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Acer Gallant Duo Review
Acer has something of a chequered past in mobile and particularly in Android. Following on from their acquisition of independent device manufacturer E-ten for a not inconsiderable $290 million, they have released quite a few phones that while gaining a fair enthusiast following, haven’t really achieved significant commercial success.
Probably the most recognised device of the Android era is the Liquid - a device that offered great specs at a very reasonable price, albeit at the expense of build quality (remember the creaking on that thing?!?). The original Liquid spawned a number of successors, including a low cost range, a strange but promising yet not widely released Icon Smart S300, a yet-to-arrive CloudMobile S500 flagship and now their low to mid tier phones, the Liquid Glow and Liquid Gallant devices.
Pricing has made Acer’s low end play a little confusing. It has ended up with the Liquid Glow actually shipping at exactly the same price as it’s technically superior Gallant siblings, rendering the former largely irrelevant. Just to confuse things further, there are two Gallant variants, the Gallant Solo and the Gallant Duo which are technically identical with the exception of the Duo supporting dual SIMs. It’s the Gallant Duo of course that we are here to review today.
The review device is a full retail device, matching what is now available to buy online. Ours is a black one, white is also available.
In The Box
In the rather large box you'll find the device itself, warranty / safety booklets and a 'Quick Guide', a power adaptor, headset and microUSB cable.
Hardware - overview
The hardware on the Gallant Duo is really interesting. It shares a large proportion of it’s internals with the ‘cheap Chinese devices’ that are so widely available on eBay and the like, yet it comes from a ‘reputable manufacturer’. The first evidence of this is probably the fact that it’s dual SIM (a featurely rarely seen here but very popular in the Chinese devices) and this is confirmed by the use of the MTK6575 CPU from MediaTek. The MT6575 platform from the Taiwanese company offers a 1GHz ARM Cortex‐A9 processor, support for 8 Megapixel cameras (although a 5 Megapixel unit is used here), qHD displays and a PowerVR SGX Series5 GPU. With a 40nm architecture it’s not the latest and greatest tech, but it is cheap, which is important here.
The full specs...
- Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
- MTK 6575 1GHz Processor
- 1GB RAM
- 4GB ROM
- HSPA 900/2100 MHz (7.2M / 5,6M), GSM/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
- 5MP AF camera with LED flash, supporting HD720p @30 fps
- 4.3” qHD display
- 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
- Bluetooth 3.0 + EDR
- FM receiver + RDS
- GPS with A-GPS support
- Accelerometer, E-compass, Light sensor, Proximity sensor
- Dual Sim
- MicroSD slot
- Micro-USB charging
- 1500 mAh battery
- 129 x 65.5 x 9.9 mm
- 145 g
- SAR: 0.49 W/kg (head / CE)
So that’s inside, what about the outside?
Hardware - around the device
Let’s go on a little tour of the device.
The front of the device is a shiny black slab in the truest sense of the word. Another of the Gallant Duo’s redeeming features is that it utilises the on screen buttons added from Ice Cream Sandwich onwards, meaning no capacitive buttons on the front. You get the screen, an Acer logo and speaker (with a chrome accent) and the various sensors above it, a microphone hole at the bottom and that’s it. Note that there is no front camera.
The top of the device is home to the microUSB port and the 3.5mm headset hole. No power button here. The left of the device has the back cover removal tab, that’s it. The right of the device has the volume rocker. No power button here. The bottom of the device has no buttons / ports. No power button here either. So where is it?
It’s on the back. Next to the camera! 90% of the back is the black plastic battery cover, emblazoned with a chrome acer logo in the middle and the camera and flash on a silver panel at the top left. To the right of the flash, exactly the same size as the camera, is the power button. Definitely unusual, but good or bad? We’ll come to that later.
The bottom of the back has the speaker grille and is made of textured metal. This grey metal ‘chassis’ flows around all sides of the device and is no doubt the main contributing factor to the excellent ‘feel’ of the device. No ‘original Liquid’ creaking and twisting here, it’s solid as a rock and doesn’t feel like a budget device at all. The metal trim looks good on the black model but on the white it really stands out as a design feature.
