Acer Tempo M900

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INTRODUCTION

    We first heard about the Acer Tempo M900 at Mobile World Congress 2009. Many were super impressed by what looked to be a strong competitor for the also freshly-announced Touch Pro2 from HTC. The design of the M900 looked sleek, the specs sounded impressive, and the huge 3.8" screen even trumped that of the Touch Pro2 in terms of size. What’s more, the device would support USA 3G bands. Though it looks good on paper, how does the M900 perform in real world testing? We’ve got the thorough review ahead!

WHAT’S HOT

    Let’s go through the specs. The Acer M900 is running with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. Acer has said that the M900 will be upgradeable to Windows Mobile 6.5 at Mobile World Congress, but we haven’t heard anything about that since. It has a Samsung SC3 6410 processor running at 533MHz. It has 256MB ROM (with 128MB accessible), 128MB RAM (with 87MB accessible), and has a microSD/HC expansion slot for added memory. The resistive touchscreen is 3.8" and is WVGA 480×800 resolution, making for a pixel density of 246ppi (the Touch Diamond’s screen is 285ppi, the Touch Diamond2’s screen is 292ppi, and the iPhone’s screen is 164ppi). It’s a quadband GSM (850/900/1800/1900) phone with triband UMTS (850/1900/2100) with HSDPA and HSUPA. It also has assisted GPS, WiFi b & g, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, USB 2.0, a fingerprint scanner, FM Radio, and an accelerometer for screen rotations. The rear camera is 5.0MP with auto focus and a flash, and the front camera for video calls is VGA resolution. Powering all of this is a 1530mAh battery. For even more specs, check out PDAdb.net. And for a spec-to-spec comparison of the M900 with the HTC Touch Pro2, click here.

(all images link to larger versions)

The most stunning trait of the M900 is its huge screen. At 3.8", it’s larger than the Touch Pro2, and as large as the Touch HD. It also has the highest resolution that Windows Mobile can support at 800×480.

Device
Size (inches)
Weight (grams | ounces)
4.44" x 2.47" x 0.52"

132 | 4.65
4.44" x 2.27" x 0.63"

156 | 5.61
4.74" x 2.63" x 0.43"

157 | 5.53
4.33" x 2.09" x 0.59"

117 | 4.12
4.66" x 2.48" x 0.47"

130 | 4.58
4.56" x 2.33" x 0.67"

188 | 6.63
4.64" x 2.36" x 0.48"

129 | 4.55
3.96" x 2.34" x 0.67"

133 | 4.76
4.68" x 2.44" x 0.67"

188 | 6.63
4.58" x 2.42" x 0.47"

120 | 4.20
4.56" x 2.33" x 0.65"

178 | 6.28
3.92" x 2.41" x 0.60"

137 | 4.83
4.24" x 2.09" x 0.53"

117 | 4.12
4.17" x 2.00" x 0.85"

151 | 5.34
4.41" x 2.24" x 0.49"

122 | 4.30
4.57" x 1.70" x 0.64"

140 | 4.94
4.88" x 2.44" x 0.53"

130 | 4.56
4.21" x 2.20" x 0.55"

120 | 4.20
4.53" x 2.47" x 0.47"

146 | 5.15
4.63" x 2.19" x 0.67"

158 | 5.57
4.35" x 2.07" x 0.67"

158 | 5.57
4.56" x 2.41" x 0.51"

125 | 4.41
4.44" x 2.36" x 0.55"

133 | 4.69
4.01" x 1.98" x 0.55"

124 | 4.37
8.28" x 4.67" x 1.08"

640 | 22.5
4.48" x 2.52" x 0.59"

154 | 5.43
4.17" x 2.38" x 0.68"

147 | 5.18
4.01" x 2.00" x 0.71"

165 | 5.82
4.41" x 2.24" x 0.49"

122 | 4.30
4.41" x 2.28" x 0.73"

140 | 4.94
4.01" x 2.00" x 0.45"

110 | 3.88
4.56" x 2.36" x 0.70"
200 | 7.05
4.30" x 2.40" x 0.60"
120 | 4.23
4.20" x 2.30" x 0.60"
136 | 4.79
3.70" x 2.30" x 0.60"
126 | 4.44
4.48" x 2.39" x 0.51"
116 | 4.09
4.60" x 2.60" x 0.50"

134 | 4.70

4.10" x 2.10" x 0.60"
150 | 5.30
4.40" x 2.32" x 0.75"
190 | 6.70

WHAT’S IN THE BOX



Here is the unboxing video for the M900. Included is a case with belt clip, extra stylus, headphones, screen protector, wall charger and sync cable.

