Acer Tempo M900 £390
20th Jul 2009 | 14:00
Acer's third Windows Mobile smart phone has a QWERTY keyboard and 5 megapixel camera
Acer Tempo M900: overview and design
The Acer M900 is the third handset of the quartet announced by Acer after it took over the Glofiish brand of Windows Mobile smart phones last year and it's the chunkiest of the bunch thanks to its slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
But while its box-like proportions won't win any beauty contests, it's still a well-specced device for a relatively modest price, with quad-band network connectivity, 5 megapixel camera, 3.8-inch LCD touch screen, A-GPS, Wi-Fi and FM radio.
It also livens up the basic Windows Mobile 6.1 OS with the Acer Shell user interface, which looks good and is easy to use without the need to resort to the stylus.
Acer's first phone, the DX900, had a quirky feature in the shape of its dual SIM capability, and the M900 also has an attention-grabbing conversation piece with its fingerprint sensor, of the kind you're more likely to find on some laptops, which protects it from being accessed by anyone with the wrong fingerprint.
Like the other Acer phones we've seen thus far, the M900 is no beauty queen. Sober and functional are the watch words, which is all well and good on a business-oriented phone, but when the likes of HTC and Nokia are producing phones with both business smarts and style, that approach is starting to look a little dated.
The M900 is the biggest of the bunch, due mainly to its slide-out QWERTY keyboard, measuring 119x62x17mm and a pocket-sagging 188g – it's quite a handful, and is even slightly bigger than HTC's recent brick, the Touch Pro2.
Fortunately, Acer bundles it with a leather belt clip, which should help save your suits any unnecessary wear and tear
Around the sides are a power button, a programmable key which defaults to voice control, hard reset button, camera shutter button, mini USB socket, microSD card slot with plastic cover and a jog wheel. On the bottom is the slot for the stylus, which is metal, telescopic and of pretty good quality.
On the front is the impressively large 3.8in touch screen, with speaker, VGA camera for video calls and a light sensor above it, while underneath there's just enough room for call start and stop buttons, back button, GPS services shortcut key and a touch-sensitive nav pad cum fingerprint sensor (more on that later).
There's a chunky flash of chrome-look trim running all the way around the sides and there's a metallic back plate for access to the battery and SIM card. Just above this on the back is a large protruding roundel which contains the 5 megapixel camera lens, LED flash and loudspeaker.
Acer Tempo M900: screen and keyboard
The Acer M900's large 3.8in TFT LCD resistive touch screen cuts quite a dash, and it's bigger than most of its rivals like the 3.6in HTC Pro2, or the 3.5in iPhone. It offers 800x480-pixel resolution and it's sharp, bright and clear, though the option to save on the not terribly impressive battery life by dimming the screen is well worth taking
There are two programmable soft keys at the bottom and you can adjust the scroll speed of the touch screen as well as set exceptions for various programmes but you can't change the sensitivity. This is a shame, because it's really not as sensitive as it could be, and we found ourselves having to make several presses to activate apps and links on too many occasions.
Other recent QWERTY keyboard phones like HTC's Touch Pro2 or Nokia's N97 allow you to angle the screen for the optimum viewing/typing interface angle, but the M900's having none of that malarkey – it simply slides out, rather sharply, and expects you to get on with it.
On the face of it, this keyboard should be a bit of a cracker with four lines of well-spaced, backlit keys, including direction arrows, plus two additional soft keys at either side and indicator lights for the Fn and Caps functions. They're arranged in a gently curved crescent and there are 41 keys in all. The number keys are doubled up on the letter keys and are accessed by pressing the Fn key.
It looks great, but the keys aren't as responsive or as well-defined as we'd hoped and we couldn't always tell when we were striking the right keys. Having to press two keys for a full stop or '@' never goes down well with us either.
Acer Tempo M900: security and interface
The M900 is big on security, and features a fingerprint swipe and PIN combo via the Golden Finger settings. You can set the device to automatically lock when it powers on, or at various increments between a minute and two hours.
There are also options to create a Private Folder to keep secret files and to offer extra protection for your PIM data, which you can access via a password of 4-12 characters.
The fingerprint recognition requires four swipes of your thumb to set up but on our sample it took a lot more than that before it recognised us. If you get into trouble, you can override the fingerprint option with the four-digit PIN, which kind of makes it redundant, when you think about it.
The fingerprint sensor doubles as a touch sensitive nav pad and in this mode it's actually very versatile. It's adjustable via the settings menu to be either four-way or eight-way, as well as emulating a mouse or joystick. The trouble is that we found it a bit too small and too deeply recessed to work accurately, though there's a control panel to adjust its sensitivity or to disable it altogether.
The M900 brings back the Acer Shell interface we last saw on the X960. Briefly, it's three home pages in one, each of which can be reached by brushing across the screen.
They're laid out in a picture format like an office, with a desk featuring widgets for your call log, emails, text messages and calendar on the first screen, then contacts, music player and gallery, and finally internet browser, settings and Quick Menu.
The widgets will incorporate elements from your gallery items, so the picture frame will show one of your latest pictures and the music player will feature cover art from one of the tunes in your library.
The Quick Menu allows you to set up 36 shortcuts as large, thumb-friendly buttons, which means you can get quite far into the X960's functionality just by using your thumb, and without the need to resort to the stylus, which tends to be essential with the underlying Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system.
Like the previous Acer phones, the M900 has a Samsung S3C 6410 533MHz processor backed by 128MB of RAM. We'd have liked a bit more to be honest, (the HTC Touch Pro2 boasts 288MB of RAM) and it struggled on occasion, with noticeable delays when we had several applications running at once.
Acer Tempo M900: processor and camera
The M900's camera is a step up from the X960, offering 5 megapixels instead of 3.2. It's not bad for a WinMo handset, though not really in the same league as the likes of Sony Ericsson's C903 or Nokia's N97, though it easily stands comparison with HTC's Touch Diamond2.
It takes about four seconds to start up – not great but not bad – and offers auto exposure, three focus settings (centre, face detection and multi-zone – you can flip between these using the jog dial), anti-shake and multishot (three, five or nine pics in quick succession) options.
It can deliver a maximum still photo resolution of 2560x1920 pixels and there are effects such as sepia, greyscale, negative and mirror, four white balance settings, and a 4x digital zoom, operated by running your thumb up or down the nav pad.
FOCUS: the camera has trouble focusing, with pictures appearing washed-out
COLOURS: the camera is unable to capture what we would call 'vivid' colours
OVERALL: it's a decent effort but certainly no compact replacement
Pics taken in good light were surprisingly sharp, though light and colour balance occasionally goes awry and edging soon breaks up under magnification. The LED flash is fairly bright, but as usual, is only worth bothering with if you're within a metre or so of your subject.
Maximum video resolution is 640x480 pixels in 3GP format which drops the quality considerably, especially in anything less than excellent light, with quite a lot of noise and occasional screen lag too.
All in all, it's not a bad camera for this kind of phone, and our main problem with it was really the positioning of the shutter button, which encouraged us to keep sliding out the phone's keyboard every time we pressed it.
Acer Tempo M900: connectivity and other features
The Acer M900 matches its brothers for connectivity options. It's a quad-band GSM handset with HSDPA 3G fast internet connection (up to 7.2Mbps), Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo A2DP. It's very well connected in other words, and we had no trouble either linking to our Wi-Fi or finding Bluetooth-enabled devices in our vicinity.
Media playback is via Windows Media Player as well as Acer's own, basic music player. Widescreen movie trailers can be scaled up to fit the width of the screen, though you'll still be left with black bars top and bottom, and there's no option to pan and scan.
Good quality video clips look great on the screen though, with a fair amount of detail in the black levels and speedy rendering.
