Acer M900 review

News 13:13, 2 Jul 2009

We review the Acer M900, a Windows Mobile smartphone with a Qwerty keyboard and fingerprint scanner

The Tempo series of smartphones from Acer comprises four models. Each takes Windows Mobile 6.1 professional and puts it in a shell with slightly different characteristics. The idea is that among the four smartphones there is something to meet most requirements. With the M900 the key features are a Qwerty keyboard and a fingerprint scanner.

Design and handling
The fingerprint scanner is quite a rarity to find on a Windows Mobile smartphone – and indeed on any smartphone of any kind. The idea is that you can equip your smartphone with the kind of login security that normally only applies to some laptop computers. It is a neat idea, and will be especially appealing if you use your smartphone for the kind of heavy duty work that means it carries data you’d really rather other people didn’t get their hands on.

The fingerprint scanner sits on the front of the chassis beneath the screen where it looks like it has kicked the navigation button out to make space for itself. In fact it doubles as a navigation button, in that sweeping it up and down gives you vertical movement and tapping it selects. It is not so hot on the horizontal movement, though. There isn’t any.

Left and right of the fingerprint scanner are four buttons. On the far outside are Call and End. Inside are the Windows Mobile Home button and one which calls up one of the goodies built into this smartphone – GPS. It kicks straight into Google Maps which means that with just a single button press you get a rendition of your current location on a map. Smart stuff, Acer.

There are quite a few buttons and connectors peppering the sides of this smartphone. On the left there is a slot for microSD cards, the miniUSB main power cable – which is also used to connect to a PC and to connect the provided headset, and a scroll wheel. This kind of wheel went out of fashion with smartphones some time ago, but it is a useful thing to have as it allows you to scroll through lists such as emails or contacts very easily without the need to fingerpan. The use of miniUSB for headset connection is a bind, and we aren’t entirely happy about the port location. Side mounted connectors tend to cause pocket snags and top mounted are preferred.

On the right side there is the main power button, one that launches the voice recorder on a long press, voice commands on a shorter one, a reset pin, and a launcher button for the main camera.

This is a large smartphone. It measures 119mm x 62mm x 17.1mm and it weighs a hefty 188g. There are two reasons for this. One is that it has a 3.8-inch 800 x 480 pixel screen that puts it on a par with the HTC Touch HD and another Acer smartphone, the F900.

The other is the keyboard. This slides out of a long edge and gives you access to the full range of Qwerty characters. It isn’t the best designed keyboard we’ve ever used. Everything looks as though it should be easy to use, but the keys don’t have a very positive action and the whole keyboard section is sunken which makes using the bottom row in particular a bit fiddly.

Features
This is an HSDPA supporting smartphone with GPRS and EDGE. There is Wi-Fi here too for those times when you have a free wireless network handy. The large screen makes this smartphone ideal for Web browsing and an accelerometer ensures the screen turns as you shuffle the phone round in your hand.

There is a front camera for two-way video calling and the main camera shoots stills at resolutions up to 5 megapixels and has an LED flash sits on the back of the casing. There is 256MB of storage memory and you can add more with microSD cards.

Asus employs its own user interface to sit on top of Windows Mobile. Not as slick as HTC’s TouchFLO it nonetheless offers something different from dull old Windows Mobile. In this case that amounts to three home screens through which you pan with a finger. Each offers a visual representation of a desk upon which lie icons offering shortcuts to applications ranging from email to music, SMS to contacts.

It isn’t very appealing to look at, but it does the job. More exciting are some of the application user interface replacements. We particularly like the carousel for choosing music. Also on the three main screens the right softkey offers a link to a ‘private folder’. You can create a folder that is protected by a password. This offers a second layer of protection for data after the fingerprint scanner.

There is a good array of software built in alongside what you get with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. There is an application to scan business cards into the contacts directory, a backup utility, the aforementioned Google Maps, a thing called Quick launch for adding new contacts, texts, emails, appointments and more at a couple of screen taps, and plenty more.

Performance
The processor zipped along nicely, and unlike the F900 which we recently reviewed the screen here seemed very responsive. Call quality left us with no issues, and battery life, while not wonderful, was perfectly OK.

Summary
This is a chunky smartphone. Its keyboard isn’t the best we have seen. But it does pack in the features, and its large screen is superb.

Acer M900 Info

Typical price: £390 SIM free (Available from Clove)

Pros:
3.8 inch screen
GPS and Wi-Fi
Keyboard
Fingerprint scanner

Cons:
Chunky
Keyboard is not as good as we’d like

Verdict: A chunky smartphone whose keyboard doesn’t delight. But it does have fingerprint recognition for the ultra security conscious

Rating:

More info: Acer website

Recycle your phone: Sell Acer M900

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