On paper the Acer Liquid S2 looks great, with plenty of power and the ability to shoot 4k video. Can the reality live up to the promise?
First revealed in Berlin last year, Acer’s six-inch Liquid S2 is one of the first handsets that can film 4k video. Along with the Full HD screen and great range of specs, it’s got everything in place to take on the big boys of the phablet world.
Design: Phunky phablet
Although it’s a sizeable six-incher, the Acer Liquid S2 doesn’t feel like too cumbersome for a phablet. It’s certainly a hand-filler, but the bezel surrounding the screen is minimal, stretching just a few millimetres either side. At 9mm thick it isn’t too bulky either, although we felt the 229g weight at the end of a long day. The result is a phone comparable in size to Nokia’s Lumia 1520, but thankfully not as pocket-destroying as the enormous Sony Xperia Z Ultra.
From the front, the Liquid S2 looks like your standard smartphone – all-glass front, black bezel, and three touch-sensitive buttons beneath the screen for back, home and recent apps. The main difference is that Acer’s standard double-ring icon has been used for the home button, instead of a dinky pic of a house. Flip the phone over and things get much more exciting, however, with a good-looking deep-red finish. The camera lens juts slightly above the surface, as does a silver Dolby logo at the bottom of the panel.
A dinky power button is housed up top, and although it’s on the small side, our finger rarely failed to find it. Dual speakers are positioned along the left edge, to produce a kind of stereo effect when clutching the Liquid S2 horizontally, with the right edge reserved for pretty much everything else. That’s a volume rocker, pin-operated Nano-SIM slot, covered microSD memory card slot and open USB port. Thankfully things don’t get cluttered, because of the extra space offered by the phone’s size.
OS and media: Vanilla flavoured Android
Android 4.2.2 is the OS of choice, a little out of date now that KitKat is hitting devices, and there are no public plans to upgrade the Liquid S2 at the moment – but we’re hoping a rollout will happen soon. The good news is that Acer has chosen to leave Android reasonably well alone, rather than plastering a custom UI all over Google’s handiwork. We’re fans of vanilla Android, and this is one of the few places outside of a Nexus handset where you can enjoy it. Of course it’s a shame that there aren’t any creative or multitasking apps that take full advantage of the spacious screen, and we do miss the excellent S-Pen stylus of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
Still, menus and desktops look gloriously crisp on the big six-inch panel, thanks to the Full HD 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution. That matches fellow phablets like the Nokia Lumia 1520 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra for sharpness, and beats the Samsung Galaxy Mega. On top brightness, sunlight and other glare is effortlessly overridden. Viewing angles are pleasingly wide, with only a slight loss in brightness and colour as you tilt the phone.
The dual speakers along the left edge of the Liquid S2 are powered by Dolby Digital Plus technology. What does that mean in normal speak? Well, the speakers put out a clean sound, with enough oomph to enjoy a movie while you’re lounging on your sofa. As you’d expect from a smartphone, things get a little tinny and distorted when you introduce bass-heavy music, but we can’t imagine anyone rocking out in their bedrooms using just their mobile. Our preference is still for HTC’s excellent BoomSound speakers, which have the added benefit of pointing forwards. You lose a little something with the Liquid S2’s blasters, as they point upwards instead.
Camera: 4k video maestro
One of the biggest selling points of the Liquid S2 is its 13-megapixel camera, and budding Michael Bays will be most turned on by the Ultra HD video recording, which allows you to shoot your world in glorious 4k. Only the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 can also boast next-gen video recording, and while there isn’t much point at the moment – do you know anyone who owns a 4k telly? – at least your precious memories will be future-proof.
The results are impressive, whether you’re using standard video mode or the full 4k. Images are sharp with minimal motion blur, and the lens copes admirably with all kinds of light conditions. Audio quality is also great. Four microphones are positioned in different areas of the casing, so you’ll pick up your own expert commentary as well as anything happening in front of the lens. The multiple mics also help to dampen irritating background noise, such as traffic – a very good thing if you live in Central London.
Shooting just a minute of 4k video takes up 400MB of memory space, but thankfully you can save directly to microSD – providing you have a super-whizzy card that can handle all that megabytage. You’re also limited to five minutes per clip, for obvious reasons. As well as 4k mode, the Liquid S2 has a few extra shooting styles, including half-speed slow-motion and customisable time lapse. The slow-mo mode is particularly cool, if slightly gimmicky, producing a smooth result.
You can capture still images while shooting video, or switch to the dedicated camera mode for more control. A quick tap of the screen overrides the autofocus if necessary, while nudging the shutter button takes a photo almost instantaneously. Results on the whole were as good as you’d expect from a premium device. Everyday shots are clean and crisp, with excellent levels of detail captured, even from a distance. Moving subjects produce very little motion blur, and evening/interior snaps appear bright with only minimal graininess. The powerful ring flash surrounding the lens can light up a pitch black room, but be careful if anyone’s stood nearby, as their retinas will likely melt.
Performance and battery life: Thar be Snapdragons
A 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 is tucked away inside the Liquid S2’s glorious crimson body, meaning you’ll have enough clout to run all of the latest apps and games. Browsing around Android is a slick, smooth experience. We also enjoyed streaming HD video over 4G, with almost no pauses or waiting for things to load up. Of course, you can grab the LG Nexus 5 with the same processor for around £300, so you don’t need to splash out on top-end smartphones for dependable performance.
As for longevity, we found that the Liquid S2’s 3300mAh battery lasted roughly 24 hours on top brightness levels, providing all we used it for was regularly checking emails and scouring the internet for hilarious cat pics. Try streaming video and you can expect almost six hours of use before the screen fades to black. That’s about standard for a phablet, although Nokia’s Lumia 1520 is still ruling the roost with a whopping nine hours of playback.
Acer Liquid S2 verdict
The Acer Liquid S2 is a fully-featured phablet that can match the other big boys in pretty much every department. Media fans are going to get the most from it, thanks to the spacious Full HD screen and ability to shoot in 4k, but we also enjoyed the raw Android experience – although a KitKat update would be appreciated.