Since buying Taiwan-based Windows Mobile smartphone specialist Glofiish in 2008, Acer has launched several devices: the early ones were simply rebadged Glofiish designs, while others were made to Acer's specifications. The company's latest batch of four includes the flagship neoTouch, a large-screen Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphone with plenty of promise, at least on paper. Our review sample came courtesy of Clove Technology.
The neoTouch looks every inch a modern high-end smartphone. The front is all touch-screen, with just a small button panel beneath. The buttons are touch sensitive, illuminated with a white backlight when pressed, and almost invisible when not in use. In the face of this minimalism, the Acer logo sitting between the screen and the buttons seems rather heavy-handed.
Acer neoTouch: 3.8in. touch-screen, 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, Windows Mobile 6.5.
The power button is on the left edge, while the right edge houses a camera button, a volume rocker and — unusually for a smartphone these days — a reset hole. On the bottom edge is the Mini-USB connector for recharging and PC connection, while the top edge houses a 3.5mm headset jack.
The black shiny casing is something of a fingerprint attractor, although this is more apparent on the backplate than the touch-screen. The Acer logo appears a second time on the back, which seems a bit excessive.
The neoTouch measures 63mm wide by 119mm tall by 12mm thick and weighs 130g, which makes it a large-format smartphone that might struggle to fit the smaller pocket. The device is large because of its 3.8in. screen, which is one of the stars of this particular show. With a resolution of 480 by 800 pixels, it can display plenty of information and comes into its own for data-rich activities like web browsing or reading emails.
A downside of the large screen is that those with smaller hands may find it impossible to operate one-handed. We certainly found we needed both hands to perform some operations.
The neoTouch ships with an AC adapter, a PC connection cable, a one-piece stereo headset, a screen protector, a printed quick-start guide and a CD containing the user manual and additional applications.
The large 3.8in. screen is the neoTouch's most visible feature, but its processor is equally impressive. This is the second device we've seen to run Qualcomm's QSD8250 Snapdragon processor, the first being Toshiba's TG01. Running at 1GHz, the QSD8250 makes a difference to usability: during testing we found that the neoTouch zipped along nicely, responding almost immediately to finger presses.
Acer isn't exactly generous with internal memory, which runs to 512MB of ROM and 256MB of RAM — our review sample device reported 270MB of free storage after a hard reset. You can add storage capacity via microSD cmedia: the slot is located on the left-hand side of the device, under the backplate.
The neoTouch runs Windows Mobile 6.5 and comes complete with Windows Marketplace for adding new applications over the air. Marketplace is easy to use and fairly well designed as far as its visual appearance is concerned, but Microsoft needs to move faster on populating it with applications.
The neoTouch is a quad-band GSM phone with HSPA supporting downloads at up to 7.2Mbps and uploads at up to 5.76Mbps. There is Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR), a GPS receiver and an accelerometer to automatically switch the screen into landscape mode as you turn the device in your hand. The GPS can be used out of the box with Google Maps complete with support for Latitude and Street View. If you want point-to-point navigation, though, you'll have to add a third party application.
There is a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash at the back, but sadly no front-facing camera for two-way video calling. The camera performed reasonably well outdoors, but it was less successful indoors. It's certainly no substitute for a dedicated digital camera.
Acer's customisable home screen for the neoTouch.
Some manufacturers go to town layering their own user interface on top of Windows Mobile (HTC, for example), but Acer has been fairly restrained on this front. Switch the neoTouch on and you're presented with a home screen offering six customisable shortcuts to applications plus three more to Phone, Text and Phone Book. At the foot of the home screen there are three tappable icons: one locks the handset, another lets you customise your six application shortcuts and the third accesses the full Windows Mobile applications menu.
Elsewhere, a folder called Social Networking provides links to YouTube, Blogger, Flickr and Facebook. There's also a separate YouTube link in the main applications list, as well as a link that takes you straight to a Google search box. An FM tuner is hidden away in the Multimedia folder.
As you move deeper into Windows Mobile 6.5 applications you start to encounter the relatively small menus and checkboxes that are a characteristic of Windows Mobile. These are not always finger-friendly, and you may need to resort to the stylus that sits in a housing on the top right edge of the device.
The screen is one of the most finger-friendly we've seen to date. We found panning and tapping comfortable and didn't need to make repeated dabs at the screen to get the required reaction. The screen is resistive, which means it can't handle multi-touch input — this is often most useful in activities like web browsing or viewing images, where you want to zoom in and out. On the neoTouch, zooming is achieved via an on-screen zoom bar. This is efficient enough, but it zooms into the centre of the screen rather than allowing you to zoom into an area of choice, so you usually have to pan after zooming.
Performance & battery life
As already noted, the 3.8in. touch screen is very responsive and the 1GHz processor is quick. Windows Mobile 6.5's occasionally small icons and checkboxes, may force those with large or stubby fingers to resort to the stylus.
Acer rates the neoTouch's battery life at up to 5 hours of talk, or 400 hours on standby. The 1,350mAh battery has to work hard to keep the processor and screen going, and we found we drained it in a day if Wi-Fi and GPS are used during the working day. In our usual rundown test (playing music continuously with the screen forced to stay on), the battery delivered 6 hours 32 minutes of music from a microSD card from a full battery charge. This result places the neoTouch firmly in average territory.
If you're after a Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphone with a large and touch-friendly display, Acer's neoTouch is worth considering. It could do with more built-in memory, but the 1GHz Snapdragon processor is fast.