What is the Acer Liquid E3?The Acer Liquid E3 is a 4.7-inch Android smartphone and the latest member of the mid-range E Series. A follow-up to the underwhelming Liquid E2, the sub-£200 successor makes big improvements in the display and processor departments. Its biggest new trick is a front-facing camera with an LED flash to entice selfie-lovers. Whether that’s really enough to pull it off the shelves instead of a Moto G or an Xperia M2, we are not entirely convinced.
Acer Liquid E3: Design and FeaturesThere was a time when mid-range phones could get away with uninspiring design: that’s simply not the case anymore. Thanks to handsets like the Xperia M2 and the Moto G, we expect a little more. This can only be a good thing and while the Liquid E3 is certainly a well built handset, it’s a far more serious affair. It’s just not as exciting or as sleek as something like the M2.
It’s plastic around the back with a gentle curve making it more comfortable in the hand. Measuring in at 8.9mm thick, it’s not that much slimmer than the Liquid E2 and also drops down 134g, so it’s far from a heavyweight. Volume rocker and standby buttons are well within reach and the one new design quirk is a back button or AcerRapid button. Joining LG in the quest to keep buttons out of sight, you can assign different apps for quick access, though it's a lot less prominent than on LG handsets.
Elsewhere, there’s familiar Android _phone_ characteristics like the black screen bezel, that’s thinner down the sides, soft touch buttons below the screen and camera sensor around the back. The speakers are now upfront above, which is a good move if you don’t want to muffle audio. One problem however, is that the gap between the bezel and speaker is a haven for trapping dust and dirt.
You still get a micro SD card slot, which is necessary when you only have 4GB of storage to play with. The back is no longer removable, however, so the battery is going nowhere and there’s dual SIM card support for seasoned business travellers.
Acer Liquid E3: Screen720p HD displays are now setting the benchmark for sub-£200 phones thanks to the Moto G, so Acer has upgraded from a 960 x 540 display to a Moto G-matching screen.
It squeezes in 312 pixels per inch (ppi), which means it's more or less as sharp as the 326ppi iPhone 5S — a _phone_ that costs more than twice as much. That’s spread across a 4.7-inch screen, a similar size to the HTC One Mini 2 and just shy of the 4.9-inch Nexus 5.
The lack of a Full HD 1080p, which does appear on the more expensive Liquid S2, is no real surprise considering the price. And it's a very decent display, overall. Text looks sharp, it handles video well and games look good. You'll see brighter and more vibrant screens on more expensive phones, but for the money it's good.
The only slight disappointment is that, unlike the Moto G, it doesn't use Gorilla Glass 3. This means it'll be more prone to scratches and scuffs.
Acer Liquid E3: SoftwareThe Liquid E3 runs on Android 4.2.2 JellyBean, so not the latest Android 4.4 KitKat, but the interface remains relatively untouched by Acer. There’s the same core features, some that work in a slightly different way, but it’s largely a familiar experience.
Among the most notable tweaks, the notification drop down bar is set up slightly differently. The clear all apps button has been moved to the top, freeing up space for more notifications. It would be nice if the settings running across the had the same scrolling functionality Samsung uses on its handsets, though.
In the recent apps mode, running apps are arranged in a series of rows instead of a single column. This is also where the ‘floating’ apps live. This is basically Acer’s take on multitasking, letting you turn apps like the calculator and memo-taking app into widgets that can live while you run other apps. The problem is, you can’t resize them and there’s just not enough room on the screen to make great use of them.
There’s a handful of Acer apps pre-installed, but many are not that useful or offer anything groundbreaking. You’ll be heading to the Google Play store to replace them.
Acer Liquid E3: PerformancePerformance is not one of the E3’s strong points. It runs on a MT6859 MediaTek CPU clocked at 1.20 GHz, often the go to processor for low-cost phones. There’s also 1GB RAM, which is typical of a phone at this price.
It doesn’t take long to notice problems. There’s noticeable lag navigating around the UI and the issues are more noticeable when you start gaming. It’s capable of running graphically demanding games like Real Racing 3, but when action becomes more congested the signs of struggle and framerate issues begin to show
Running the Geekbench 3 benchmark tests, the E3 manages a multi-core score of 1,103, That’s in the same ballpark as the Xperia M2 (1,061) and the Moto G (1,155) so there’s not a great deal of difference in the benchmarks. But that doesn’t really reflect the real-world differences in performance between the Snapdragon-running duo and the E3 and this is where the Acer E3 is something of a let down.
