Acer's Win Mo 6.5 Ace

9 Jan

Acer came to the smartphone party last year but its initial range of devices (under the Tempo brand) were solid, rather than sensational. A few years ago, they would have been very much at home in a rather predictable smartphone market, but in the era of crazy smartphone innovation, they seemed a tad out of place, not to mention, date. Acer, being the smooth and rapid operator that it is, quickly rejigged the plot and brought out a new range of devices under the neoTouch and beTouch banners. And the crown jewel of the former is the S200, also known to many as the neoTouch, because it is the first phone in that series.

Given what we had seen in the Tempo series, it would be incorrect to say that we expected the world from the S200. But you bet we were surprised by what we got.

On first glance the S200 looks like a slightly more rounded version of the HTC Touch HD. Like that device, the S200’s design too seems on the simple and minimalistic side with no rough edges jutting out, but the main reason for the similarity is the massive 3.8 inch touchscreen that dominates the front of the device. Sure, it is resistive, but it was more than adequately responsive for us. At around 12mm, the S200 is about as thick as the iPhone and in spite of that large screen, just as easy to hold in one’s hand. Just below the screen are four soft buttons, for starting and ending calls, going to the home screen and going back. Honestly, we would have preferred proper buttons rather than these touch operators, notwithstanding all the haptic feedback that they serve up. Also, the icons on the buttons are a tad strange – we did not expect the Home button to be denoted by a rectangle – but one does get used to them in time.

There is a chrome strip running all along the sides of the phone. On the bottom, there’s a mini USB port for syncing and charging purposes, while there’s a 3.5mm jack on the top for those wanting to plug in their headsets. Buttons do not exactly abound on this handset – a power/standby button is on the left side, and the volume rocker and camera buttons on the left. All in all, this is a pretty decent looking handset, although the glossy black rear (wherein reside the 5.0-megapixel camera lens and speaker grill) gives it a slightly cheap look and feel. “Ah, a poor cousin of the Touch HD,” are likely to be the first words that come to your mind when you have given it a visual once-over.

Any notions of poverty will, however, be dispelled once you start using the phone, which is a behemoth in tech spec terms. With a 1 Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor under its hood, the S200 performs at a credible rate of knots. So much so that for once we cannot even trot out our usual “oh-it’s-a-great-phone-but-it’s-running-WinMo” line. Microsoft’s latest version of its Windows Mobile (or Windows Phone, if you will) operating system, Windows Mobile 6.5, has been damned with faint praise by most people, Yours Truly included. But after using the Acer S200, we wonder if we might have not been a bit too hasty and harsh in our judgement. In best tech tradition, it takes good hardware to bring out the best out of the software running on it, and we think that the Acer S200 is by far the best Windows Mobile phone we have used.

The larger icons are easy to use on the large screen of the handset. And unlike other manufacturers, Acer has not attempted to paint a glossy skin over the OS. Gone is the room-with-articles-scattered-around skin that was seen in the Tempo range. Instead, what we have is a much more restrained homescreen of nine icons on a grid, which lets you access the apps you use most often. Of the nine, you can choose six as per your requirements. We were initially disappointed at such a Plain Jane interface but as time passed, we actually came to appreciate the fact that one did not have to drag one’s finger across the screen to get things moving or drag and drop widgets. There is something to be said for simplicity after all.

And it is that word actually that describes our Acer S200 experience best – simplicity. There was never a moment when we went “Wow!,” but neither was there a time when we complained long and hard. Yes, there were times when we wished that the touchscreen was more responsive and we were a tad disappointed to see Acer not using Opera Mobile as its default browser (a fault we corrected, incidentally) and we also wished that the onscreen keyboard was larger , but these complaints were more than silenced by the overall performance of the phone. Apart from the Win Mo 6.5 goodies on board (MS Office, Windows Market, My Phone, et al), Acer has also thrown in its own social networking, calendar, photo album, and contacts apps. They won’t rock your world, but there is a fair chance that you won’t uninstall them either. And the same goes for the camera and sound – steady rather than stupendous seems to be the Acer formula. And the S200 delivers.

Top all of this off with a decent battery life that can let you see off the better part of two days with some hours of Internet surfing, push mail and calls, and you can see why we are impressed with the S200.

It has been a while since we have seen a device live up to its tech specs. The S200 does just that. It won’t blow you off your feet. But it will seldom let you down. Some might consider its price tag of Rs 33,000 to be a bit on the high side, when you can get the likes of the HTC Hero, the N97 mini, the Sony Ericsson Satio and even the iPhone 3G, for in and around the same, but if what you are looking for is a performer rather than a show-stopper, you will find it difficult to do better than this handset from Acer.

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