You wouldn’t find an Acer smartphone in this country. The Taiwanese device maker, best known for Windows laptops and low-cost tablets, simply didn’t offer them here.
Overseas, it’s different. Acer had its Liquid series of budget and mid-range Android smartphones and phablets, in addition to its Leap wearable.
Acer’s absence was likely due to the ultra-competitive US smartphone market, and the large marketing budgets required to compete with Samsung and Apple, not mention the capital required to negotiate and tussle with the carriers that still act as the primary gatekeepers between smartphone buyers and sellers.
Well that’s just changed. Acer is finally entering the US market with perhaps the lowest of low-profile of devices: the budget Windows Phone smartphone.
The Acer Liquid M220 Windows Phone, first announced at Mobile World Congress, is coming the US. It’s a 4-inch Windows Phone 8.1 (upgradeable to Windows Phone 10) device with a 480 x 800 resolution and dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 system on a chip running at 1.2 GHz. It has 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage (both double from the M220 announced at MWC, thank goodness), rear 5-megapixel camera, front 2-megapixel camera, and small and replaceable 1,300mAh battery.
Other specs include a microSD slot, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0 EDR. No word on cellular connectivity. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this go 3G only.
At $80 off contract, it’s cheap, real cheap. It will be available through the Microsoft Store beginning in June, where it might not be alone. In March, Microsoft announced a $70 Lumia 430, which shares similar specs, but a slightly larger battery capacity and lower-resolution front-facing camera. The 430 is slated as a dual-sim phone for certain markets where that feature is popular, and there is no clear US release date.
Though it is way overdue for a new flagship, but will likely withhold releasing one until Windows 10 ships in the summer, Microsoft seems keen on targeting the low-end market. Perhaps because no other OS has emerged to rival Android in the space (Ubuntu, Firefox OS), Microsoft sees an opening.
For Acer, the same is true with the US market. If Sony can’t make a dent with excellent Android hardware, what hope does Acer have? Even on the low-end Android space, Motorola has what many consider to be a budget device that feels like a flagship, the $100 Moto E. Windows Phone may be third-place by a mile and has a significant app problem, but who needs another cheap Android handset?
The Acer Liquid M220 is what you’d expect from a 2015 budget phone. It’s compact and relatively light, with glossy display and a pleasantly textured back cover. This thing is easy to hold.
The power button and volume rocker feel cheap and hard to press, but we won’t complain too loudly. It’s an $80 off-contract smartphone, and that it supports a major operating system and seems to function fluidly (at least it did during our hands-on time) is a minor miracle.
Who knows? With $80 to spare, this could make a good complimentary device for a serious Windows user, especially if Microsoft delivers on the universal Windows 10 experience its promising.
It’s not just US-bound Windows Phones, Acer also took the wraps off the Liquid X2, which is notable for its massive 4,000mAh battery and three SIM card slots.
Who needs three SIM card slots? While the feature is popular in the US, globe-trotting travelers, particularly those hopping from country to country, will certainly appreciate the flexibility.
Acer was light on specific details at the launch event, other than the 5.5-inch Android phablet will have a 64-bit eight-core process and two 13-megapixel cameras. The X2 will also pair with smart slotted cover that enables a band of display of display uncovered for alerts and quick actions – sort of like the Note 4 Edge, but in the middle of the display.
There is no word on whether Acer will bring the high-end X2 to the US, but given its tri-SIM selling point, it seems unlikely.