‘User Interface’ option. Change to the native Android UI, let it reboot and job done: you now have a normal Google phone.
Acer has included Social Jogger, an app to manage Facebook and Twitter on the phone, as well as a Media Server to share content on the phone with other devices, but that’s about it – bar RoadSync, for the benefit of users who need to use the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol to manage email, contacts and calendars.
Of course, fire up Android Market and there are over 200,000 apps and games to choose from – and because the Liquid Mini ships with Android 2.2, you should find that almost everything is available. Very few apps require Android 2.3, but you won’t be able to download Adobe Flash or any apps that use Flash.
You’ll have to be quite selective when finding apps too, as there’s just 180MB of space for apps – which won’t take long to fill. Some apps can be installed to a memory card, but by no means all and those with widgets can also cause problems. If you’re not seriously into apps, you can still install a decent number of apps without running out, but it’s something to be aware of. Especially when some devices come with 1 or 2GB of space, which is the other extreme; being almost impossible to fill.
The Liquid Mini doesn’t have any killer features, so there’s no HD or 3D, no special screen technology (but, the LCD screen is clear and bright) and nor is it blisteringly fast. However, Acer is a trusted brand and the phone works. It should also continue to work for some time, as the build quality inspires confidence.
Inside the phone is a 1,300mAh battery and given the lack of anything to quickly drain the power, I managed to keep the phone going for four days before needing a recharge. Going right back to the start of the review, the Liquid Mini could be the choice for people coming from an ordinary phone and primarily wanting to make and receive calls. If used as a phone first and foremost, as against something to run apps, surf the net and watch movies on, the long standby time and up to 8 hours talktime could seal the deal.
But what of the competition? For comparison purposes, the Sony Ericsson X10 mini is no longer widely available and the new, super-powerful, Xperia mini won’t arrive until August. So, that leaves the HTC Wildfire S and Samsung’s Galaxy Mini.
The Wildfire S costs around £235 and has the same speed processor and screen size/resolution, but with an LED lamp for the five-megapixel camera and HTC Sense UI. The Galaxy Mini costs just £150, but only has a 240×320 pixel screen and a three-megapixel camera.
So, at £210, the Liquid Mini is fairly good value but you can only get one SIM-free, so you won’t find one on sale in your local Carphone Warehouse or Phones 4u. It may therefore harder to get any special deals.
Is it a phone you should try hard to track down? The honest answer is, no. But if you were to come across this phone in the future, and at the right price, you shouldn’t be too disappointed with it as long as you’re coming to it with the right frame of mind.
The Acer Liquid Mini falls at the first post because it isn’t actually that small. Rather than being hugely cut down in size, the real cuts have come on the inside. A slow 600MHz processor and not a lot of storage space for apps (but you do have a memory card slot) means you’ll never be able to use this like a top-end phone in a smaller footprint. The phone also has competition from HTC and Samsung, with Sony Ericsson also having announced two models that will blow it out of the water. Nevertheless, the battery performance is good and the phone looks okay, if a little minimalist. With a choice of colours and a pretty decent price, it has a place in the market even if it isn’t going to get the heart racing.
Ratings (out of 5)