The large speaker on the back was surprisingly quiet, though it offered a fairly clear and full sound, and didn't appear prone to distortion. Just as well since the supplied headphones sound horribly tinny and compressed, and there's no easy way to upgrade them since there's no 3.5mm jack plug. Format-wise, it can handle MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, AMR, SP-MIDI, MIDI, MMF, AWB and RMI audio formats, with 3GP, MPEG4, WMV, H.263 and H.264 for video.
Unlike HTC's WinMo handsets, there's no preloaded Opera browser (though it's the work of a moment to download it), just Internet Explorer 6.
The resolution switches to landscape when you open the keyboard (though there's also an accelerometer on board), and you can use the jog dial to help you move around pages, as well as brushing the screen with your finger.
Zoom is via the onscreen menu however, rather than anything more immediate, which is a bit fiddly. All in all, it's not a bad browser, especially with the QWERTY keyboard for inputting URLs and data, but there's room for improvement.
The A-GPS function is supported by Google Maps and it had no trouble finding our north London location or directing us to our chosen destination.
It's accessed by a dedicated key on the front of the device and offers all the usual features including traffic updates, satellite and street view but there's no sat nav option preloaded, though this being a Windows Mobile handset, download options are available from all the big sat nav names.
The M900 comes with a full version of Microsoft Office comes on board, allowing you to read and view Word, Excel and OneNote docs, as well as view PowerPoint presentations.
There's 256MB of memory on the handset itself, which won't take you long to fill up, but this can be boosted to 8GB via the microSD card slot, though there's no card supplied.
Battery life wasn't bad for a WinMo smart phone and we just about managed two days of moderate use from a full charge, though we were careful with our use of Wi-Fi and dimmed the screen a little to stretch the charge. Still, this included phone calls, browsing, music and video playing.
The Acer M900's nearest recent rival is HTC's Touch Pro2. Both are hefty Windows Mobile touch screen devices and the M900 is 3mm longer and wider, though both devices weigh the same. Both are quad-band devices with HSDPA 3G, plus Wi-Fi, A-GPS and slide-out QWERTY keyboards.
The M900 manages an extra .2in of screen and has a 5 megapixel camera rather than 3.2 megapixels. But the Touch Pro2 has a better slide-out QWERTY keyboard – it has an extra line of keys and is easier to use. It has a better browser too, with a zoom slide for easy navigation. Also, the Pro2 has a superior battery and its processor and RAM allowance served us better than the M900's. So despite the M900's superior camera, bigger screen and lower price, we prefer the HTC Touch Pro2 because it's more satisfying to use in the long run.
Acer Tempo M900: verdict
As with previous Acer phones, the M900 looks good on paper, but doesn't quite cut the mustard in practise.
It has all the features you could hope for in a WinMo smart phone, including an impressively huge 3.8in LCD touch screen, slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a five megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, A-GPS and HSDPA 3G. There's even an innovative fingerprint sensor cum nav pad for novelty value.
Acer has made the effort to brighten up the Windows Mobile 6.1 OS with its own thumb-friendly shell which means you can avoid using the stylus until you're fairly deep into the menus too. Everything's in place, in other words, but somehow, it's less than the sum of its parts.
The touch screen wasn't really responsive enough, and we had to resort to using the stylus to get to links and apps that should have been easily accessed with our thumb.
The fingerprint sensor was fiddly and unreliable to use – it took us many attempts to get it to recognise us – and when using it as a navpad it proved tricky and unreliable, even after some practise.
The QWERTY keyboard looked the business, but the keys didn't give sufficient feedback for us to feel confident using it. It also tended to run slowly if we weren't careful about how many apps we were running at any one time
The camera at least is one of the better models we've seen on a WinMo phone, but it's certainly not as good as other 5 megapixel snappers we've seen on models from Sony Ericsson or Nokia.
Like the other Acers, it's a chunky workhorse that feels like something of a throwback to an earlier age of ugly, functional smart phones.
It's very well specced, but the reasons for its lowish price point become clear with extended use. If the HTC Touch Pro2 is too pricey for you, the M900 is worth considering, but prepare to be just a little bit disappointed.