THE DEVICE

The M900’s screen doesn’t tilt like it does on the Touch Pro2. It has a full QWERTY slide-out keyboard.

The case that comes with the M900 is made out of plastic but is made to look like leather. It has proper cut-outs so that you don’t have to remove the device from the case to charge it, or to access the microSD card.

On the back of the case is a belt clip.

The M900 has a nice-sized slide out QWERTY keyboard with offset keys and plenty of shortcut buttons for Windows Mobile like Start, Ok, and two soft keys on the right and left of the keyboard. The keys feel spaced out and are more difficult to press than the Touch Pro2. A big annoyance: the period and comma buttons can only be accessed if you tap the FN key.

Zooming into the keys we can see that each one has a little ledge at the bottom.

The front of the M900 is covered with a huge piece of very reflective plastic. This severely harms outdoor viability.

Zooming into the top we see the front-facing video camera, plus two system indicator lights (one for GPS, and one for new messages). There is a light sensor up here as well. The polling frequency for the light sensor on the M900 is way too high, meaning that the backlight may change every few seconds if you have the device set to change backlighting based on ambient light.

Zooming into the bottom we see (from left to right) a Call Start button, a programmable hardware key, the biometric fingerprint scanner, another programmable hardware key, and the Call End key.

Turning over to the left side we find the miniUSB port which is used for syncing, charging and audio. To the right of that is a handy scroll wheel for emails and web pages, and to the right of that is an external microSD card slot behind a cheap piece of plastic.

On the other side we find the stylus silo which contains the flimsy collapsible stylus. To the right of that is a dual-action camera button, followed by the soft-reset hole, a programmable button, and the power/standby key.

And on the top, it says GPS.

Like the front, the back of the M900 is also quite stunning. It is adorned by an oversized metal ring surrounding the camera, plus a brush-metal-looking piece of plastic to cover the battery.

The camera is 5.0MP with flash and autofocus. More on photo quality on page three.

Taking off the back battery cover we reveal the 1530mAh battery, which has the SIM card slot beneath.

When the lights are out, the four hardware keys glow in white.

In addition, the keyboard is entirely backlit.



Here is the hardware tour of the M900.

COMPARISONS

From left to right we have the HTC Touch Pro, Touch Pro2, Acer M900, Touch HD, and Touch Diamond2. The M900 is a large device and leaves a bulk in your pocket.

Here they are stacked in reverse order.

And here is how the Touch Pro2’s keyboard compares with that of the M900.

Flip on over to the next page where we’ll cover Acer’s 3D interface!

Acer has build its own interface on top of Windows Mobile called Acer Shell. It is comprise of three "3D desktop" screens. Many items on the desktop are linked to certain applications: the window goes to weather, the calendar goes to calendar, the envelope goes to email, the message ledger goes to SMS, the device goes to call history, and the time goes to alarm settings.

If you slide open the keyboard, you won’t get a landscape view of Acer Shell, but this row of icons.

If you tap on the email icon, you will get a TouchFLO 3D-like display of emails. You can flick your finger to see previews of your messages, or tap on a message to read it.

The SMS link takes you to a similar screen where you can preview or view your SMS.

From here, you can add multiple cities so that you can keep track of the time zone in various places.

If you tap on the Window in Acer Shell on the 3D desktop, you are taken to this display which shows you weather in the cities that you’ve added.

If we swipe right we are taken to the next section of the desktop. The rolodex will take you to favorite contacts, the picture frame takes you to photos, and the music holder takes you to the media player.

In photos, we get a TouchFLO 3D-like display of photos stored on the device. You can flick your finger up or down to change the picture.

…and tapping on an image will take you to the Acer photo gallery where you can take further action, such as MMS the image, email it, delete it, etc.

Here is the favorite people application. You can easily add a contact, and, if the person has a picture associated to their contact entry, it will display here.

And this is the media player which will show you album art on any music stored on your device.

And finally, on the right-most panel, we have a tool bin for system functions, a globe for internet favorites, and a switchboard for programs.

