Acer's new smartphone is a Blackberry-style handset with a 2.6in screen and QWERTY keyboard underneath. It runs Android 2.2, and despite its size it has all the smartphone features you'd expect on a larger phone - GPS, FM radio, Wi-Fi and a 3.2-megapixel camera. Storage is limited but there's a microSDHC card slot and a 2GB card in the box, so in theory you could upgrade this to 32GB.
As well as being smaller than most smartphones, it's also much
lighter, but feels well made. On the right side is a volume rocker and
the obligatory microUSB port for charging and PC connections, while the
left side is reserved for the headphone jack. In the centre beneath the
screen is a responsive trackpad button, surrounded by the four common
Android buttons - Home, Back, Menu and Search - with green and red call
buttons on either side.
We found the keyboard easy enough to use, although the glossy and
rounded keys can cause your fingernails to slip off them. The keyboard
has a backlight that's activated when you press any button and the
number keys are highlighted with white backgrounds; if you start typing a
number, the phone is clever enough to start the phone dialler app.
There are also special keys for Contacts, Camera and Messaging, and the
latter doubles as a Mute button with a long press.
Android's home screen has been modified slightly, with the app tray
moved to the right side rather than sitting at the bottom, to suit the
landscape screen. This is resistive, but with the keyboard to help with
typing that's not such a bad thing. It is cramped, however, and we had
trouble reading web pages and using the office document viewer, as the
applications' toolbars, borders and other controls took up a much larger
proportion of the screen than they would on a full touchscreen phone.
It's a good display, though, with strong colours and sharp contrast.
Photos taken with the camera were not so impressive; they suffered from
excessive artefacts and noise that ruined most shots, and without a
flash, shots in dark areas were underexposed. Surprisingly, videos were
much better, with good contrast and colour, but frame rates were low.
Acer has left Android pretty much alone, although it has installed a
few multimedia widgets and apps. There's a Sync app that ties in with a
Windows application for managing your phone from your PC, and a Settings
app that brings together a selection of important settings, such as
networking, GPS and personalisation options, in one neat interface.
There's a trial copy of DataViz's Documents To Go, which lets you view
office documents and PDF files, but you'll probably not want to register
as editing office documents isn't practical on the 2.6in screen.
A Media Server app lets you share your phone's multimedia content to
other DNLA-aware devices, and nemoPlayer, a popular Android video
player, is also installed. We don't quite understand why Acer bundles
DataViz's RoadSync app, as Exchange support has long been built into
Android, and the inclusion of silly apps like urFooz and Spinlets is
annoying, especially as these can't be uninstalled.
Blackberry handsets are popular despite having smaller screens, and
we can see how the E210 will appeal to those who like a QWERTY keyboard
but want access to Android's wealth of apps. The screen's big enough to
browse photos and even watch YouTube videos, and although it's not
perfect for browsing the web or reading long documents, it is excellent
for reading and writing emails and texts. Sadly, the E210 isn't
available on contract, and at £216 SIM-free it's not cheap either. It
also faces stiff competition, mainly from the excellent Motorola Flipout, which now costs only £139 SIM-free.