Acer DX900 £400
14th May 2009 | 12:30
Acer's dual-SIM Windows Mobile smart phone still has a way to go
Overview and design
Computer giant Acer has made a strong move into the smart phone market after acquiring Taiwanese manufacturer E-Ten last year. Remember those non-search engine friendly Glofiish smart phones? That was them.
Now Acer has a whole range of Windows Mobile smart phones lined up (many of them not a whole lot different from their Glofiish counterparts), with a range that reads like the line-up of a new girl group: there's the X900 (small and stylish – cute Acer), M900 (with QWERTY keyboard – smart Acer), and DX650 (touch screen on one side, keypad on the other – weird Acer).
But first onto the stage we have the Acer DX900, which, with its dual SIM capability offering the all-too rare ability to use two different SIM cards in one phone, could probably be classed as schizoid Acer. Mind you, with 2.8in touch screen, 3.0 megapixel camera, GPS, Wi-Fi and HSDPA 3G, it's a pretty high-functioning dual personality.
If Acer's smart phones really were a girl group, they'd be sorely lacking in a key attribute demanded by today's pop pickers. They've all had a passing slap with the ugly stick and the DX900 in particular looks like it has taken quite a beating.
The square-edged dark grey and black plastic casing could be generously described as 'functional' and its bulky dimensions (106x61x17mm and 147g) mean it can't even hide easily in a pocket.
Above the 2.8in touch screen is a VGA camera for video calls and a speaker, below it are basic call start and stop keys flanking a five-way D-pad.
Around the sides are volume keys, a programmable smart key, 2.5mm headphone jack (why? WHY? – when 3.5mm is the most common mini jack port on the planet?), microSDHC memory card slot (none supplied), camera shutter button, power button, hard reset access hole, stylus slot and a mini USB 2.0 power port on the bottom.
Around the back are the 3.0 megapixel camera lens, with LED flash and self-portrait mirror, plus dual loudspeaker ports.
The microSDHC slot cover on our sample never seemed to close properly, but we'd like to think that's a one-off. The stylus is a nicely robust one, telescopic, so it fits neatly into its slot, and made of metal with a plastic tip. These things matter.
Screen and interface
The 2.8in, 480x640-pixel TFT LCD touch screen is decent enough, though not particularly distinctive. It's bright and clear enough to render pictures well and with a reasonable degree of clarity.
The touch screen resistance is generally okay, though in common with many Windows Mobile 6.1 devices, it does have the odd sticky moment.
Like HTC's Windows Mobile devices, which hide their Windows origins behind their TouchFLO 3D interface, the DX900 uses Spb's Mobile Shell (though it's the older, clunkier 2.1 version rather than the latest 3.0).
The idea is to get away from Window's fiddly menus and enable you to navigate more with your thumb than the stylus. In this it's only partly successful.
Keypad is disappointing
It works fine for the basic menu, diary and messaging, but other aspects are less than stellar – the phone keypad isn't as good as it should be, with small keys, and there's no haptic feedback to help brickie's thumbs like ours find the mark
Acer's own Easy Keyboard also proved almost impossible to use without a stylus, since the keys are so tiny.
Even flipping the device on its side didn't help, since the keyboard remains the same size – with blank space on either side
Movement around the menus isn't the quickest we've seen – the Samsung 533MHz S3C6400 processor is only backed up by 128MB of RAM, and when we had several apps running at once, delays were obvious.
The camera weighs in at 3.0 megapixels, which puts it firmly in the 'just okay' category by today's standards. The LED flash light is reasonably bright, but also useless if you're a metre or so away from your subject
It opens up in a couple of seconds, which makes it suitable for quick snaps and there are settings for resolution (maximum 1600x1200 pixels), flash, effects and 3x multishots.
There's no macro setting, but in general pics looked fairly decent, though it struggled a bit with colour saturation and occasional white-out.
