Acer neoTouch P400 review

Reviews Editor 18:40, 18 May 2010

We review the Acer neoTouch P400, a Windows Mobile device with a plain OS

Acer recently announced four new smartphones, two based on Android, two on Windows Mobile (aka Windows Phone).

We’ve got our hands on the Windows Mobile 6.5-based neoTouch P400 today. It is an interesting take, not least because Acer has the front not to bother to skin Windows Mobile.

The P400 runs Windows Mobile 6.5.3. This adds some finger-friendly tweaks to Windows Mobile 6.5. They certainly make a big difference in usability terms.

Take the Home screen, for example. Those familiar with older versions of Windows Mobile will notice that the Start Button is moved from top left to bottom left, and is now a relatively large finger-friendly circular touch-button. Right of it are two lozenge shaped buttons which replace the old softmenu keys. Again they are more finger-friendly.

The teeny, tiny icons at the top of the screen have always been a fiddle to use. Now you just need to tap at that top row and a larger set of icons appear offering easier access buttons. They aren’t enormous, but they are an improvement in size terms.

With these things in mind it is a real irritation that you have to calibrate the screen when you first turn the P400 on by tapping the centre of crosshairs. Now, there’s no stylus with the P400 and it is tricky to be accurate with a fingertip. So you’ll need a handy pen or other pointy object nearby. If you don’t have one, you’ll likely be irritated.

Acer has chosen not to skin Windows Mobile so, rather unusually these days, you get to use the operating system as Microsoft intended. We have to say that Acer’s last attempt at skinning Windows Mobile didn’t go down too well with us, so we’re happy in one way.

But setting themselves up to compete with the likes of HTC’s superb Sense User Interface without any skinning shows off how irritating Windows Mobile can be to use at times because of its small icons.

Despite the redesign the operating system still feels like finger-friendly controls are an add-on rather than integrated. All of which makes us wonder whether those interesting in Windows Mobile might now just wait till Windows Phone 7 appears later in the year.

That’s a pity, actually, because Acer has put plenty of good specs into this device and a solid hardware design too. On the latter front Acer quite clearly takes inspiration from Apple. The front fascia is shiny black and there is a silver frame all round the edges. The P400’s edges are curved as the iPhone’s are too.

The illusion is broken by the large Acer branding beneath the screen, by the four below screen touch buttons, and by the fact that the display itself is quite small.

The under screen buttons meet Call, End, Home and Start functions. Start calls up the applications Menu, Home takes you to the single home screen with its vertically scrolling main menu listing.

The Home button has a circular frame. This glows red when you are charging the battery, green when it is fully charged, and has a white backlight when any of the four buttons are pressed. It is a nice touch.

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