Pop off the battery cover and you’ll find the 2 mini SIM slots (that’s a ‘normal’ SIM to you and I), a microSD slot and the 1500mAh battery. I was expecting to see microSIM slots, so I was part pleasantly surprised and part disappointed that they hadn’t used space more effectively.
The Liquid Gallant Duo runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. I wasn’t able to find an official statement regarding a future Jelly Bean update, so while i’d hope that this would be forthcoming, I wouldn’t assume that this is the case.
The ICS implementation is wonderfully Vanilla. Acer’s tweaks are largely limited to the dual SIM implementation (which has implications for Settings, Messages and Dialer of course) and a sprinkling of genuinely useful (for the most part) add-on applications.
Preinstalled on the device you’ll find...
- Barcode Scanner (as found on the Play Store)
- Black list (for blacklisting specific numbers for calls and SMS)
- Bluetooth Proximity (may be for triggering actions based on Bluetooth proximity?)
- Browser (ICS stock)
- Calculator (ICS stock)
- Calendar (ICS stock)
- Camera (ICS stock style with extras!)
- Chrome (yes, preinstalled!)
- Clock (ICS stock)
- Email (ICS stock)
- File Manager
- FM Radio
- Gallery (ICS stock)
- Media Server (DLNA server)
- Messaging (with dual SIM additions)
- News & Weather (aka Genie - ICS stock)
- People (with dual SIM additions)
- Play Movies
- Play Music
- Play Store
- Polaris Viewer 4.0 (office viewers)
- Registration (for registering your device)
- Search (ICS stock)
- SIM Toolkit
- Sound Recorder (ICS stock)
- Themes (select from a number of preinstalled / downloadable themes)
- Wireless Input Device (wireless mouse / keyboard support)
After you unpack the device out of the box, put in your SIM(s) and slot in the battery, you’re ready to turn it on. If you don’t know anything about the device, it’ll probably take you a little longer than usual to find the power button because, as we’ve already mentioned, it’s on the back, next to the camera. I’m guessing there’s some technical reasons it’s there, or it’s Acer trying to be a bit quirky and as you’d expect, it initially feels a little bit strange. In the first day or two of using it you’ll find yourself having to make a bit of extra effort to turn it on and pressing the camera lens accidentally. A lot. BUT... once that initial ‘training period’ has passed, it really is a non issue. I quickly became used to it and actually grew quite fond of it, helped by the fact that it presses with a reassuring ‘click’. I did have concerns that due to the positioning it might be more susceptible to accidental pressing but actually, the opposite has turned out to be true!
When you turn the device on and go through the setup wizard you get your first impressions of the screen. Being a qHD unit the resolution is certainly more than sufficient, however out of the box the auto brightness is a little agressive. It does crank up to a good brightness, however colours do seem a bit ‘washed out’ in general and in direct sunlight, viewability is atrocious. Touch sensitivity is fine. The screen is a little bit susceptible to fingerprints, but not as bad as the ZTE Grand X we reviewed recently!
Once the setup wizard is completed you’ll land at the home screen / launcher which is stock ICS style. Acer have added a very HTC Sense-alike weather / time widget by default. As mentioned previously the Gallant Duo uses on screen buttons rather than capacitive keys like the Galaxy Nexus and it’s an implementation I do like. One thing that is slightly annoying is that the vibration feedback on the on screen keys is a bit over zealous... i’d like the option to shorten it a bit.
If you’ve put two SIM cards in the device you’ll be prompted at startup to assign which SIMs are used for which function, but we’ll talk about the implementation more in the next section. You’ll also notice two signal meters at the top (the colours of these are customisable). If you’ve only inserted one SIM everything will look just ‘normal’.
Acer have implemented a custom lock screen on the device named ‘shutter’... which allows you to add lock screen shortcuts and owner information. It’s nice enough, but if you’re not a fan you can revert to the usual ‘Slide’ lock.
Another useful addition to stock ICS is the old favourite - notification toggles! Implemented in a good looking ICS blue style across three ‘pages’ accessed via horizontal swipes, the toggles let you manage Brightness, Screen Timeout, Autorotation, WLAN, Bluetooth, GPS, Data, Airplane mode and, unusually for an Android device, profiles! General, Silent, Meeting and Outdoor profiles are available offering Ring and vibrate, silent only, vibrate only and loudest ring and vibrate options respectively.
