When it comes to this budget Android smartphone there can only be one question: beTouch, or not beTouch?Acer’s latest foray into the world of Android comes in the form of the beTouch E400, a slightly oversized but well-featured smartphone that sits at the budget end of the spectrum and offers a multitude of mobile internet paraphernalia.
The handset is housed in an identical chassis to that of Acer’s P400, so our reservations about the superfluous company logo below the screen remain (see July 2010 review), yet it does feel sturdy and comfortable in the hand. The E400 retains the four touch-sensitive operational buttons at the bottom, including the home button that glows in different colours, and a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top. Two replacement battery covers in red and white are supplied in the box, along with a soft protective sheath.
The biggest single advantage for the E400 over the P400 is its Android 2.1 operating system, offering a far more pleasurable and intuitive user experience than the drudgery of Windows Mobile. From the moment you unlock the screen with a swipe of your finger it’s immediately apparent that here is a well-thought out interface that’s optimised for a touchscreen environment. Acer hasn’t opted to add its own customised skin over the top, but you do get weblinks to the company’s dedicated mobile site and synchronisation tool.
There are five separate home screens to scroll between, each sharing the same swappable wallpaper and each fully customisable with the ability to host various items in the form of application shortcuts, widgets or links to menu folders. It’s a smooth, clever system that’s one of Android’s major plus points.
The screen itself is satisfactory but nothing special, especially when compared to rival products from the likes of HTC. It’s responsive and reactive enough, but there’s no particular vibrancy there. This is one area where the budget nature of the device is most noticeable.
Android is heavily reliant on the internet and the E400 is well-supported in this department, with both high-speed 3G data and WiFi available as connectivity options. The integrated web browser itself is functional and intuitive, making good use of the built-in accelerometer for viewing pages in landscape mode.
In a nutshell, the E400 is a P400 running Android. And this is why, ultimately, usability suffers because Acer has simply added a new OS to an existing device template, without modifying the hardware specifications in any way. I would prefer to see them do it the other way round and build a device specifically for Android, with a striking screen and a more accessible back button. Now that would be something to be touched.
This budget smartphone shares an identical hardware specification with Acer’s P400 and a similar feature-set with a decent 3.2MP camera and media player, yet includes a far superior OS in the form of Android 2.1. The simple, enjoyable and efficient touchscreen interface with a sprinkling of social networking elements is pleasant to use, however it’s letdown by a sub-standard screen that’s too small in proportion to the rest of the device. Also the lack of any relevant adjustments to the device hardware means it’s no match for the effortless intelligence of the software.