In today’s really saturated smartphone segment of the tech industry, the battlefield in the recent years stabilized (sort of) and is now dominated by 2 operating systems, namely Android and iOS as we all know and love, and then the rest pretty much just fights for scraps.
|Acer Liquid M330 review|
One of the more notable Operating systems in this ‘scrapyard fight’ where it is pretty easy to be left forgotten is Windows mobile as they are at the top of this particular heap. Lately they have adopted an ethos that is a bit similar to Apple’s “walled garden” by requiring manufacturers to use specific chips and resolutions for the High end down to the lowest priced entries for Windows 10 mobile. Does the Acer M330 (Windows brother of Z330) do justice on Acer’s interpretation of Microsoft’s low end smartphones? Let’s see;
Disclaimer: This unit was seeded by Acer Philippines for an honest review
Acer Liquid M330 SpecsDisplay: 4.5 Inch FWVGA IPS 854 x 480 resolution w/ Zero Air Gap at 218 ppi
CPU: Snapdragon 210 quad core processor
GPU: Adreno 304
RAM: 1 GB
ROM: 8 GB expandable via micro SD card slot up to 32 GB
Back Camera: 5 MP w/ LED flash
Selfie Camera: 5 MP
Battery: 2,000 mAh
OS: Windows 10
Connectivity: WiFi, 3G, LTE, Bluetooth 4.0 EDR, GPS, dual SIM, dual Standby
Dimensions: 136 x 66.5 x 9.6 mm
Weight: 142 g
Price: 4,490 Pesos
Unboxing / Accessories
|The artsy box|
The box highlights the spec details like a quad core chip, LTE capable, or that it weighs 142 grams.
Upon opening the box, you will find the M330 itself with plastic covers on the screen and the main camera at the back and then the manual, warranty papers, a charger and stock earphones are at the inner compartment. Not much fuss was done here other than covering the accessories with plastic.
Build / Design
|Back plate w/ circular speaker below|
The phone is all plastic which is understandable at this price range. While its not the rugged type of polymer, this won't break in an instant as long as you take care of it properly. On the glass part of the screen, its unfortunate not to find any type of glass protection though.
|View on top|
|Volume rockers here|
In terms of design, its the same with Z330. It has chrome painted sides and beautiful curves. However, its thicker than our liking with 9.6 mm. The phone also takes the removable textured plastic back plate route (I have the black version. I’m not sure if the white one is the same) and it avoids making the design totally bland and uninspired if by just a bit.
Fortunately, the M330 is a well engineered phone that makes it easy on the hands and provides average grip.
The volume rocker on the upper right side and the power button on the top left are plastic as well though both tend to be easy to grasp in the dark once the placements are in your muscle memory.
The M330 uses a 480 x 854 resolution packs a bit more pixel than the 480 x 800 that is Windows 10’s minimum supported resolution. On a 4.5 inch size screen (that’s 218 ppi) using an IPS LCD screen tech, it doesn’t exceed any expectations but it isn’t bad unless you use 350 or 500 ppi devices regularly. Pixels are visible but it doesn’t interfere with the UI or your daily use in any negative manner. Multi touch is available although by multi, I mean not more than 2 inputs at one time. There are no obvious options for calibrating the screen colour within the settings and 3rd party options in the store.
Acer decided to put what looked like a front speaker on this phone just beside the selfie camera. One would think that he/she would have a decent time listening to content without cupping their hands. Until that person does that very thing and realize that no sound is coming out of it. The back speaker won’t win any awards but what it is good enough at is not distorting at maximum levels and it has at least some semblance of a balanced audio (Lows, mids, and highs are all audible).
Your sound trips would still require good enough headphones (I used an ATH M50 and it sounded more refined and balanced). The M330 managed to play the FLAC file I had in hand despite warnings that it might not be possible (Coldplay’s Up and up from ‘A head full of dreams’) and the difference in loudness and clarity when you’re just streaming from YouTube is audible even on the back speaker.
Call quality was a bit interesting. It finally uses that front speaker and the audio is clear enough. When you put it on loud speaker, it uses up the one on the back exclusively. According to the person I was calling, background noise (A big fan aimed at me while making the call) is audible though it doesn’t overpower my own voice and my microphone ended up sounding a bit muffled on her end.
Acer did some good things here (or maybe it was out of their control?). Watching videos, recording videos, shooting photos, playing apps are still possible to the user even if the phone drops to its termed ‘critical levels’ (I was able to watch a 25+ minute fliptop video streaming from YouTube and still have some battery left).
Charging time from 0-100% takes 2 hours. With the Wifi, apps, and the screen turned off, the battery of the Acer M330 drained by 5% over the span of 8 hours. The phone used up 5% when I played a 3d racing app called racing league for 20 minutes without WIFI on and the screen at 25% brightness. The battery decreased by an average of 20% per hour for a theoretical 5 hours on-screen time if starting at 100%; This was the measured result upon using a website auto-refresher (newgrounds.com refreshing every 2 seconds) with the screen on and at 50% brightness. In reality, the user could expect about an hour or 2 less from that measured 5 hours when in heavy use or 3D gaming.
This part can be easily summed up with “This is the ghost of those pinhole cameras of basic phones from years past”. Forget using this in the evening unless the amount of artificial light you have can equal natural lighting.
It uses a 5 megapixel rear camera with LED flash and a 2MP selfie cam. Sharpening and noise can be obvious even when not zoomed at good lighting. For a social media camera, however, it works just fine. Out of the box, the phone has continuous focus on so whatever is the subject on that area of the screen you tapped on will become the new subject as you move the phone around.
The available settings are are flash (on/off), white balance (with 4 setting apart from auto), Focus (auto, Macro, or ∞), ISO levels 100-3200, exposure which it calls brightness (-2.0 to +2.0), and when you tap the (…) icon on the lower right, you find these; Lenses (as per description; ‘Adds more features to your camera. You can get all kinds of Lenses from the Store’), photo timer (2, 5, and 10 seconds), and settings (Aspect ratio, Framing grid, focus light for photos, video recording and digital video stabilization which is automatically on).
Knowledge of these settings would feel like it is almost a must for the M330. The audio recorded from videos (Which for some reason no reviewer ever covers) is decent at this price point (sub 5k) though a bit muffled.
It's good enough that you can try having your main camera record on mute and use this phone to record the sound and then mix them up later (A viable solution for even Samsung’s Galaxy S series back then as those have had sub-par mics up until the S5). The video itself is serviceable enough recording at 720p 30 FPS (Video bitrate at 8.1 Mbps and audio at 195 kbps, 2 channels and audio sample rate at 48 kHz) though the colours are a bit inaccurate when looking on the Acer M330 screen (the sun was a lot more yellow in reality as compared to the sample video).
|Lowlight at night|
|Selfie in daylight|
PerformanceThe Acer M330 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8909, easier remembered as ‘210’ clocked at 1.0-1.1GHz with the Adreno 304 GPU. The phone barely gets warm when running intensive applications. This SOC is specified by Microsoft as the minimum requirement for low end windows 10 phones so we see some apple style of control here, and now some numbers;
Antutu Benchmark v.6.0.5 UWP Beta5: Score: 30,256 (Compared to iPhone 5s; 64,883 and LG G4; 65,607)
Flick scrolling exists but is quite rare to actually pull off; like it is not an actual feature on the OS which will annoy anyone that wants to see content in the middle of a 10,000 word article. 2D gaming is possible, 3D gaming as well but less so. The SOC in here is for all about how it can use LTE without chipping too much out of your battery life, not how you can have a console in your pants (It even said so at Qualcomm’s website).
The most graphically intensive game I have here installed is Dead Trigger 2 which runs smoothly on ‘low everything’ as long as the game isn’t under a graphically intensive cut scene. Temple Run 2 might as well be called s-t-t-ttutter run because that’s exactly how it fared on this phone.
