The world's first for a ruggedized smartphone with built-in night vision.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Acer's quartet of Windows Mobile handhelds, the Tempo series, attempts to cover all the smartphone bases. The F900 reviewed here complements the dual-SIM DX900, the sliding QWERTY keyboard-equipped M900 and the slightly smaller X960.
Acer Tempo F900: 3.8in. touch-screen, Windows Mobile 6.1.
The F900 is a pretty standard Windows Mobile device as far as looks go. The screen-dominated fascia looks, at first glance, to have no buttons at all. However when you press the area beneath the screen four touch-sensitive buttons are backlit in blue. If Acer was going for a minimalist look, it's rather spoiled by the corporate branding between the screen and the button area (see image below). You also need to remember which buttons are where: an accidental press to the far left, on the Call button, will open the touch-dialer, while the inside left button opens the Windows Mobile Start menu. The far right (End) and inside right (Back) buttons should be less problematical in this respect.
The Call, Start menu, Back and End buttons are discreet backlit touch-sensitive controls sitting beneath the Acer logo.
There is also an LED above the screen which blinks red, blue or green for different kinds of alert; it's small, and not always easily visible against its black background, particularly in bright ambient lighting.
HTC's Touch HD seems to be the inspiration for the F900. The two devices are almost identical in size: the F900 measures 63.5mm wide by 117.5mm deep by 12.85mm thick and weighing 155g to the Touch HD's 62.8mm by 115mm by 12, and 147g. Both share a 3.8in. screen with a resolution of 480 by 800 pixels. Both are largely black, but the Touch HD edges ahead on build quality. It's also worth noting that the Touch HD's touch buttons are visible all the time, so there's no danger of hitting the wrong one.
Located around the sides of the F900 are a microSD card slot, a camera shortcut button, a volume rocker and a mini-USB port for the AC adapter, PC connection cable and headset.
Handset vendors often add their own front end to Windows Mobile, and Acer is no exception. However, we're not too impressed with what's on offer. The UI adopts a desktop metaphor on three main screens, which you move between using finger sweeps. Each screen contains large, easily tappable icons providing shortcuts to various Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional applications.
One screen has an envelope that you press to access email, a calendar icon for the calendar, a mini-handset (not the F900) for making phone calls, and so on. Some of the icons are less than intuitive: for example, something that looks like a calculator turns out to be a shortcut to the main grid-based applications menu, while a pencil tin takes you to a settings menu.
The Acer M900 ships with n AC adapter, a USB PC cable, a one-piece stereo headset, a screen protector, a spare stylus, a protective pouch, a printed quick-start guide and two application CDs.
The Acer F900 is powered by a 533MHz Samsung S3C 6410 processor and has just 128MB of RAM and 256MB of ROM. The memory specs do not compare favourably with the HTC Touch HD's 288MB and 512MB respectively.
Like other Tempo-series handsets, the F900 offers to install a number of applications on top of the standard Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional bundle when first switched on. These include Acer Album for image viewing and management, Acer Namecard Manager for scanning business cards into the contacts application (in conjunction with the rear-mounted 3.2-megapixel camera), and Acer Voice Commander for voice control.
An FM radio and Google Maps completes the software complement. With everything installed, we were left with just 48MB of free storage. You can boost this with a microSD card, but none is provided by Acer.
The F900's rear-mounted camera is not complemented by a front-facing unit for two-way video calls.
This is a quad-band GSM handset with GPRS, EDGE HSDPA support. Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) and a GPS receiver (SiRFstar III) complete the wireless connectivity. An accelerometer allows the screen to rotate automatically as you turn the F900 in your hands. There's a 3.2-megapixel at the back, but no front-facing camera for two-way video calls.
Performance & battery life
Acer's large-screen F900 is well suited to web browsing and other data-rich activities. However, a 3.8in. display is inevitably a big drain on the battery. Acer suggests you'll get 6 hours of talk time and up to 300 hours on standby. To test the battery life, we set the F900 to play music continually from a full battery charge, which it did for 8 hours and 15 minutes. That's quite respectable for a Windows Mobile 6.1 device — and better than the Touch HD, which managed just under 6 hours. The F900's loudspeaker is a little quiet, though.
Although it has no outstanding features, the F900 is a solid performer. Acer's Windows Mobile UI overlay is a bit clunky, however, and if we were choosing between it and the 3.8in. Touch HD we'd probably choose the latter despite its higher price and lower battery life.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel