After buying out smartphone manufacturer Glofiish, Acer shoehorned its way into the clever end of the handset market earlier this year with the unusual, but ultimately unspectacular DX900. Unusual, because it holds two SIM cards, but unspectacular, because that aside, there was really very little to distinguish it from other Windows Smartphone devices.
The X960 however already sees some refining of the template. It’s a lot better looking for a start, with a glossy black and silver finish, as opposed to the DX900’s rather dull and utilitarian livery. It’s still a little chunkier than we’d like, though it’s an improvement on its predecessor at 106x59x14mm and 133g (the DX900 is a frankly outrageous 147g).
The buttons on the front are vogueishly sparse with just a circular D-pad flanked by home and GPS, plus call start and stop buttons. Around the sides are a USB 2.0 connection for power, sync and headphones, a volume rocker, a dedicated voice notes button (though this can be programmed for other functions), camera shutter button, stylus dock, power button and a microSD memory card slot.
The X960’s LCD touchscreen is much the same: 2.8-inch with VGA (480×640 pixels) resolution and 65,000 colours. Pretty decent in other words, if not particularly outstanding. The same goes for the 533MHz Samsung 6410 processor, backed by 128MB RAM (with 256MB ROM on board), which is reasonably nippy if you keep your apps stripped down, but you’ll notice delays if you’ve got multiple functions running at once.
But it’s the user interface of the Acer X960 that sets it apart, and it’s is a big improvement on the less than stellar appearance of the DX900, which used the frankly rather shabby 2.1 version of Spb’s Mobile Shell. The new UI is Acer’s own and very nice it is too. Brushing your finger across the screen reveals hidden depths – the screen is laid out like an office desk, with each desktop item a widget shortcut link to essential features such as email, text messages and calls log (each with an indicator of how many you have waiting), plus weather and diary.
But like the handful of Google Android phones so far, the home screen is bigger than it first appears and there are actually an additional two home screens. Brushing your finger across reveals your contacts, music and picture libraries, while a second brush unveils the internet, settings and a link to the Quick Menu, so you can customise your shortcuts as a series of large, thumb-friendly buttons.
All this office-themed confectionary sits on top of Windows Mobile 6.1, a versatile OS, but which can be fiddly, and virtually impossible to make full use of without resorting to the stylus.
The camera is a 3-megapixel affair with LED flash and a self-portrait mirror on the back of the casing. As we’ve come to expect with Windows Mobile devices, the camera is fine for quick snaps (it fires up in about two seconds) but the quality is no better than okay, and there’s not much in the way of features. Maximum resolution is 1600×1200 pixels (640×480 for video) and there are settings for 3x multishots and colour effects like monochrome and sepia, but that’s about your lot.
The music player is fine though as is all too often the case with Windows Mobile handsets, the headphones are very much an afterthought, offering a tinny, shut-in sound, and there’s no 3.5mm jack plug which would make it easy to upgrade to a decent pair.
There’s also A-GPS on board, backed by Google Maps, though there’s no bundled sat-nav software.
In terms of connectivity, the Acer 960 has just about everything you need, with quad-band GSM and HSDPA 3G for fast internet connection (there’s also a VGA camera mounted on the front for video calls), plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0. There’s an FM radio too – something else that wasn’t available on the DX900.
The default browser is Internet Explorer 5, though you can also download Opera, which is a little speedier. IE5 is fairly good, with a decent zoom function, but the DX900’s accelerometer seems to have disappeared, so you’ll need to switch to landscape resolution by hand.
Microsoft Office is on board, so you can create and read Word, Excel and OneNote docs, as well as view PowerPoint docs. For messaging meanwhile, there’s Microsoft Exchange support and it’s easy to set up POP3 email accounts.
Battery-wise, the X960 proved to be an improvement on its cousin, giving us a good two days of moderate use, though admittedly we were a bit careful with our use of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS.
We liked the Acer X960 better than the DX900, partly because it’s better looking and more pocket-friendly, but mainly because of the new UI, which shows promise for future generations of Acer smartphones. It’s not quite in the same league as HTC’s Touch series just yet, but it’s beginning to look like a serious contender.
Acer X960 Info
Typical price: £330 SIM-free
Verdict: Good looking, with a fun new interface, it’s a definite improvement on the previous DX900
3 megapixel camera
No 3.5mm headphone jack
More info: Acer website
Recycle your phone: Sell Acer X960 Tempo