Acer may be better known for its excellent Aspire One netbooks and Timeline laptops, but it’s still very much involved in the high-end smartphone tussle. Hoping to improve on its middling Liquid and beTouch handsets is the company’s most feature-packed Android phone yet – the Stream.

It’s currently only running the 2.1 ‘Éclair’ flavour of Android (a 2.2 update is due 'later this year') but a 3.7in capacitive touchscreen, speedy HSDPA connectivity and GPS suggest it’s equipped to go right after the HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy S and a certain Apple phone.

Vanilla with a twist

Rather than dressing the Stream up in a custom skin, Acer has wisely opted for a vanilla version of Android’s OS. But unlike rivals like the Motorola Milestone XT720 and Google Nexus One, there are some neat flourishes that really make the Big G’s mobile OS sing.

Neat info bubbles are easily accessible by tapping the panel above the apps shown on the first home screen. These offer a welter of instant info on your phone’s status, telling you the percentage of battery life left, as well as letting you switch Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and airplane mode on or off without needing to delve into the menu structure. It’s a clever move and one that really sets the Stream apart from its vanilla Android rivals.

Camcorder king

The Stream’s other big draw is its camcorder. It matches the Motorola Milestone XT720 and Samsung Galaxy S with the ability to shoot 720p video.

Controls are easy to manage via the soft menu key, letting you adjust white balance according to the ambient light, as well as switch format between MPEG4 and H263. The experience and video quality isn’t as assured or classy as the Galaxy S, but it makes for a winning alternative to a cheap cammie like the Flip or Creative Vado.

Unfortunately, the Stream’s 5 megapixel stills aren’t quite as accomplished. Shots appear gloomy and lack definition in all but the very best light. This is largely down to the lack of a flash, a criminal omission given the imaging ability of its rivals.

Derivative design

Another issue we had with the Stream is that we couldn’t stop comparing it with the phone it seems to have been inspired by – HTC’S Desire.

It has the same black and grey design fronted by a 3.7in screen, and for all its skills under the hood the Stream feels like a poor imitation of the top-notch effort from Taiwan.

Review continues after the break…

The hard keys at the bottom of the device are utterly unintuitive and redundant. Not once did we find ourselves reaching for them. Likewise, the soft keys to the left of the home button are handy, but it seems strange that they’re touch sensitive when the home button isn’t.

The touchscreen itself is passable, but we’ve definitely come across better and as the technology continues to improve, the Stream’s panel feels as if it’ll be outdated very swiftly. The haptics are a real distraction and are best turned off to maximise performance.

The Stream is undoubtedly Acer’s best Android phone yet, but with an older, battery-sapping version of Google’s OS, disappointing camera and the presence of frighteningly capable rivals like the HTC Desire and Apple iPhone 4, it’s hard to recommend.

Stockist: Expansys

Stuff says... 

Acer Stream review

A capable Android smartphone, but struggles to outshine the HTC Desire in design or performance