After the disappointing DX900, a phone that had one redeeming feature; it’s ability to use two SIM cards at the same time, the F900 is a breath of fresh air.
Announced at Mobile World Congress in February, the Windows Mobile smartphone ships with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, although just before we went to press, we were given the great news that it will be possible to upgrade the F900 to Windows Mobile 6.5 (or Windows Phone OS as Microsoft will then call it) later in the year.
With a number of recently introduced devices coming with huge displays, turning them into ever more usable media players, the F900 is certainly up there with the likes of Samsung’s I8910 HD, Toshiba’s TG01 and the Apple iPhone. The 3.8-inch screen is matched with a decent resolution of 480×800 pixels, putting it ahead of all but the Toshiba. The TG01 is the only large-screened competitor to also use Windows Mobile.
The phone is packed with all of the tools both a business user and consumer could wish for, with GPS for navigation and HSDPA (7.2Mbps) and HSUPA (2Mbps) for high-speed data. Naturally there’s also Wi-Fi, memory expandability to 32GB via microSDHC cards and even an FM radio – meaning it highlights every key specification on our new look buyer’s guide entry!
On the back of the phone is a 3.2-megapixel autofocus camera, with a subtle LED lamp below it. Compared to the majority of HTC devices that omit the LED, this means the F900 can be used in a range of conditions to take photographs.
The large screen does mean that the F900 looks quite chunky, although at just 12.9mm thick it’s more of an illusion, unless something measuring just over a centimetre is now to be considered big.
One reason why it looks bigger than it is might be due to the fairly straight lines and a larger gap between the base of the screen and the phone itself. Underneath the Acer logo are four touch-sensitive softkeys, copying the design of the HTC Touch HD, allowing you to call, hangup, go to the Windows menu and back up. On the side of the phone are more keys to manage the volume, start the camera and two keys that can be customised for a range of functions.
Anyone that is unimpressed with the standard Windows Mobile menus, or the home screen, which is probably everyone (hence Microsoft making many changes in its latest version of the OS) will expect a manufacturer to throw in its own front-end UI.
Acer doesn’t disappoint, although you shouldn’t expect anything along the lines of the excellent TouchFLO system from HTC. Acer hasn’t gone for the fancy finger-controlled gliding panels, or even clever widgets that give another way of accessing your address book, messages or upcoming appointments. Instead, there’s a graphical representation of your office desk with updated information on texts, appointments and email. You can also fire up a menu that lets you compose a new message, add a new appointment and complete other common tasks.
On the menu
The menu is hardly a graphical delight, and it’s not incredibly quick either, but it does the job and helps keep the OS hidden away for a while. Of course, as has been the case with every Windows Mobile phone before this, you still have to get to the legacy apps at some point – and then pull out the extendable stylus from the base of the phone. Acer has included an alternative on-screen keyboard, and as long as you’re happy to use a stylus on a pressure-sensitive screen, as against a finger on a touch-sensitive one, then you’ll be able to get along with the F900 just fine.
The F900 also has a memory optimization tool, which will automatically restart the machine if memory falls below a certain level, which is useful, if a noticeable admission that the OS is far from perfect. The Acer Shell also slows down the use of the phone quite a bit, while Internet Explorer struggles to load sites that use Flash Lite or fancy layouts.
I won’t pretend to be a massive Windows Mobile fan. As someone who has been quick to criticise the operating system for years, and still has some doubts about the level of improvements that will be found on V6.5 (one of them being a revised menu layout), I could be considered the wrong person to be reviewing the F900.
However, most users accept that the OS is dated, including Microsoft, and know that it is nowhere near as slick as the competition. It’s the OS everyone loves to hate, but it doesn’t change the fact that for business use, it’s still incredibly well supported by developers of serious business applications.
The iPhone may be gaining custom from people who want to have easy access to stock prices and getting the latest news from one of its many dedicated apps, but it’s Windows Mobile that allows couriers to keep track of packages, fleet managers to monitor the location of their lorries, salespeople to have instant access to pricing databases and client lists etc.
If you need a phone for any of these purposes, you’re stuck with Windows Mobile, so you might as well have some choice over the look of the device.
The Acer looks good, has a 1530mAh battery to ensure you can keep going for a good day or two before being forced to charge it, and it can let you enjoy a movie on its large display or turn it into a SatNav with an easy-to-see map. It’s a shame there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, or it would tick all of the boxes.
The Toshiba TG01 is a faster device (533MHz on the F900 to a 1GHz processor on the Toshiba), but many people will find the dimensions of the TG01 to be rather off-putting on account of the 4.1-inch display. That said, the Toshiba is thinner, yet it goes without a camera flash and the 900MHz 3G frequency, which may be a concern for business travellers.
While the TG01 is marketed more for multimedia, the Acer comes out on top for being a decent compromise of size versus functionality. With the better camera, the useful (if boring) Acer Shell and decent battery life, the F900 wins this particular battle, but I can still only see it appealing to people who have no choice but to use Windows Mobile.
Acer’s F900 looks very much like the HTC Touch HD, but flip the unit over and you’ll see an autofocus camera with LED flash – a rarity on a Windows Mobile device. The large screen (with 480×800 pixel resolution) even helps keep the need for the stylus to a minimum, although you can’t avoid it forever. The F900 will also be upgradable to Windows 6.5 (aka Windows Phone OS) in due course, which will address many of the usual Microsoft related moans. Although slow than Toshiba’s TG01, the F900 is a well-focused business phone with multimedia aspirations.