The store app has its own set of oddities. For some reason it didn’t let me download Modern Combat 5 and some other minor apps which would’ve been a nice test of graphics prowess (at around 100% download it simply doesn’t progress even after waiting for more than 5 minutes. I tried about 2 more times after but the store app still didn't let me install it). and some other minor apps which would’ve been a nice test of graphics prowess. The fact that Microsoft’s OS is a distant 3rd in the market share shows heavily here. The Facebook app switches to Microsoft edge whenever I tap a post to read the comments from a post and the YouTube app does the same thing. Some of the minor apps you enjoy on other platforms are probably not available in the store. I can’t even find a battery test app.
We also noticed that the M330’s keyboard was prone to mistypes in portrait mode (and less so in landscape) on the first week and then less frequently but it’s still apparent on its right side. This doesn’t allow me to type quick and it could be a bad thing on emergencies. My first smartphone was a Samsung galaxy i5500. It had a 2.8 inch screen (so way smaller) and I can practically blind speed type on it.
Your mileage may vary but the phone is great for one handed use; At least if the keyboard wasn’t so inaccurate at portrait, I may have used the phone one handed more. I’m pretty sure it’s just my phone (for Acer’s sake) but the SD card on my unit was defective so I couldn’t really comment on it. Also, when you can, change edge’s starting homepage to google.com as Bing on microsoft edge really isn’t on par with google at all in terms of search results. The phone doesn’t have any immediate obvious way of looking at RAM usage.
The phone is great at keeping a signal which is useful when you’re in unfamiliar territory and need to text someone or use google maps. It keeps better signal than my HTC one m7 (not that the HTC is known for keeping a great signal). I even got a YouTube video to load while on the road and I’m only on Globe’s SURFCOMBO, not a post-paid plan. That said, local internet is so slow that this won’t be too obvious when user traffic in your area spikes up anyway.
Pros - Great signal reception, decent battery life for daily use, barely gets warm on intensive task, recorded audio is decent for the price, easy for one handed use.
Cons - Internal storage is cramped at 8 GB, Windows store still lacks apps, OS has oddities affecting it negatively, not ideal for intensive 3D gaming, RAM management oddities as it stutters with might 3 apps at a time but then would run smooth with more than 3 apps, cameras needs improvement.
VerdictDue to Microsoft having specified the hardware requirements, the manufacturers can’t really brag about having an octa-core or a higher resolution display, call it low-end and sell it as such. At its core, I really can’t put the Acer M330’s purpose as anything other than a taste of Microsoft’s Windows 10 mobile without having to break into your savings.
Even then it can feel like a missed opportunity at times what with the "little more than occasional" lag, stutter, and other fuzziness that even a competitively priced low end android is free of these days (at least on the first few months, longer if the user knows his phone's limits). Though that said, Microsoft’s decision to control elements of the products is a path to the ‘will have updates immediately available when available’ that on Android’s side is enjoyed only by the Nexus after more than 2 years down the line.
Using windows 10 mobile in all honesty was a refreshing change of pace from Android and iOS that has been starting to look the same ever since the 2 decided to incorporate features of each other with every OS update. We have the lack of bloatware, hardware control (an arguable positive), and fast updates. Some quirks with navigating the OS would require muscle memory as it can seem slow to traverse for first time users (read; not the most intuitive experience around). Sans the problems I already mentioned, it could've been better with more proper execution and slickness and would have come with a recommendation....if this was 2009. The current year is 2016 so love or hate it, these days the OS is almost a close second to its "app store" (a term that a certain company tried to patent smh) for a lot of people.
Microsoft feels like it has been fighting for relevance by merely adding app numbers and not checking on app quality (more or less like android before 2013 but android has the numbers and sadly windows doesn't so developers have more incentive on android) as I have mentioned before, apps like facebook are not as optimized as the other platforms.
GIZ Rating: 3.75/5 Stars