Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/15/review_phone_acer_tempo_m900/

Acer Tempo M900

Acer's last and best Windows Smartphone?

By Alun Taylor

Posted in Phones, 15th July 2009 11:57 GMT

Review With the launch of the M900, Acer's assault on the smartphone market comes to a halt. Well, at least until its first Android or WinMo 6.5 handsets emerge blinking into the cold light of day. Joining the ranks of the dual SIM DX900, 2.8in screen X960 and 3.8in F900, we now have a Windows Mobile handset with a slide-out Qwerty keyboard.

Acer Tempo M900

Acer's Tempo M900

Unlike the F900, the M900 doesn't face direct competition from HTC, the doyen of Windows smartphones, since the HTC Touch Pro2 makes do with a 3.6in screen. Acer, however, has fitted the M900 with the same bright and colourful resistive 3.8in screen fitted to the F900.

Despite the extra screen size, Acer has done a good job of keeping the M900's size and weight in line with the HTC device. At 188g, it’s a only half a gram heavier than the Pro2 while at 119 x 62 x 17.1mm it’s a negligible 3mm wider and taller and fractionally thinner.

Of course, the Touch Pro2 is a big old lump of a phone in its own right and some potential purchasers may rule out both devices simply on the grounds of them being far too big and lardy for convenient day-to-day use. Stick either in an inside suit jacket pocket and it looks like your mother dressed you, so it’s just as well Acer bundles a rather fine leather belt clip.

If you are concerned about such matters, we reckon that the M900 is a more handsome device than its sibling. The edges of the fascia are nicely curved while the smoked chrome strip running around the handset makes it look just a bit more grown-up and thoughtful than the F900.

Acer Tempo M900

With a 3.8in screen and a Qwerty keyboard, bulk is inevitable

You won't find much out of the WinMo smartphone ordinary with the M900. One the right hand side are buttons to turn the device on and off, the camera switch, a button to fire up the voice control system and the slot for the telescopic stylus. On the opposite side there’s a miniUSB port and MicroSD card cover.

The card slot is said to be good for 8GB and that was the largest capacity card we had on hand to test it with. There’s also a three-way jog wheel which is a handy addition to the control portfolio, as the M900's touch screen could do with being just a little more reactive.

Acer Tempo M900

The fingerprint reader also functions as a navigation pad

The bottom of the fascia is home to five buttons, two to start and end calls, one to fire up the GPS system and Google Maps. Another takes you back to whichever of the three Acer Shell home pages you were last looking at. Unlike those featured on the F900, the four fascia buttons physically move when you press them, making the M900 a rather more satisfying handset to use.

The curious little central button between the GPS and Home buttons is actually a combined finger print scanner and navigation pad. In the latter function, it proved a bit hit and miss, being rather too small and too far recessed to allow for reliable or accurate use but at least you can disable it via the settings menu.

The finger print scanner worked exactly as advertised and accepted our four set-up swipes at only the second time of trying. We had no problems with reliability either, the scanner always accepting our print swipe on either the first or second attempt. If the scanner does throw a wobbly you can simply type in your four digit PIN number to unlock the handset.

Unlike the HTC Pro2 or the Nokia N97, the M900 is a simple slider with no fancy screen angle articulation. The keyboard itself has 41 individual keys and is laid out in a slight bow from left to right. We found the keys to be nicely sized and weighted, making rapid and fault-free typing a cinch.

Acer Tempo M900

Well-spaced keys allow for more accurate typing

We also liked the soft yellow glow that illuminated all the function keys. These include the numeric keys, the M900 keyboard being laid out in four rows as per the HTC TyTN II, rather than having a separate row of buttons for 0-9 up top as found on the Touch Pro and Pro2.

Under the bonnet, the M900 is identical to the F900, so you get the same quad-band GSM, Edge, 7.2 Mbps HSDPA and 2Mbps HSUPA 3G, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, A2DP Bluetooth and a Samsung S3C 6410 533MHz processor with 128Mb of RAM to play with. The operating system is Windows venerable Mobile 6.1 Pro with Acer's bespoke Shell GUI draped over it with various degrees of elegance.

Acer Tempo M900

If fingerprint reading fails, using a password is still an option

Acer Tempo M900

Acer's Shell interface does the business, but hogs resources

Acer Tempo M900

At last, landscape browsing with Opera

We still think Acer Shell is too slow and too resource hungry, but on the M900 it performs no worse than it does on the F900. Thankfully, one of the shared glitches of the two handsets – a rather wayward accelerometer – is cured on the M900 with the screen swapping to landscape when it’s slid open. This allowed us to view the Opera web browser in landscape, something we didn't managed to accomplish with the F900.

The GPS rig is another area where a small but significant enhancement has been made over the F900. On the M900, it's now assisted GPS. This resulted in a noticeable improvement in the time it took for the phone to find itself when the GPS was switched on.

Not only does the M900 have a better camera than the F900 – at 5Mp versus 3.2Mp – but it also has more of them, with Acer deciding to fit it with a forward facing VGA camera for video calls. The main camera in the M900 is about as good as you are going to get in a Windows handset and it can shoot still images up to a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1920 and video at up to 640 x 480.

Acer Tempo M900

The main 5Mp camera features three autofocus settings

The camera comes with a reasonable array of extras and effects, including a facility to shoot three, five or nine images in quick succession. Also, a focus setting that can be set to centre, face or multi-zone plus selection of light balance settings and a four position manual ISO override.

Sample Shots

Acer Tempo M900

Click for a full-resolution image

Acer Tempo M900

Click for a full-resolution image

As you can see from the samples – taken on full auto at noon – the M900 takes a decent enough picture with fine colour saturation and crisp detailing. In fact, the only thing wrong with camera is the position of the button. Being on the ‘top’ of the phone as you hold it, the handset has a tendency to slide open when you try to take a picture. The flash is a small LED affair that produces predictably poor results when shooting in low light.

Beyond the usual WinMo software package, Acer bundles the same RDS FM radio and music player that it does with the F900. You also get a media streamer, business card photo manager, and voice command software. Sadly one thing they don't give you is a 3.5mm headphones socket so you are stuck with the all-in-one miniUSB headset. Again, as with the F900, video playback is handled by Windows Media Player Mobile.

Acer Tempo M900

End of the line? Still, the best Tempo yet

When it comes to battery life and call performance it's hard to slide a cigarette paper between the M and the F, so you can still expect crisp, clear calls, a decent speaker-phone and a solid two days of average intensity use from a full charge of the 1530mAh battery.

Like the F900 the M has price in its favour, being available unlocked for around the £450 mark. That's a good £40 cheaper than we generally found HTC's Touch Pro2. The price gap is not as great as that between the F900 and HTC Touch HD but, on the other hand, the M900 is closer to the Pro2 than the F900 is to the Touch HD.

Verdict

Acer's final Windows Mobile 6.1 handset is its most compelling smartphone product to date. Yes, the basic failings are the same as we noted on the F900, and yes, we would recommend swapping Acer's own Shell UI for Spb's. Nevertheless, the combination of a fine slide out Qwerty keyboard, a 5Mp camera and some subtle additions like the 3-way jog wheel and assisted GPS keep those failings from coming so far to the fore. Despite being something of a chunky monkey, it’s also a better-looking device than the F900 in our book. ®

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