Tapping on the switchboard will bring up an HTC-like program launcher which you can customize.

Clicking the tool bin gives you quick access to sound profiles, backlight settings, etc.

And tapping on the globe displays this ugly list of internet favorites. Yuck!

SOFTWARE

The Acer Shell interface takes up a massive 20MB of program RAM. Considering that will leave you with just 22MB of free RAM, it may be a good idea to shut it off and go back to the default Windows Mobile Today screen.

Tapping on the icon in the upper right corner will bring up a task manager. It looks like I’m running low on RAM with just five programs open!

The M900 comes loaded with Office Mobile.

And though the M900 has a slide out keyboard, you’ll be happy to know that the on screen keyboard is actually quite good.

And it becomes even better in landscape.

So lets take a look in the Programs folder. As you can see, the M900 comes with Voice Commander to control your device via voice, but it’s not as good as Microsoft Voice Command.

Inside the multimedia folder, we have the Acer album for photos, Camera, FM tuner, Namecard manager for OCR, and streaming player for watching streaming internet video.

Here is the FM radio application. You’ll need to plug in a headset to get reception.

The namecard manager is something we’ve seen before. It allows you to take a picture of a business card or text, and have it convert to digital text. It works only if you take a perfect picture of the text that you want to convert.

In the Utilities, there are several items: you can re-install Acer programs with App Recovery, the Backup Utility is a simple backup program, Default Settings will hard reset, GPSViewer will let you see which satellites you’re linked to, Memory Optimizer will automatically soft reset your device to clear RAM, Satellite Data Update is the aGPS program, and Task Manger, is, well, a task manager.

Because the M900 has such a low amount of program memory, it may be a good idea to have the device automatically reset to clear out RAM.

I immediately downloaded the Skyfire web browser on the M900, which worked great on the WVGA screen.

The M900 doesn’t come with a video player good enough to play a huge array of file formats. But after loading on CorePlayer, I was able to play an HD episode of The Office. Video playback was actually a bit choppy compared to the Touch Pro2, and there was even some pixelization during high-motion scenes.

PHONE

The Call History tab on the M900 has been spruced up a bit.

When you are on a call with someone, this is what it looks like. You don’t get a large photo caller ID image like you do on the Touch Pro2.

You might have noticed a "speed dial" button on the left soft key on the Today screen. This is where it takes you. From here, you can go to a useful Frequency Dial screen that lists callers by the ones you dial the most.

And here is the on-screen dialer, which features finger-friendly buttons.

Click onto the next page of the review where we’ll cover photo and video quality, plus system settings.

Let’s take a look at the Settings on the M900.

Unlike the Touch Pro2, the M900 gives you a lot of hardware buttons to customize–up to five!

This is the utility for the fingerprint scanner. You must swipe your finger to change the settings. The biometrics pad worked well and required only one swipe most of the time.

You can use the fingerprint security in several places: when the device comes out of standby, when you access your private folder, and when you try to enter your PIM data.

As alluded to above, you can have a special private folder on your device that can only be accessed by swiping your finger.

Enrolling just takes four swipes and is a painless process.

You can also customize the function of the soft keys on the Today screen or in Acer Shell, which is helpful.

Here we are in System.

From here, you have three choices of how the backlight should be regulated: by idle time, light conditions, and battery level. I left all of them unchecked. Typically I’d prefer the backlight to be set by lighting conditions, but the light sensor polling frequency of the M900 is far too high, which caused rapid fluctuations in the backlighting.

Wow – and just with a few programs running (ActiveSync, Messaging), we only have 28MB of RAM available! That’s not good.

You can actually use the biometric sensor as a navigation device. Here there are the five settings you can choose, including an on-screen mouse cursor. Sadly, all of these options don’t work very well…even with sensitivity adjustments, it’s hard to get them to work smoothly and reliably.



This video shows some software features that we’ve written about so far in this review.

CAMERA

After some tweaking in the settings, the M900 produces some very nice images thanks to the autofocus. This macro came out clear with great color reproduction.

Here is another macro shot that came out well.

On a landscape-type shot, the M900 didn’t do well at reproducing the vibrant greens of the grass and trees.

And even though the M900 has a flash, interior shots come out noisy with a milky film.

The M900 can do VGA video recording. Click here to see a sample in 3GP format. The M900 doesn’t allow for video recording in any other format.

