Acer Liquid S2, First Take: A more affordable phablet

The Liquid S2's standout features are 4K video recording and a suite of floating apps. But some more exciting apps and better large-screen usability would be welcome.
Written by Sandra Vogel, Contributing Writer

Supersized phones are becoming increasingly prevalent, and every phone manufacturer worth its salt now has one in its stable of devices. Acer has followed up its first 6-inch 'phablet' — the Liquid S1 — with a more capable model, the Liquid S2.

At £429 (inc. VAT), Acer's new phablet is more affordable than its competition: you'll pay £480 for Samsung's Galaxy Note 3, £499 for the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, £560 for Nokia's Lumia 1520 and £599 for the HTC One Max.

Acer's Liquid S2 has a 6-inch IPS screen, weighs 229g and delivers a claimed 13 hours of talk time from its 3,300mAh battery. It runs Android 4.2.2.
Image: Acer

The Liquid S2 has a 6-inch screen, which makes it a big phone for any hand or pocket. Measuring 83mm wide by 163mm deep by 9.6mm thick, you're going to struggle to reach across the device for one-handed use. As such, it has to provide something an regular-sized handset can't, and earn its place in a tech arsenal that may also include a tablet, a notebook and perhaps a smaller phone too.

What you don't get here is the Samsung-style ability to push some parts of the user interface to the left or right for easier one-handed use. You can do this with the dial pad on the Galaxy Note 3, for example. Nor do you get a stylus for text-based input.

Some features exploit the large screen though. There's a neat add-on app called Live Screen, with which you can annotate a screenshot or photo, or draw on-screen from scratch. Sketching out an idea, annotating a screen-grabbed map, even mixing words and drawings together in one place, is more feasible on a phablet screen than it would be on a smaller handset.

You get a full version of Polaris Office, which means you can create and edit Microsoft Office-compatible documents. I found it more comfortable to create documents or long email responses on the Liquid S2 than on smartphones with smaller screens.

Floating apps

A key new feature from Acer is its suite of 'floating apps' — four applications that sit on top of whatever else is currently on-screen. There's a calculator and a note-taker, plus a camera app and Google Maps. It's not a particularly sophisticated suite, and Acer could think a little harder about how to give itself an edge. Samsung's two-apps-side-by-side feature is one example of how large-screen handsets can deliver a clear advantage over smaller devices.

The 6in. screen has a resolution of 1,080 by 1,920 pixels (368ppi), which is perfectly good enough for watching video or reading text — ebooks, web pages, emails and documents all looked fine. There's a pair of stereo speakers on one long edge, where you are unlikely to cover them with a hand when holding the device. I was impressed with sound quality via the provided earphones, but less so by speakers themselves.

The general specifications are good. Android 4.2.2 is a little behind the times, but the Liquid S2 does support LTE — its predecessor had two SIM slots, but this time round there's just the one. There's dual-band wi-fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) and Bluetooth (4.0), plus support for DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct and NFC. The processor is the top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 with 2GB of RAM behind it, and the 16GB of internal storage can be supplemented via a Micro-SD card slot.

4K video recording

A 4-LED ring flash helps to boost the main camera's low-light performance, but the headline camera feature is its ability to capture ultra-high-resolution 4K video — something, admittedly, you'll only appreciate if you're able to play back 4K video (not possible either on this handset or on most TVs). The rear camera will also record 1080p video at 60 frames per second, allowing for slow-motion playback. There's also a 2Mpixel front camera that can record 1080p video at regular frame rates.

The battery is a 3,300mAh unit that was good for a day's average use in our tests. However, if you do a lot of GPS-based navigation or gaming, or thrash the 4G connection, then you may have a different experience of battery life. The battery is not removable, so the Nano-SIM and Micro-SD slots are on the chassis edges. Acer claims 13 hours of talk time and 700 hours on standby.

The Liquid S2 is an attractive handset, with rounded edges and a metallic finish to the red backplate. The design won't suit every taste, but it does give Acer's phablet a distinctive look.

Acer has worked hard to make the Liquid S2 different, with features like 4K video recording and a suite of floating apps. But some more exciting apps and better large-screen usability, for example, would be welcome.

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