Video takes a step down as usual but you can record video at a maximum of 640x480 pixels, which isn't bad at all, though it proved to be a bit quick to blur with any fast movement
SIM, connectivity, media and internet
The DX900 is that all-too-rare thing – a dual-SIM handset. There's space for two separate SIMs under the battery, which can be very useful if you want to keep your business and private life separate, or prefer to have one account for voice and text, and another for data, but don't need the hassle of carrying an extra handset.
SIMs can be from the same, or different networks, or even from home or abroad, and you're given a choice with each call or text message to make it from the default Phone 1 or switch to phone 2, though it will automatically switch to the relevant SIM when you receive a call.
You can use different ring tones for each SIM and even disable one or both via the Communications Manager.
The Acer DX900 is very well connected, with HSDPA 3G fast internet connection (7.2Mbps) as well as quad-band GSM, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo A2DP.
One point to note however is that although it can handle fastest-kind 7.2Mbps HSDPA 3G and quad-band GSM, it will only do so via the Phone 1 SIM connection
The Phone 2 SIM can only deliver GPRS/Edge and tri-band GSM. Not necessarily a deal breaker, especially if you really only want one SIM for calls, but it's a restriction that's worth considering, especially if you're more likely to use your network connections for data rather than the 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connection
Windows Media Player is the default music and video playing software, though this being a Windows Mobile device there are others to choose from.
Video displays reasonably well on the 65,000-colour screen but it's a shame you're stuck with the rather tinny and cheap supplied headphones thanks to the 2.5mm jack plug, unless you can get an adaptor.
Internet Explorer is the default browser and it's not bad, though you can download Opera for an immediate improvement in speed and functionality.
The zoom function works well enough though you'll need to access the onscreen menu to get to it and the onboard accelerometer, which includes a useful sensitivity setting, allow you to view web pages in landscape mode.
Battery life, memory and other features
Microsoft Office comes preloaded as a full app, not a trial, which is useful. It also has GPS on board and while Google Maps isn't preloaded, it's straightforward to download and install.
There's no bundled sat-nav either, but again, this being a Windows Mobile device, you've got an embarrassment of options to choose from all the major providers.
The 256MB of onboard memory won't take you very far and although there's a microSDHC memory card slot which can handle up to 32GB, though there's none supplied.
Battery life proved to be quite shocking. Yes, it's a high-spec device, and all those functions need a lot of juice, but other Windows Mobile devices have the same problems, and most of them seem to manage them better than the Acer DX900.
We barely made it through a day of moderate to heavy use, which admittedly did involve Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and browsing action.
It's well worth taking advantage of Window's battery-saving options, like dimming the screen, keeping the time-out limit short, and maybe even disabling one of the SIMs if you don't plan to use it for a while
Gallery: official photography
On the plus side, the 3.0 megapixel camera is a little better than we expected – it doesn't have a lot of fancy extras, but the basic picture quality is pretty decent.
The web browser too works well, backed up by HSDPA 3G or a broadband connection via Wi-Fi, though it's let down a little by that keyboard and the smallish 2.8in touch screen, so finding your way around the internet is likely to be a two-handed affair.
Onboard memory is small but there's plenty of room for more via microSD card and it comes with Microsoft Office, so you can view and create Word, Excel and PowerPoint docs on the move.
But it's the dual-SIM aspect that really sets this phone apart. If you have a double life, whether it's between home and work, or home and abroad, and really only want to carry one handset, it's worth considering for this alone.
The bulky, chunky casing looks ugly and feels uncomfortably heavy in the pocket. The Psb Mobile Shell interface goes some way to making it a one-handed device without having to resort to the stylus, but doesn't really go far enough, and we found ourselves resorting to the stylus on key functions when we really shouldn't have had to – making a phone calls for example, or writing with the keyboard, which is too small, we suspect, even for those with much daintier thumbs than our own.
It's also a bit underpowered in the processing department with just 128MB of RAM, which soon started to struggle once we had a few apps running at once. Diligent apps management is essential.
We really like the idea of a handset that accepts two SIM cards, it's just a pity that it had to be this unforgivably clunky and unlovable one.
The world of smart phones, even the Windows Mobile variety, has moved on in leaps and bounds in the last couple of years and the Acer DX900 feels like a throwback to an earlier age.