It also suggests the speed problems could be down software issues. Whatever the cause, though, the lag is irritating.
Acer Liquid E3: CameraThe E3 has a 13-megapixel camera, technically putting it ahead of similarly priced phones at least on megapixel count, though such numbers rarely tell the whole story. There’s also an LED flash to aid low-light shooting and the 2-megapixel front-facing camera also gets the LED flash treatment, something you don't see often.
As our test shots show, though (see right), it’s not going to dramatically boost selfie quality. For a sub-£200 phone, camera quality is strong when you have enough light. When you need to shoot in more demanding situations, things get trickier.
The camera app is pretty standard fare. It’s not too taxing to fiddle around with features and use and it’s already set up to shoot in its optimum resolution. There are a number of modes Acer includes for manual and automatic shooting, like adjusting ISO to help low light shots, a series of of white balance options and a host of Scene modes including one for shooting in snow.
There’s also an interesting Auto Focus mode with an Exposure control and Quick Touch shot mode to speed up taking images.
Sadly, results vary too much normal conditions. At times the camera can struggle to focus correctly and other times it delivers sharp images with accurate colours. Images can often look a little muted and there’s no HDR mode to give photos a bump up quality.
In good light, the 13-megapixel can capture sharp images
It's not perfect up close and the autofocus can struggle at times
Here's a better example of a more successful close-up image
Putting the ring-style LED flash to the test, it’s similar to the one found on the Liquid S2 and in tandem with the autofocus doesn’t produce exceptionally sharp results. It's bright can still be a bit noisy.
The bright LED flash can sometimes hamper the image quality and produce some noise
When you want to go from stills to moving images, there’s electronic image stabilization to keep things steady, an option to turn off the microphone, a time lapse interval mode and some off live effects that only work when your phone is on a steady surface and there’s no movement. Video quality is very average and audio quality doesn't impress.
Acer Liquid E3: Battery LifeThe E3 uses a non-removable Li-on battery and Acer doesn’t reveal the capacity. It claims you can expect up to 5 hours talktime and up to 260 hours on standby. In real world use you will get a day out of it, but probably not much more than that. Games and video streaming can quickly drain the life out of the battery.
There’s a Power save app tucked away in the app drawer where you can choose from Best mode or My mode. The former keeps all of the key features turned on while the latter lets users disable a series of battery-draining features like haptic feedback, the LED light and GPS.
Running a 720p HD video on loop with default brightness and apps and internet connection turned off, it manages just under nine hours. That’s less than the likes of the Moto G and the Xperia M2, both of which run on Snapdragon 400 CPUs and have numerous power management options in place. You’ll get a little longer with the Power Save, but not a greal deal.
It’s not the quickest at topping back up. A 30-minute charge on a flat battery can muster up less than 20%, which wont get you far.
Acer Liquid E3: Call and Sound QualityDon’t expect great things from phone call quality, either. Clarity on either end of reasonable, but can sound a little thin. It does include a dedicated microphone to offer active noise cancellation and that goes some way to help block out noise if there’s loud music in the background competing with your call.
As for speaker performance, it’s similarly underwhelming. There’s very little warmth and they are not exceptionally loud with rattling distortion at maximum volume.
Acer talks up the inclusion of DTS Studio Sound and goes as far to plaster the name on the back of the phone. Already common on PCs and some tablets, the audio technology aims to deliver rich, immersive sound. Venture into the Settings and you’ll find a section dedicated to it where you can adjust treble and bass with music and video equalizers.
It’s not something you can really appreciate without a pair of headphones on. If there's potential for DTS, the Liquid E3 is not the device to showcase it.
Should I buy the Acer Liquid E3?The Acer Liquid E3 has a few standout features but as a full package doesn’t really cut it against the big boys.
When it costs close to £200, the Moto G is always going to come into the equation as well. Motorola’s handset might not be as capable in the camera department, but it's equal if not better in every other way. It also offers 4G for less money. The £149 Xperia M2 is also cheaper and offers 4G and better battery life despite the lower resolution screen.
Bottom line: you can do better.