Acer is not as well-known for its handsets as it is for its laptops, but it has been in the phone sector for a long while, producing what could be termed as solid, functional handsets that don’t manage to steal the limelight.
The CloudMobile S500, announced in February but only now seeing the light of day, is a bit different from the run-of-the-mill thanks to one key feature, but that feature might not be enough to see it steal much market share from the clear leaders in this sector – the likes of Samsung, HTC and of course Apple.
That key feature is support for AcerCloud. This service launched in Europe (France, Germany, Italy and the UK), at the very tail end of August. It allows remote access to information from laptop, Android tablet and Android phone.
A service called PicStream lets you auto upload photos to the cloud and synchronise them with other devices that have the Cloud app installed.
Photos, music and documents sent to the AcerCloud remain available for 30 days and storage is unlimited.
The idea of extending the storage potential of a smartphone by using the cloud is an appealing one though it is hardly unique, and there are downsides to the way Acer has executed it. The system requires a PC to be the originator of documents, for example. There is a copy of Polaris Office on the CloudMobile S500 that’s perfectly good for writing long texts but it can’t sync them to the AcerCloud. And Macs aren’t supported at all.
In the end, a system agnostic service like Dropbox, which HTC pushes on its Android smartphones these days, would be my preferred choice for cloud storage.
AcerCloud aside, the CloudMobile S500 isn’t a bad handset at all. It is neatly designed and well specified for a phone that costs £275 from Expansys. For a similar outlay, you could buy something like the LG Optimus 4X or Nokia Lumia 900, Sony Xperia P or HTC Sensation XL.
I like the general build of this phone and that’s gratifying as it won a design award at Computex this year. Overall, the handset is perhaps a little on the tall side but it sits comfortably, even in my smallish hands, as well as securely with its slightly rubbery, stippled backplate helping with grip.
The outwardly curved top and bottom edges are covered by wedges of stainless steel, which are visually appealing and should help the phone deal with knocks. Tiny holes in the upper stainless steel section cater for the in-call speaker, and these are replicated on the back in the small silver speaker grille that bears the Dolby Mobile marque. Sound output is OK from this, but actually a little tinny through headphones.
The core specifications are pretty impressive given the price of this phone. You get a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor that is supported by 1GB of RAM and a reliable Adreno 225 GPU. I found the handset quick to use thanks to this powerhouse combination and its very responsive touchscreen, which can be set to a low, medium or high sensitivity.
There’s 8GB of built-in storage and a microSD card slot under the backplate for adding more. There are two irritations on the specs front. You’ll need a microSIM and there’s no HDMI out. It would have been nice to see HDMI here, especially as the camera shoots 1080p video alongside 8-megapixel stills.
The 4.3in screen with its 1,280 x 720 resolution makes for a 342ppi pixel density. As a quick comparison, the 4.8in screen of the Samsung Galaxy S III has the same number of pixels but a density of 306ppi. The iPhone 5 manages 1,136 x 640 pixels and 326ppi.
I did think initially that the screen looked a little dull, and popping into settings to fiddle with the auto brightness I discovered an Eco Display setting which seems to be turned on by default. This sets the auto brightness a little dimmer than it would otherwise be. It’s liveable with, and probably a good idea to use, as one of the downsides of this handset is a disappointing battery life.
Battery life depends a lot on how you use a phone, of course, and some people might extend things beyond a day. Equally, you could find yourself reaching for the charger before the day is out.
What both frugal and demanding users might find is that the speed at which the battery falls can be quite alarming. On one occasion, I set the screen to stay always on and in the space of 40 minutes the phone went from delivering a 30 per cent warning to delivering a 10 per cent warning even though during that time I had not used it at all. And I have another battery life issue – the handset seemed to run a little hot with noticeable warmth coming from the SIM and microSD card areas just above the battery itself.
Acer lightly skins Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, providing some shortcuts in the notifications area including to the alarm and comms settings, and a lock screen that lets you open the handset into one of four apps you select. The lock screen also tells you the date and time, and battery charge level.
Acer bundles Swype for text entry, an FM radio, a DLNA app, Polaris Office 4 and its EquiView app which first appeared on the Iconia Tab Android tablet. This lets you connect with a Wi-Fi projector and is evidence that Acer is keen to push the CloudMobile S500 towards the business market. You can mute the alarm by giving the handset a shake, but you’ll likely be fully awake after the shake!
In the end, the AcerCloud service isn’t enough of a draw to pull me toward the CloudMobile S500 and away from other well specified phones at a similar price. That’s a shame given that Acer has decided to advertise its cloud service in the phone’s name. Still, if you think of AcerCloud as a potentially useful add-on rather than a key feature, then most of this phone does appeal. Nice build, super screen and a good processor are key features which bang up against a battery niggle.