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I’ll do a quick walkthrough of the various ‘non standard’ apps on the device... as a largely stock ICS implementation there’s not an awful lot to talk about on that front.
The inclusion of the ‘Barcode Scanner’ app by default is a bit strange, I wonder what drove that inclusion!
‘Black list’ is an application that allows you to add numbers to a blacklist (go figure!) for SMS and phone calls independently. It’s a bit of an oddity, it’s ugly, doesn’t fit with the rest of the device’s UI and doesn’t hook into the contact database in any way so you have to input names / numbers manually. Odd!
'Bluetooth Proximity' allows you to set things to happen when Bluetooth devices come near. I think, I couldn't get it working.
In with the various standard apps is ‘Chrome’. Chrome is installed alongside the standard ‘Browser’, which is useful to have for Flash support. It's nice to have Chrome out of the box though!
‘File Manager’ is a simple application that lets you access both the internal microSD (the 4GB storage, of which 1.6GB is actually available) and the microSD slot. The 4GB of storage is partitioned in a bit of a weird way - around 1GB is partitioned to /data, that 1.6GB goes to the internal SD card and the rest is used by the system. I would really have preferred to see 2.6GB for /data and the SD card slot allocated as the only /sdcard but there you go!
The ‘FM Radio’ app is a very good implementation with RDS support (including radiotext), auto scan, presets and, unusually, the ability to record! The headset must be plugged in to act as an antenna of course, but you can toggle the speaker where it positively blasts out it's tunes!
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The ‘Media Server’ application is a simple DLNA server for sharing Video, Photo and Music content from your device.
‘Polaris Viewer’ is an unusual inclusion (we more often see a more fully featured Polaris Office suite). It allows you to view Word, Excel, Powerpoint, text and PDF files from local storage, Box.net and Dropbox. The viewer includes it’s own over-the-air update function.
The ‘Registration’ app lets you register your device with Acer.
The ‘Themes’ application includes 4 themes by default with more available via download. It’s not clear exactly where new themes are downloaded from however. The themes change most of the icons and the home screen wallpaper.
The final piece of custom software is the ‘Wireless Input Device’ app. This simply helps you pair Bluetooth mice / keyboards with the device.
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The ‘Settings’ application has custom icons but is fairly standard. Additions are the SIM Management section, Audio Profiles, a SRS Sound configuration section, GPS EPO and A-GPS settings, Scheduled power on / off, quick boot toggle and System Update.
The SRS sound configuration section lets you adjust Treble and Bass levels as well as choosing Music and Video EQ presets from Flat / Classical / Dance / Jazz / Pop / Rock / Custom / Drama / Action / MTV (!).
GPS EPO (Extended Prediction Orbit) is a proprietary MediaTek addition that provides 30 days of satellite orbit prediction to improve time to first fix. A-GPS can be manually enabled / disabled and the server can be switched between either Nokia or Google. A-GPS again helps get a faster fix.
When was the last time you had a device that supports scheduled power on / off? The Gallant Duo does! Time and day patterns can be specified, for example you could have the device power on at 7am only during the week but power off at midnight every day. A neat inclusion.
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So the software is pretty fully featured, but what’s it like to live with? I’m pleased to report that it all hangs together rather well! The smoothness of the device in general use is impressive given it’s relatively humble single core 1GHz processor. Of course, more processor intensive operations or games will slow things down a bit but it’s not generally a huge problem. Angry Birds runs fine. This is no doubt helped by the generous (at least in this segment) 1GB of RAM. The inclusion of Swype is an unexpected bonus for many... although I have to say that i’m not a fan myself.
Network and WiFi reception are very good indeed and sound quality in calls is good. Although the Gallant Duo doesn’t have any noise cancelling technology, I haven’t had any complaints about clarity in calls. The built in speaker is surprisingly loud both for speakerphone calls (which work well with the microphone hole on the front of the device) and for music playback / games. One of the loudest devices I own in fact, albeit with a little distortion and maximum volume. Having Play Music (with cloud support) preinstalled on the device is a nice bonus for those of us that use it but are outside the US (installing it can be a bit of a pain otherwise). The headphone port also provides good audio quality.
One of the big selling points of the Duo amongst it’s peers is the fact that it supports dual SIM. Let me say straight off the bat that the implementation is BRILLIANT. I was a little bit apprehensive about how well it would work and how smooth it would be in operation but I am incredibly impressed it. In fact, it’s nigh on perfect.
The device has two SIM slots of course, but on some devices that means that it’s a case of ‘switching between two SIMs with only one active at a time’. Not here. Both SIMs are active at the same time! Only one of the connections can be on 3G (I assume there’s a secondary radio in the device which is 2G only), probably the one you’re using for the data connection, but in reality that isn’t limiting at all. Having both active means that you can receive calls, SMS etc. on either line at any time. This is good.
What about outgoing calls, SMS or data? The ‘SIM Card Management’ utility lets you choose whether you are prompted when placing a call / sending a SMS to select which line to use or alternatively whether a default should be used. The utility also allows you to specify which card should be used for the data connection. Fantastically, it also allows you to associate specific contacts with specific SIMs, so calls to work colleagues could automatically go out on the work line. Excellent!
If you currently have to carry a personal phone and a work phone, the Gallant Duo could be the answer to your prayers.
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The camera in the device is a 5 Megapixel item using the stock ICS camera app with a wealth of additional features. The Acer tweaks add additional scenes modes, colour effects, HDR mode, a variety of 'scenes' and a very weird multi-angle mode.
The camera really is a typical low to mid tier phone camera. It’s not awful, but it’s not very good either. It actually does focus and take pictures quicker than some devices i’ve used, but pictures do look a bit washed out. I’ve included some samples below!
Video can be recorded in 720P resolution 30 FPS, with a number of configurable options such as EIS and the ability to toggle focus mode between continuous / infinity.
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You’d think that running 2 SIMs simultaneously would hit battery life wouldn’t you? Well, unfortunately you’d be right. When viewing the battery stats for the device, it’s almost always ‘Mobile Standby’ that takes up most of the power. Of course, how much this will impact the longevity of the device for you depends very much on your usage pattern. If you run both SIMs all day, then you’re going to take quite a hit - if you only activate the second SIM during working hours, then less so.
A 1500mAh battery coupled with the specs we see on the Gallant Duo would generally be expected to give pretty decent battery life, but unfortunately - with both SIMs active - I struggled to get through a full day of medium use which is a little bit disappointing.
When researching rooting the device, I discovered that the device seems to be using the ‘performance’ governor. This basically means that the device is locked to 1GHz when awake rather than using lower speeds when doing less intensive tasks. I am inclined to think that this is probably a bad thing - with root access this can be changed (e.g. to ‘ondemand’) but at this time i’ve not been able to run a battery comparison with the stock configuration.
Rooting and Hacking
As a MTK6575 based device, the Gallant Duo was always likely to be very hackable and i’m pleased to say... it is! The bootloader is unlocked, I’ve already rooted the device and started compiling the various tools to get developers started on custom ROMs. You can find the root package and more details in the Gallant forum.
Pricing and Availability
The Acer Gallant Duo is avilable from Expansys UK priced at £152.99 in both Black and White. Stock seems to be selling through extremely fast at the moment!
The Acer Gallant Duo is a great phone. It's an almost completely stock install of Ice Cream Sandwich in a well built shell with a frankly unexpectedly excellent implementation of dual SIM support. At the price, the Duo is incredible value. There are a few flies in the ointment - the 1GHz processor isn't the fastest (i'd love to see the new dual core MTK6577 in there), the qHD screen is a little washed out and the 1500mAh battery struggles to cope with the job of running 2 SIMs for a full day (although perhaps there are some battery life improvements to be made with a bit of tweaking). With that said, it's a pretty unique proposition and there's not much that can touch it if you're currently resigned to carrying round a work phone and a personal phone. Even without the dual SIM in the equation it's a serious contender for best bargain phone around at the present time.
Pros and Cons
- Excellent dual SIM implementation
- Good software build
- 1GB RAM
- Very solid build
- Nice and hackable
- Processor is towards the lower end of acceptable
- qHD screen is a bit washed out and useless in the sunshine
- 1500mAh battery could do with being bigger
Do you have an Acer Gallant Duo? Do you agree / disagree with my review? Post below!
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