Acer recently launched its line of Android mobile phones in Australia, and sitting at the top of the company's range is the Stream: an Android smartphone aimed at multimedia buffs. The phone's HDMI-out port, 720p HD video recording and dedicated media keys are certainly not run-of-the-mill features, but Acer's attempt to improve the standard Android interface is not entirely successful.
Acer's Liquid E Android smartphone possessed questionable build quality, and the Stream is definitely better in this respect, with a fairly attractive, industrial-looking case. The Stream is a relatively thin smartphone; the dark grey finish on the front contrasts nicely with the matte black rear, creating a distinctive look.
Our main complaint with the design is the awkward-feeling external buttons — the power, volume, and camera keys require a firm press to activate and the thin buttons dig into your fingers when pressed. The touch-sensitive keys below the display aren't always responsive, while the media controls on the bottom edge of the Stream don't do enough to justify their presence — we found it just as effective to use the on-screen controls to play, pause and skip music or videos.
The Acer Stream has a large, 3.7in AMOLED, capacitive touchscreen. The phone supports multitouch (so you can pinch the screen to zoom in on photos, maps and web pages) and is bright and clear most of the time. However, its viewing angles and performance in direct sunlight are noticeably inferior to the HTC Desire's screen, which also utilises AMOLED technology.
The Acer Stream runs the 2.1 version of Google's Android operating system and it includes all the regular features and functions of the OS including access to the Android Market for third-party apps, an excellent notifications taskbar and automatic and seamless synchronisation with Google services. Acer says the Stream will be upgradeable to the latest 2.2 version of Android (called Froyo) but hasn't specified a timeframe. Froyo will add full Flash support, built-in wireless tethering, and the ability to store third-party apps on your SD card, as well as a range of other improvements.
Like many other Android smartphone manufacturers, Acer has chosen to customise the standard Android UI. The biggest change is the notifications bar, which has been moved from its regular position at the top of the screen to halfway down the screen, at the top of a shortcut bar. Sliding up the shortcut bar gives you access to the main menu, while tapping on the time in the bar offers shortcuts to the alarm, and tapping on the battery and coverage indicators allows you to activate airplane mode, and switch on and off the GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functions. The top half of the screen displays the time and date, and slides left to reveal a 3D carousel of recently used applications and to the right to reveal media shortcuts including photos, video and music.
Though Acer's interface makes the Stream a distinctive Android smartphone, not all the changes are for the best. In particular, the altering of the notifications toolbar is annoying, and the Acer UI virtually ignores home screen widgets. To access these, you need to hold down the home button and they only displayed when the screen is locked. We did like some of the 3D effects (particularly the wallpaper effect when unlocking the screen) and the recently used apps carousel is definitely handy.
Like the Liquid E, the Acer Stream comes preloaded with Facebook and Twitter (Twitdroid) applications along with Documents To Go for handling Microsoft Office files and RoadSync calendar and mail applications for enhanced Microsoft Exchange support. The Stream also offers an Acer customised on-screen keyboard as an option. We prefer the standard Android keyboard as the Acer one is small and cramped.
Acer has pitched the Stream as a multimedia smartphone, but we were disappointed with its media credentials. The 5-megapixel camera lacks a flash and takes poor quality photos even for a camera phone, while the 720p video recording function isn't up to the standard we've come to expect; video is noticeably inferior to footage shot with the iPhone 4 and the phone struggles to record steady footage. The included HDMI-out port works well, but is limited to displaying still images and video — you can't hook it up to your television to play games or browse the Web. Other features of the Acer Stream include a built-in accelerometer, a GPS receiver, a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a microSD card slot for extra storage. Acer generously includes an 8GB microSD card in the sales package.
One aspect of the Acer Stream that definitely impressed us was its general performance. We didn't encounter any lag or slowdown during regular use and the Stream always felt snappy during testing, even when running multiple applications. Battery life was about standard for an Android smartphone; the Stream will need to be charged every night to avoid the dreaded low battery warning.
Acer environmental policy
According to Acer, the company helps "reduce waste and the impact on the environment by introducing initiatives such as 'Plant 1 Million Trees', 'Take Back Program' and Carbon Offset Programs with education departments." More information about the company's green initiatives can be found on its Web site
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