Trendspotting: Acer kicks off IFA season by putting 4K in a phone and touch on a cheap laptop

Acer Liquid S2

Acer got a headstart on its rivals at this year’s IFA tech show in Berlin by unveiling several new products on Monday, days before most the show’s reveals take place. There’s the usual update to Acer’s roster of devices – new touchscreen displays, new Android tablets, Haswell all around – but two things in particular leapt out at me.

4K on a phone

The first was the Acer Liquid S2, a new Android handset that is the first from a major manufacturer to boast 4K video-recording resolution. This is a feature that will supposedly also adorn upcoming smartphones from Samsung and Sony, but it looks like Acer got in there first with an official announcement.

I remain somewhat skeptical about the quality of shooting 4K video on a smartphone, due to the small size of handsets’ camera sensors – generally, more pixels crammed into a sensor results in a noisier image — but a decent result isn’t out of the question. The S2 will use a back-illuminated sensor, which should cut down on image noise, and it also runs on a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset, which should be able to easily handle 4K from the processing perspective.

A smartphone shooting 4K video only makes sense if you can upload those 4K Youtube videos through a fat network connection – these files are not going to be small. Happily, the Liquid S2 features both 4G LTE and the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard.

Is it a necessary feature on a phone? Of course not – 4K video has a 3840 × 2160 resolution, which is well above the MacBook Pro’s maximum “retina” resolution of 2880 x 1800, let alone anything you would get on a phone or tablet screen. However, the TV industry is very keen to push 4K in a bid to sell new sets, particularly as 3D seems to be dying outside of cinemas (I wonder if we will see any 3D-enabled smartphones this year).

I suspect 4K-enabled smartphones will eventually be of genuine utility, but for now the feature is more of a handy marketing tool.

Touch for the masses

The second interesting Acer announcement this morning was that of the addition of a touchscreen option for Acer’s low-end E1 laptop. True, it looks like this option will cost extra, but it’s still novel to see touch capabilities added to devices that aren’t small, light and expensive – in other words, budget-friendly home laptops that aren’t competing so explicitly with tablets.

This could help to overcome one of the great failings of Microsoft’s initial Windows 8 efforts. Thus far, you could get Windows 8 on a cheaper laptop, but the lack of touch made the user interface confusing for many people. Or you could pay a premium for a portable, touch-enabled notebook.

If Windows 8.1 is to make a better impression on the laptop-buying masses, touch needs to be part of the package from the low end up. That is, if people continue to buy such laptops – it could be that touch’s tardy arrival is too late for those who have in the last couple of years opted instead for a larger tablet.

The new E1, which will go on sale in Europe in mid-October, will start at €399 ($527) including tax, though I assume that’s without the touch option. Interestingly, it also integrates Millenniata’s M-DISC technology into its optical disk drive, so it can burn archive-friendly disks that (allegedly) last a millennium.

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