By September 19, 2011

Acer beTouch E210 review

Acer beTouch E210 review There are plenty of phones on the market now with a keyboard, but surprisingly, in a market bursting with choice, there doesn’t seem to be many portrait qwerty devices running Android despite it being the world’s most popular platform. It seems like it isn’t the most popular form factor to say the least, but this hasn’t stopped Acer – they’re trying their luck with the E210.

Acer have previously dipped their toes into the mobile phone market, but, let’s be honest, their lack of advertising and support from networks means they’re a rare sight at best on the high street, be it in shops or in shopper’s hands – the first thing that many say when presented with an Acer smartphone is “Acer makes phones?!”. For Acer, that is a worrying thing. That level of brand and product knowledge is never a good start, so is the E210 good enough for a place in your pockets?

What’s in the box?

  • Device
  • Charger
  • Headset with mic
  • 2GB micro SD card
  • USB to micro USB cable
  • Documentation

 

Make sure you watch Matt’s unboxing for a look at the box contents and a quick tour of the device itself.

 

The 10 second review:

  • Device: Acer beTouch E210
  • Price: £99 from Amazon UK
  • Summary: A cheap but debatably cheerful beginners Android device, with a surprisingly stellar keyboard
  • Best of: Keyboard, and..the keyboard.
  • Worst of: Small resistive screen, QVGA resolution, slow 600MHz processor, cheap build quality
  • Buy it now from: Amazon

 

Acer beTouch E210 specification:

  • 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
  • 3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 2100
  • Dimensions: 116 x 63 x 12 mm
  • Weight: 109 g
  • Display: TFT resistive touchscreen, 256K colours, 320 x 240 pixels, 2.6 inches
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • Optical trackpad
  • 3.5mm jack
  • Memory: 256 MB RAM, 512 MB ROM
  • microSD, up to 32GB
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Bluetooth:  v2.1 with A2DP, EDR
  • microUSB v2.0
  • Camera: 3.15 MP, 2048×1536 pixels
  • OS: Android OS, v2.2 (Froyo)
  • CPU: Qualcomm MSM7227 600 MHz processor
  • Stereo FM radio
  • GPS with A-GPS support
  • Digital compass
  • Battery: Standard battery, Li-Ion 1300 mAh

 

General

On the left hand side there’s the 3.5mm headphone jack for music listening and handsfree calling. Below that is a small cut out to get the back cover off.

Acer beTouch E210 review-left

Flipping over to the right, you’ll find the micro USB port for charging and syncing with a PC and the volume rocker. While the buttons require a firm press and don’t give much feedback, they do the job.

Acer beTouch E210 review-right

On the top, there aren’t any controls or ports at all, despite it looking as if it should have the lock and mute keys of a BlackBerry – the styling is certainly similar. The bottom edge has nothing either. The curved top and bottom do help to make the phone look a bit smaller than it actually is.

beTouch-top beTouch-bottom

The front is where it’s all happening. Firstly, from the top, there’s a long and thin HTC style earpiece, which has an LED hidden behind the grill to indicate charging and new notifications. Below that you’ll find the small 2.4 inch resistive touchscreen display. Moving down, there’s an optical trackpad surrounded by your four Android buttons (home, menu, back, and search). Flanking the central cluster of buttons are the absolutely huge send and end keys. Onto the main attraction now – the E210 features a full qwerty keyboard which have large, domed keys. Finally there’s a small hole for the microphone below the keyboard.

beTouch-front

On the back, there’s a camera pod and loudspeaker grill at the top, and a lanyard hole at the bottom.

beTouch-back1

 

Highlights

  • Great tactile keyboard with large keys
  • Very lightweight

Lowlights

  • Resistive screen
  • Creaky and cheap build materials
  • Slow

 

Review: Hardware

The Acer E210 is clearly a phone on a mission, trying to capitalise on the BlackBerry fans who would like a taste of a more modern operating system. What they’ll find here however is something that is quite a stretch from what they’re used to with RIM – the E210’s hardware doesn’t impress. To start with, the plastics used is clearly one of the corners that had to be cut to keep the price down. For example, the chrome you see that flows along the frame is in fact just chrome effect plastic and the back cover is possibly the worst I have seen on a smartphone – it feels like airfix plastic. Since the battery cover is nearly all of the back and sides of the phone, a better quality plastic (or a soft-touch one) would go a long way to improve the quality of the feel of the device, and how much extra would that cost? Not much I bet.

Thankfully, the materials used is the only major downside to Acer’s design choices. The keyboard for example is great; not only are the buttons very large indeed, but they are also domed, similar to Nokia’s keyboards on the E71 and E72. The dome on each key means you can use flesh of your thumbs instead of your thumb tips, making long typing sessions more comfortable and reduced typos. The keys are little firmer than on aforementioned E Series devices, but nonetheless it is still a very pleasant experience. It’s also good to see that Acer have made the most of the available space by placing useful shortcuts to contacts, messages, and the camera – you won’t find any Motorola Milestone esque unused key space.

It’s a shame to have an excellent keyboard experience, let down by the other major component that everyone interacts with – the screen. In this day and age, it’s frankly surprising  and quite disappointing to see resistive displays still be used. While they do have their merits, the display unit here is appalling, even for a budget device. While sensitivity is acceptable, it means there is no multi-touch support, and it makes swiping in Android’s interface difficult (due to having to swipe with downward pressure). The (few) pixels you can see are so far away from the surface that it’s hard to accurately aim with your finger(nail). The resolution is also at a dismal 240×320 making text fuzzy and also restricting your App Market choices to ones which support a largely outdated QVGA resolution. Viewing angles are just acceptable, as is the brightness, but the display is definitely the main source of pain on the E210. The experience (in my opinion) would actually be better if Acer just skipped over the touchscreen feature altogether, and opted for a higher quality non-touch display, relying on the optical trackpad for input.

beTouch-keyboard

 

Software

The Acer E210 runs the Froyo flavour of Android which is (only) just acceptable in my view – while it may not be the latest build available, it offers almost all major features that the latest Gingerbread version boasts anyway. Just navigating through the interface shows you that the 600MHz processor and 256MB of ram are certainly not the cream of the crop, but after disabling animations, it is possible to use the phone without much lag.

