Acer is a PC maker. One of the largest in the world, in fact, and the most popular netbook manufacturer. So we were coloured a distinct shade of curious when it announced it was opening up shop in the smart-phone business, starting with several Windows Mobile handsets.
In the first half of 2009 there will be four Acer smart phones -- the M900, F900, X960 and DX900. We climbed into bed with all four at Mobile World Congress, and spent an hour entwined in a questionable five-way with the devices, but, honestly, we don't think we're going to call any of them back.
Common to all models is Windows Mobile 6.1 and resistive touchscreens, meaning you'll be using a stylus most of the time. Gah.
The F900's probably the slickest of the new handsets, and the slimmest. It's got a 97mm (3.8-inch) 800x480-pixel display, and uses Acer's widget-based Windows Mobile 6.1 overlay. The main home screen is designed to look like an office -- widgets such as a calendar on a desk or a clock on the wall each represent different functions of the phone. You can move these around and order them as you please.
It's a neat idea, and we gave the design a thumbs-up. But like so many Windows Mobile devices, it's just not ready for the consumer, and the resistive touchscreen only makes this more noticeable -- tiny virtual keyboards, complicated menus, too much clutter.
Other features include GPS, HSDPA and Wi-Fi, and a 3.2-megapixel autofocus camera. Anyone coming from another touchscreen Windows Mobile handset will almost certainly feel comfortable, but for everyone else -- and most consumers -- it's not going to make a dent in the market.
This is the only Acer phone with a slide-out Qwerty keyboard, but it's also got a 97mm (3.8-inch) resistive touchscreen, too. This is hands-down a business phone, and even has a fingerprint reader for added security.
The keyboard was decent, and as easy to use as any keyboard of this size. But again we ran into the Windows Mobile 6.1 problem: it's just so clunky, and the Acer overlay, while fairly attractive, only lightly sugar-coats what is essentially a cake made out of animal waste. And the highly reflective glossy display was so annoying, it took us forever to get even one shot where the menu beneath it was visible.
Inside is Microsoft Office Mobile (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) and Outlook, GPS, Wi-Fi and HSDPA data, and a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash. For a Windows Mobile device it passes the test for being decent enough to use, but it's not a patch on what the Palm Pre offers, or what Windows Mobile 6.5 and Android will offer later this year.
This is probably the handset that interested us most. Again, it's a total business phone, but in addition to the office-themed overlay we discussed earlier, it integrates its dual-SIM functionality in a useful way. When you dial to make a call, you can hit one button to dial from SIM one, or another to dial from SIM two. Okay, okay, not mind-blowing, but useful.
Features include a 71mm (2.8-inch) resistive touchscreen, Microsoft Mobile Office and Outlook, HSDPA and Wi-Fi, GPS, a 3.2-megapixel camera and a front-facing secondary camera for video calling.
It's a nice-looking phone and felt smart to hold, but it's not particularly fun to use, and functioned like any other generic Windows Mobile phone, with a clunky interface and uninspiring navigational style. Yes, it might be the Acer handset that got us the most excited, but only akin to finding a 20 pence piece on the floor, not a £50 note. Would you even bother picking up 20p?
The X960 is essentially the DX900, but without the dual-SIM functionality. It's aimed at the consumer, but misses by a wide margin. Specs-wise it's decent: 71mm (2.8-inch) resistive touchscreen, HSDPA and Wi-Fi, a 3.2-megapixel camera and GPS, but once again Windows Mobile proves itself to be to the consumer what Albert Fish was to children.
It'll be on sale within the next two to three months, along with the three other Acer blandsets. Pictures of all four in the flesh are right over the next few pages, so take a peek.