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.
The screen is a little small at 3.2-inches and its 320×480 pixels are a long way behind the cutting edge. But the screen is bright and sharp and importantly it is responsive to the touch.
When entering text the accelerometer helps as it delivers a wide screen qwerty keyboard to complement the tall, narrower one. We were able to get to about 80 percent of our top texting speed on a softkeyboard.
As a 3G handset mobile data is nice and fast, but here Acer may have done itself a disservice by failing to add in an alternative browser to Internet Explorer. You can download the likes of Opera easily enough, but it would have been nice to have it on board to start with.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are here, of course, and there is a GPS too, with A-GPS. You can geotag photos. The camera is a disappointment. It tops out at 3.2 megapixels and there is no flash. A side button makes it easy to use, but we’d have liked a higher quality lens.
Music fans will like the fact that there is a 3.5mm headset connector on the top edge. The provided headset is reasonably good, but if you don’t like the flat buds (and our ears hate them) then it is easy to substitute your own favourite headset.
If you like swapping music and other files via microSD card then you’ll be happy to learn you can easily get to the slot on this device as it is under the backplate but accessible without the need to remove the battery.
As to pocketability, well, the size of 115m x59mmx12mm and weight of 125g are perfectly in keeping with the norm – the aforementioned iPhone has very similar dimensions (115mmx62.1mmx12.3mm and135g).
But the screen is proportionately smaller than the iPhone’s and the small difference (3.2-inches as opposed to 3.5-inches) has quite an effect on media rich activities like Web browsing.
We like the Acer neoTouch P400, but it doesn’t break any new ground, and not everyone will be entranced by the unskinned Windows Mobile user interface.
Acer neoTouch P400 info
Typical price: TBC
Nice hardware design
3.5mm headset jack
Fairly finger-friendly OS
Windows Phone 7 is just around the corner
Nothing groundbreaking on offer
A Windows Mobile device with an unskinned OS. Nothing groundbreaking on offer, but a solid performer
More info: Acer website