As the E210 runs stock Android, you won’t find any manufacturer add on such as HTC Sense or Samsung Touchwiz meaning there will be five homescreens and an alphabetical list of applications when you hit the menu button on the far right. Above that is the browser shortcut, and below is the phone shortcut. You can customise the homescreens to contain any widgets or applications you like, but here is the default look:

homescreen1homescreen2homescreen3homescreen4homescreen5

It’s good to see that Acer haven’t tweaked Android’s interface like they have done in the past, as the outdated hardware can only just cope with vanilla Android. One of the most obvious places where you really feel the need for speed is in the browser. Android’s browser is famed for being on of its strong points, as it is quick and generally renders error free. It is noticeably slower however than other Android devices to load pages and to scroll through them but that’s more to do with the limited horsepower available here than any bad software. Because the E210 only has a 240×320 resolution, text is way too blocky to read zoomed out – a considerable amount of zoom is needed to read text easily, which isn’t as easy as it should be without multi-touch. Still, browsing is better than on, say, the BlackBerry 8520 thanks to the webkit browser.

browser

People who want a no-nonsense business phone may be attracted to the E210 and it handles your usual calendar and emails well, even if the screen is abysmal. The calendar shows month, week, day and agenda views, and will happily sync with your Google Calendar. Email is also nice and easy to deal with – the Gmail app will handle multiply Gmail accounts with labelling and starring, and the standard Email application will handle other non-Google accounts.

calendar1calendar2  emailemail2

The camera on the E210 is a basic 3MP unit so expectations weren’t high. In fact, it’s as basic as it gets – you won’t find any autofocus, flash, or scene modes here. The adjustments you can make are limited to picture size, white balance, and brightness. If you go deeper into the menus, you can also tweak the ISO, though quality goes down the drain when you up it from the standard 100. There is however a geotagging feature, allowing you to add a location to your images.

The lack of autofocus means that there isn’t a macro mode, eliminating any chances of using the E210’s camera for close ups – to get in the focus range, your object would need to be at least a couple of feet away – which you can see from the golf ball. Even when your frame is in focus, it doesn’t fare much better unfortunately – images come up as over exposed and over saturated, probably to help make them look nicer and cover up artefacts and noise. In short, the imaging ability is far from the E210’s forte.

IMG_20110904_185343IMG_20110914_174633

cameragallery

Other Apps

As is the case with almost every Android smartphone nowadays, you’ll find apps that manufacturers reckon add to the experience; most of the time they’re plain wrong, but who knows, there might a be a little gem here. Android’s media playing abilities are always getting flack, and to be honest it hasn’t improved much on the Froyo build this is running. Acer have included nemoPlayer which is a better looking player than the stock Android one, though it doesn’t add much in terms of function – what it does do is group your photos, music, and video in one place (although it may be confusing at first as there’s also the Gallery app for viewing photos). But there is a side effect here which does annoy me. The UI design of the app has black fading to blue as you can see in the screenshots, and it looks absolutely terrible on the E210’s screen – there is so much colour banding that it makes the app look cheap and tacky. The same can be said for Acer’s own Spinlets Music application – it’s slow and has a rubbish selection of music to stream.

nemo1nemo2nemo3spinletsyoutube

Battery Life

As mentioned in every review of every phone, it’s hard to accurately gauge the endurance of a phone and translate it to words when everyone’s usage is different, but it’s useful to know the general picture. With the E210, it’s not too bad. Despite it running very modest hardware, it’s still a struggle to squeeze more than two days out of the 1300mAh battery, whatever your usage – I’d expect most users to have to charge every night to have enough juice to last through the next day.

beTouch-angled-right

 

Conclusion

If you’ve read through the review then it’s quite obvious that the odds stack up quite unfavourably for the E210. It seems that Acer have just cut too many corners to keep the price down as low as it is. The resistive screen is a chore to use, and the screen resolution means that many apps will not work, and some even will only work in portrait. The quality of the materials, especially the back cover, is poor and doesn’t give you confidence that this is a solidly built phone designed to last. The camera is also poor, but then again it is to be expected of a phone that retails for £99 (and will probably soon drop even more). Even with all the hardware limitations, using the phone makes you realise how little effort and thought went into the E210 – by default, the accelerometer is enabled to rotate the screen in the browser and menus etc. (why would you want to hold it sideways?) and you can even bring up a virtual keyboard. Although these aren’t necessarily dealbreakers themselves, they do give the impression that they just shoved Froyo on it, checked that it booted, and just left it like that.

The saving grace of the E210 is the keyboard, and to be fair to Acer they have got a very nice keyboard here which is both spacious and tactile so they deserve credit for that. Even so, I don’t think this is anywhere near enough to justify £100 well spent, especially when phones such as the Orange San Francisco are available for the same price which is a much better buy. If you’re strapped for cash, then go for the San Francisco (i.e. ZTE Blade) as it is the best Android device for around £100 at the moment. If you must have a forward facing qwerty phone that’s running Android, then there aren’t many alternatives to the E210. The only decent one really is the HTC ChaCha, and I would strongly recommend spending the extra cash to get yourself one of those instead. Sorry Acer!

 

 

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