The Acer Tempo M900 runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Pro on a 533 MHz processor, and has 128 MB of RAM.
Probably the only place where this model’s otherwise sparkling spec sheet falls flat is internal memory. The machine comes with 256 MB internal flash, of which only 128 MB is available to the user. That seems more than a little stingy, particularly when you consider that the similarly high-end Touch Pro2 comes with 280 MB of free internal flash. Of course there’s always the option of a 16 GB microSDHC card, but I’m probably not the only person who prefers being able to install programs to internal memory for safekeeping.
What’s not to love? The M900 has quad-band GSM, tri-band 3G (suitable for use overseas or on AT&T and Rogers in North America), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, 802.11g Wi-Fi, and an internal FM radio with RDS support for receiving radio station ID and playlist information from compatible FM streams. While it’s true that a great stable of comm options is more common than it used to be, making devices like the M900 slightly less exceptional in that department, it’s still worth noting the breadth of options that you get.
RF performance seemed slightly better than average — not up to the level of, say, the HTC Hermes or the Samsung Epix — but good. It certainly should be, since the device has more than enough room to provide for a very good quality antenna.
The fingerprint scanner is a simple flat thermal affair like most other ones on mobile electronics, but with a small twist: rather than just using it to lock the device as many of these gadgets do, you can also use it to specifically encrypt files.
In my view, this is a much more useful way to implement fingerprint scanning, since it allows for a ton more flexibility in how you use the device, as well as what fingerprints have access to what information. Plus, if someone borrows your phone, you can make private information secure without making the device unusable.
Like a number of newer units, the M900 comes with a customized interface “shell” over top of the regular Windows Mobile. It’s not bad, but I still have yet to find anything that’s quite as comprehensive as the TouchFLO 3D system used by HTC on the newer Touch units. The “Acer Shell” is based around the visual metaphor of a desk for the Today screen. Personally I think this is a bit of a novelty, and that the “desk” would eventually become more inconvenient than a slightly less metaphorical organization system.
The first setup on the M900 took quite awhile, since like HTC units it wants to install it’s customized software on first boot. Theoretically, it offers you a menu of the available customizations that you can install optionally; in practice, that’s just showboating, and it installs a ton of material whether you want it or not. It took probably about 5-10 minutes to go through the full install routine, then soft reset again.
The GPS receiver is a SiRFstar III chipset, designed for autonomous use, unlike the Qualcomm GPS chips that are common in many other brands. What this means is that it may take a little longer to lock on, particularly under adverse signal conditions like indoors or urban canyons. However, it will also be substantially less dependent on the cellular network for a head start, meaning that it’ll make up that time if you need to use it in areas outside regular coverage.
Along with the screen and the fingerprint scanner, the camera on the M900 is one of three most high-end features on the device. At just under 5 megapixels and sporting an auto-focus, it’s got better specs than the first dedicated digital camera I owned.
Does it perform better? Well, the problem is as always a matter of components, more so than raw resolution. Cell phone cameras like the Acer use CMOS optical sensors, which is technically inferior to — and on average produces worse quality images than — the CCD technology used by dedicated cameras. The reasons for this have mostly to do with the fact that CMOS based cameras require fewer parts and less power. That makes it possible to put them in smaller devices.
So how is the quality, actually? As is typical for CMOS sensors, it does great in direct sun. No surprise there. Where the optics do seem to perform better than average is in medium light conditions. Even indoors with minimal sunlight, the camera is still capable of taking a crisp picture with excellent detail.
The only place it seriously fails is in true “low light” conditions. With only a weak LED “flash” to provide light (which is adequate as a flashlight, but not for photos), using the camera in low light will result in a photos that range from middling to poor quality. Still, this is almost universally true about cell phone cameras.
The battery life on the M900 is somewhat mixed — a large, high capacity battery matched up against very demanding and power hungry features, particularly the large screen. That means average to good battery life for a touchscreen Windows Mobile phone — 6 hours of GPS, 5 hours of talk time, or 6 hours of Wi-Fi, all of which is a lot better than it could be, everything considered.
Unfortunately, part way through my first round of testing, the device inexplicably refused to turn back on after the first time I drained the battery. A little strategic Googling pointed toward a known flaw with the M900 line, referred to as the “black screen of death,” for which the recommended cure is removing the battery and allowing the phone to sit for a few minutes. However, my M900 consistently refused to boot up again, leading me to doubt that my problem was related.
A device dying shortly out of the box isn’t unheard of — even the best manufacturers have lemons, and now and then there are simply cases where something has a fault. While I will say that it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of the product line as a whole, I also have to be honest: in most of the cases where I’ve had a review unit die, it has boded poorly for the overall quality of the product line. When fatal bugs manifest so quickly, it generally means that they’re unusually numerous, or aggressive, or both.
The news didn’t get any better for Acer. After I reported back about the condition of the machine, Brighthand received a note from eXpansys (our review unit supplier) telling us that this was apparently a known problem with the Acer M900, and that they would ship us a replacement review unit.
The fact that the issue is an established one does nothing to reduce my concerns about reliability. Quite the opposite.
About a week later I got the replacement review unit, which had previously been unpacked and used by someone. Whether they re-used a review unit that had previously been loaned out, or an eXpansys employee took it out of the box to make sure that it actually, you know, functioned, I’m not sure. Either way, the new unit performed satisfactorily for the rest of my review, with no noticible malfunctions.