Measured by the yardstick of usability, Acer's first foray into mobile phones late last year was not a success. Acer hobbled its first phones with the enduringly inept Windows Mobile operating system, now in its six-and-a-half incarnation, and even some fast and sexy 1GHz Snapdragon silicon couldn't save the Acer neoTouch S200 from its user-hostile stylus interface.

So news of Acer re-embracing Linux for its follow-up smartphone - albeit by simply jumping on the Google Android bandwagon - had us hoping there'd be a good chance of alighting upon a more usable Acer smartphone. And the Acer Liquid, also know as the A1 or S100, is certainly more approachable than its WinMo country cousin. The Acer Liquid is no iPhone, but it's available contract-free and at a lower price.

The shape and colour will appeal to the original iPod crowd, all white plastic and palm-friendly rounded edges, only more toylike. At 115mm high and 13mm thick, it slips in the pocket quite easily and its light 133g weight shouldn't upset either.

To access the Acer Liquid's removable battery, SIM slot and microSD card you must wrench off the backplate by confidently ripping backward with your fingernails from the correct end. Once snapped back together again, only the occasional squeak under pressure reminds you it's not a sealed unit.

The Acer Liquid can be reasonably nippy running Google Android 1.6, even if its Snapdragon processor, the same again as used in the Acer neoTouch, has been underclocked to 768MHz, presumably in a bid to stretch battery life.

It's still no endurance champion though, lasting less than two days between charges. And ultimately, its interface still feels slower than even the Samsung Galaxy, an older Android phone.

The screen is bright if not as colourful as the best-of-breed, and capacitive touch control means you need to apply too much heavy pressure to make yourself understood. We're not sure of the Acer Liquid screen's material, but it feels plasticky and certainly isn't as silky to the touch as the iPhone's glass screen.

Worse, screen buttons occasionally need re-prodding before they respond. That's simply infuriating when the button in question is Call Answer. Or crack-of-dawn Alarm Off.

Rapid text and email typing can also be slowed by the this insensitivity, not helped by the less than gifted touch intelligence of what is still an immature operating system from Google.

With no multitouch control, basic operations like web page zooming are slower than on more sophisticated phones. Subtle haptic vibration on button presses gives useful tactile feedback though.

Hardware buttons on each side control unlock (left) and ringer volume up/down (right) but the way the phone falls into the hand, we found we'd be changing volume in the process of unlocking.

Call quality was good with enough volume through the earpiece for comfortable voice calls. Sound quality through the little speaker, used for ringtones and alarms was quite poor though.

Other features include a 5MP camera that also shoots usable stills but less-impressive video with rather noisy sound. There's also GPS, and some discreet indicators of new messages, missed call and battery life, seen as backlit telltales on the phone's top edge.

OUR VERDICT

It’s a long step forward from the Acer S200 neoTouch – but the Liquid trails behind slightly more polished examples of Android, such as Google’s own Nexus One. Which in turn means the Acer Liquid is a some way behind the iPhone in sheer usability. It may appeal if you can find one at a bargain price and prefer Google’s user limitations over Apple’s.