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Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Acer's Tempo series of Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional handhelds comprises four models. The M900 reviewed here has two features that differentiate it from its siblings: a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a fingerprint scanner. At £378 (inc. VAT) SIM-free, this is a premium device, so we'd expect plenty of features and exemplary build quality. Our review sample came from Clove Technology.
The M900 is a chunky handheld, which is not surprising as it has to accommodate a slide-out keyboard. At 188g it's only slightly heavier than its most obvious rival, HTC's Touch Pro 2, which weighs 178.5g. At 62mm wide by 119mm tall by 17.1mm thick, the M900 is slightly taller and wider than its HTC rival, and a shade thicker too.
As far as build quality is concerned, HTC's product has the edge; the screen also tilts up at a convenient angle when the keyboard is slid out. By contrast, the M900 feels more clunky in the hand.
Acer's 188g Tempo M900 has a 3.8in. touch-screen and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The operating system is Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional.
The front of the M900 is dominated by a shiny fascia that, when the device is switched off, reveals only the fingerprint scanner — which sits beneath the screen where a D-pad would normally reside. In fact the fingerprint scanner doubles up to perform some navigation button features, allowing you to sweep it up and down for vertical movement and press it to make selections. We couldn't see how to use it for horizontal movement, though.
The M900 has a fingerprint scanner where a D-pad would normally reside.
There are four buttons ranged around the fingerprint scanner, all of which are backlit white when pressed. They are: Call, End, the Windows Mobile home button and one that's linked to the integrated GPS receiver — when pressed, this button launches Google Maps and displays your current location.
The M900's screen measures 3.8in. across the diagonal, which beats the HTC Touch Pro's screen by a fifth of an inch. To get 3.8in. from HTC you'll need the Touch HD. With a native resolution of 800 by 480 pixels (the same as the Touch Pro 2) the screen is sharp enough, although it seems a little lacking in colour depth.
The edges of the M900 are populated with an array of buttons and connectors. The upper left edge carries a jog wheel, which is something we've not seen for a while. This lets you scroll vertically and press to select; it works well in Internet Explorer and email lists, for example, and is reminiscent of the scrollers that used to feature in RIM's BlackBerry devices.
The left edge also houses a microSD card slot protected by a hinged cover and the mini-USB port that's shared by the AC adapter, PC connection cable and headset. It's a shame the headset does not have a 3.5mm connector and is a one-piece unit, as this precludes the use of your own earphones. The mini-USB port's location also causes the connector to protrude awkwardly when the M900 is in your pocket.
On the right edge is the power-on switch, a reset pin, a button that launches the integrated voice control software and a camera button.
We had issues with the keyboard design — especially the way it's slightly recessed, which makes the bottom row hard to hit.
The M900's keyboard is disappointing. Its keys are small and wedge-shaped, so that their lower edges are raised. The softkey buttons are at the far left and right of the second row, which seems odd initially but was easy to get used to. The action was not as positive as we'd like, but the most annoying feature is that the keyboard is recessed, which means there's a lip that makes it tricky to hit the space bar and the other keys on the bottom row. The keyboard design is not conducive to gliding the fingers over it at speed — we've definitely used better.
The Acer M900 ships with an AC adapter, a USB PC cable, a one-piece USB stereo headset, a screen protector, a spare stylus, a protective pouch, a printed quick-start guide and two CDs. One of the CDs contains the user manual, while the other has Windows Mobile PC synchronisation software.
Powered by a 533MHz Samsung S3C 6410 processor, the M900 has 128MB of RAM and 256MB of ROM. On first switching on the device, you're offered the option to install several Acer applications that accompany the standard Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional bundle: Acer Album, Acer Namecard Manager, Acer Backup Utility, Acer Voice Commander, Acer Satellite Data Update and Acer SIM Manager.
Among the more interesting of these is Namecard Manager, which can be used in conjunction with the device's camera to recognise business cards and import their information into the contact book. We installed them all and were left with just 38MB of free Program memory. There's also an integrated FM tuner, and the aforementioned Google Maps.
The M900 is a quad-band GSM phone with GPRS,EDGE and HSDPA support. Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth (2.0 with A2DP) and a GPS receiver (SiRFstar III) are also integrated. There's a front-facing camera for two-way video calling, while the rear-mounted main camera is a 5-megapixel unit. The lens is not recessed, so it may get scratched after a time. An LED flash helps in low light conditions if your subject is fairly close by.
The M900 has a 5-megapixel main camera with LED flash at the back. There's also a VGA-resolution front-facing camera for making video calls.
Like other vendors that use Windows Mobile, Acer has decided to employ its own user interface in an effort to make it more finger-friendly and add visual appeal. Acer Shell has some appealing aspects. For example, when you slide out the keyboard the screen reorients to landscape mode and the user interface changes to offer eight things that you might want to do: make a new appointment, enter a new to-do task, write a new note, enter a new contact, write an SMS, MMS or email, or do a search.
When you slide open the keyboard, Acer Shell adopts a landscape orientation and offers a series of data-oriented tasks.
However, the main part of the user interface, which is visible when the keyboard is away, is not especially alluring. It lacks the visual pizzazz of HTC's TouchFLO or the UIs found on more consumer-friendly devices like Apple's iPhone.
The user interface stretches across three screens, which you access by sweeping a finger horizontally across the screen. The interface is designed to look like a desk with things laid out on it. One screen provides links to messaging and calendar applications via tappable icons that, where appropriate, display information about the number of unread messages. Another screen gets you to music, photos and contacts, while the third screen accesses the internet, settings and a full grid-style applications menu that you can populate with your own favourite shortcuts.
Some of the icons are a bit obtuse — why should a pot full of pens link to the settings menu?
Performance & battery life
The M900's resistive screen is responsive to screen taps, but the device sometimes seemed to lag behind our screen taps, and we wonder whether Acer's UI may be a little hard on the processor. The screen took a few seconds to reorient when we slid the keyboard in and out, for example.
Battery life was reasonable but not outstanding. We asked the M900 to play music continuously from a full battery charge through its speaker, which it did for 6 hours 21 minutes. This is about an hour longer than we got from the dual-SIM DX900, but over an hour less than the X960 delivered.
More anecdotally, we managed a couple of days between charges providing we used GPS, HSDPA and Wi-Fi lightly. In the real world we would probably budget for a daily power boost.
The Acer M900 is a sizeable Windows Mobile handset thanks to its large screen and integrated QWERTY keyboard. The former is a real plus point, but the latter is a little disappointing. We aren't enamoured of Acer's Shell user interface. There are alternatives if you want your handheld to incorporate fingerprint recognition, but not many.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel