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The Acer neoTouch P400 is a phone with the odds stacked firmly against it. For one thing, it's due out at the same time as the iPhone 4, which is guaranteed to blow every other device out the water, at least in terms of media coverage. Secondly, it's running Windows Mobile, at a time when Windows Phone 7 is just months away from launching, with no chance of an upgrade. Thirdly, the P400 isn't cheap either -- at around £310 SIM-free, this phone has an awful lot of work to do if it's going to impress us.
Picking the P400 up, things get off to a promising start. This handset feels well built and classy, and at 125g there's a pleasing weight to holding it. The back of the P400 is rubberised to give it a little extra grip, and this rounded, demure side of the phone is separated from the glossy lit-up front by a smart chrome trim that extends all the way around the edge of the phone.
The P400 attempts to single itself out from the crowd with an illuminated circle around the touch-sensitive home button. This changes colour depending on what the phone's trying to tell you -- we noticed it started glowing a menacing red when the P400 was low on battery. It's a useful design feature, and something of a talking point.
Talking of battery, the P400's battery life is what we've come to expect from high-end mobiles. If you're lucky you'll manage a day and a half from a full charge, and less than a day if you're performing battery-draining tasks such as downloading data or viewing video.
If you're showing the P400 off at your weekly book club, however, you might want to keep the screen locked. The LCD display is large enough at 81mm (3.2 inches), with a decent resolution of 320x480 pixels, but crucially the touchscreen is of the resistive kind, rather than capacitive. This means you'll have to actually apply a little pressure to the screen to register your touch, rather than gliding your finger smoothly across the surface as you would on smart phones such as HTC's Legend or Desire, or indeed Apple's iPhone.
Now, we've nothing against resistive screens per se, but for over £300 we'd have expected capacitive. Unlike many older business-centric phones with this kind of screen, the P400 doesn't come with a stylus for precise tapping -- it's clearly meant to be used with your finger, hence the 'neoTouch' moniker. More annoying than the price, however, are the ways this resistive screen clashes with the P400's software.
The P400 is running Windows Mobile 6.5, a fairly recent version of the operating system. Trouble is, it now supports multitouch, which isn't possible with a resistive touchscreen. We didn't notice any applications on the P400 which strictly required multitouch to operate, but it's a little frustrating to be using software that could offer more features than the phone's hardware can support.
Another gripe is that resistive touchscreens aren't particularly sensitive or precise. Normally this isn't a problem, as (sensible) manufacturers adjust the size of the on-screen icons to compensate for the inprecise input, but the P400 sports a full on-screen keyboard, which you'll have to poke and prod at ineffectually. Even if you achieve the kind of nimble-fingered precision normally associated with demon ninjas, texting or emailing at speed is still going to be pretty much impossible.
Slugging it out
That's because of the P400's incredibly sluggish response time. We found it sometimes took several seconds for the screen to respond when we pressed the lock key to get into the phone itself, and when you're typing out messages you'll need to give the P400 a moment to recover after each key press. We're a little puzzled by this stammering, because this phone is rocking a 600MHz processor -- by no means the fastest around, but we wouldn't expect such a slow experience with a chip clocked at that speed.
The operating system itself isn't too horrible an experience, as long as you can overlook Microsoft's penchant for irritating pop-ups and bland presentation. When you hit the home button you'll be presented with a list of popular options such as pictures, dialling and the Web browser. Hitting the Windows key will take you to the full menu, with icons arranged in a honeycomb shape.
Back to basics
Connectivity is decent, with both 3G and Wi-Fi support, and using the resistive touchscreen to navigate the Web using Internet Explorer 6 isn't actually as awful as we thought it might be, thanks to a surprisingly responsive zoom bar on the right of the screen. This replaces the multi-touch, pinch-and-zoom method you'd find on capacitive phones' browsers.
Moving on to the camera, you get a slightly weedy 3.2-megapixel sensor. Megapixels aren't the be all and end all though, and the camera takes photos and shoots video of a reasonable quality. It won't replace your digital camera, but it's better than most mobile phone snappers and will get the job done if all you need is a quick and dirty shot. There's no flash though, and the camera software is hidden away in the menus, so you might miss your photo opportunity while you're hunting through them.
Call quality is perfectly reasonable, and mechanical volume keys on the side of the phone make adjusting call volume possible without the need to drag your face away from the screen. The speakerphone volume is on the quiet side, but there's a 3.5mm socket for listening to music using the built-in music player. The headphones you'll find in the box feature a call-answer button and microphone built into the cable, which is handy for taking calls without fishing the P400 out of your pocket.
The Acer neoTouch P400 just doesn't cut it. Acer has sadly hamstrung the whole device by lumbering it with a cheap touchscreen. We're not sure what awful things went wrong in development, but the interface and typing are both frustratingly slow despite a perfectly reasonable processor on board.
The operating system is months away from being replaced entirely, so there's nothing about this phone to get excited about. You'd be better off with something cheaper such as the Samsung Monte, or paying just a little bit extra to secure the excellent HTC Legend.
Edited by Nick Hide