Click on to the next page as we wrap up the review with speed benchmark, notes on battery life, and Pros and Cons for the Acer M900.

BENCHMARKS

   Spb Benchmark from has been used for the
following benchmark comparisons with Acer M900.

The Acer M900, which uses a Samsung CPU unlike the other devices listed above, is no slouch in terms of performance. Going from screen to screen, opening programs, and sliding out the keyboard to rotate the display exhibit the device’s good performance. As mentioned earlier in the review, the low amount of RAM and questionable video performance are all causes for concern. Here is how these devices scored in the Graphics Index on Spb Benchmark (from lowest to greatest): M900…1523, Touch HD…1543, SE XPERIA X1…1684, Touch Pro2…1844, and Diamond2…2104.

BATTERY
    The battery on the M900 is 1530mAh. By comparison, the Touch Pro2 has a 1500mAh battery. The battery life was actually pretty good. With a moderate amount of 3G internet sessions, GPS use, and calls, the M900 will get you through about 1.5 days. With heavy use, you’ll get through 1 day, and with light use, expect to have to recharge after 2 days. In our testing, this is a bit better than the Touch Pro2.

BUGS AND WISHES

   There is no doubt that the M900 is a stunning device, just as long as you don’t pick it up. In-hand, it becomes immediately apparent that the M900 is miles from the Touch Pro2 in terms of build quality: everything is plastic, there is wiggle in the screen from all angles, the buttons seem pasted on, there are many spots for dust to collect, and so on. It feels like a toy, and a high-end mobile phone should not feel like a toy.

    If you can get beyond the hardware issues, you’ll have to brace yourself for a buggy software experience. Sometimes the device doesn’t come out of standby, sometimes icons don’t respond when you tap them, sometimes the screen gets stuck in portrait or landscape orientation, and sometimes the internet connection settings disappear. The ROM on the M900, as I’ve come to learn from a colleague, is the same used when the device was in beta. Acer should have made bug fixes to the M900 ROM before putting it into retail.

    While we’re on software, if you have the Acer Shell enabled, you are down to about 22MB of free RAM! By comparison, the Touch Pro2, with Mobile Shell 3.0 running, has 88MB of RAM free. What does this mean? It means that if you start opening more than a couple of programs, the device is going to get slow.

    And then there are many other small issues: the navigation function of the biometric security pad is buggy, the stylus feels cheap, there are grammatical errors in some of the software promprts, the GPS fix time isn’t great (30-40 seconds for cold start, 10-15 seconds for warm/hot), the video playback isn’t as smooth as the Touch Pro2, the flick scrolling doesn’t work all the time and is un-natural, and press and hold of the powre button sometimes doesn’t shut down the device, and on and on.

PURCHASING

    The Acer M900 is being sold unlocked right now overseas, but you can import it into the US and many other countries and have it work great, just as long as your carrier supports the proper bands. Hop on over to Clove Technology where they are selling it for about £390, which, depending on the current exchange rate of the day, comes out to $620-680 USD, which is about $80 cheaper than the Touch Pro2. They’ll ship worldwide.




PROS

  • Stunning design with a big, high resolution display
  • Fingerprint scanner works well for added security
  • Speaker is loud and clear
  • Has a scroll wheel
  • Good screen sensitivity
  • Snappy performance (when you’re not multitasking a lot)
  • Screen rotation is very fast
  • Does USA 3G
  • Has FM radio
  • Camera takes good macros
  • Decent battery life

CONS


  • Poor build quality

  • Buggy software
  • Insufficient RAM
  • Acer’s interface is a novelty
  • Poor outdoor screen visibility
  • Light sensor polling frequency is too high
  • Comma and period keys require a FN press to access
  • Video recording format is limited to 3GP
  • GPS performance isn’t great
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

What
do these ratings mean
?

OVERALL IMPRESSION

    I want to love the M900, I really do. It’s a fast device with a nice form factor and beautiful design, but it’s impossible to get past the poor build quality, buggy software, and many other small issues plaguing this device. Sure, it’s about $80 cheaper than the Touch Pro2, but if you’re going to be shelling out big bucks for a device of this type, treat yourself and go with the best, the Touch Pro2, which will be available at subsidized prices on most major carriers around in the world, starting this summer.

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.