When Acer announced their intention to take the smartphone world by storm, the response was rather muted. Little information, too many handsets and not much outside of offerings already available from other manufacturers.
The X960 is a full-touch Windows Mobile device, currently running v6.1. It is relatively large, measuring 60 x 105 x 14mm, but does feature a 2.8-inch screen on the front, which accounts for some of the size. It weighs a hefty 133g.
It isn't the prettiest smartphone out there and there isn't anything that really makes it stand out from other Windows Mobile devices at first glance. The front is black glossy plastic, with a chrome-effect plastic waistband giving some interest around the edges, whilst the back is a tactile matte black finish.
The front sees the normal array of buttons across the bottom, giving you call accept and reject, and a central navigator, flanked by home/back and GPS buttons. There is no Windows button, so no shortcut into the Start menu, although you can reassign the keys to make them suitable to your daily tasks.
Down the left-hand side you'll find volume controls and a shortcut button (voice notes by default). The left-hand side sees power and camera shutter buttons, as well as the flap for a microSD card. The flap seems to be impossible to access without removing the back cover.
Around the back you'll find the 3.2-megapixel camera, equipped with an LED "flash". The camera itself can be a little fiddly to use thanks to the small icons and the software is poorly conceived, for example demanding an action on previewed images, rather than just jumping back to taking pictures. Video is also supported up to 640 x 480 pixels, although the frame rate is low and the sound is very poor.
The still camera quality is reasonable outdoors and in plenty of light. It doesn't cope well with high-contrast conditions, with lots of fringing, and the LED flash does tend to give things a greeny/yellow cast. One irritant is the shutter noise that bears no relation to image capture, so you need to wait for the preview before it is safe to move, otherwise you'll have a picture of your foot.
The hardware specs are pretty good, however, as you might expect from Acer. You get HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 and SiRFstar III GPS, so there is no shortage of connectivity, meaning a speedy data connection, be it through the mobile phone network or over a wireless network.
As this is a full touch Windows Mobile device, you'll find a stylus tucked into the bottom. Unfortunately this is of the telescopic variety and we found it too small and too uncomfortable to use for any period of time. An inherent problem of Windows Mobile is needing the stylus for basic navigation, but you can at least use a pen or anything you choose to make it easier.
That said, there is no accelerometer included and you are stuck with the pretty small on-screen keyboard for text entry: you don't get the benefit of flipping it around to bash out messages.
Windows Mobile 6.1 comes with all the normal features, as well as providing a platform that will allow the download and installation of various other applications to customise the device to your liking. Acer has done some customisation of their own to the Today homepage that we actually like.
Using a graphical widget-based representation of a desk, you can scroll across what is basically three pages and have quick access to messaging, music, contacts and so on. It works well enough and it is live, so you actually get one of your pictures displaying in the picture frame, which is a nice touch.
One of the more significant areas is the Quick Menu, which calls up a 4 x 3 grid of menu icons, giving you quick access to applications which makes things very easy. The customisation that Acer has added overall is pretty good, and it makes things easy to use. It might not be as flash as some of HTC's adaptions, but it is simple and it works.
The screen, whilst a nice and sharp 640 x 480, is very reflective and we found that outdoors it was almost impossible to see, making life difficult.
There is only a single physical connection on the phone, which is the Mini-USB located on the bottom. This handles charging, syncing and the headset. There is no 3.5mm jack, so you'll be stuck with the basic and fairly uncomfortable headset provided.
At times things to tend to run a little slow, and you'll be poking the screen and waiting for a response; it's a common problem for Windows Mobile devices and Acer haven't escaped that trap either. The more applications you have up and running the worse this gets; you do get a quick access task manager,
Battery life is rated at 3 hours of talk time and 300 hours of standby, and with average usage, you'll find this to be a charge every night device.
Overall it is a relatively middle-of-the-road offering from Acer. From a hardware point of view they provide the key tech specs that smartphone adopters are looking for, combined with the convenience and workplace support that Windows Mobile offers. Yes, you get Office Mobile, a great world time clock, email support and all the things that business users are looking for.
The X960 doesn't appeal as much in terms of design as rival devices from HTC, but it is to Acer's credit that they have cleaned up the homepage offering from Windows Mobile to make it more user friendly.
But demanding consumers will find the camera and poor video audio capture a let down, the reflective screen less than useful outdoors and the lack of 3.5mm jack impractical.
Being stuck with a fiddly stylus whenever you need to enter text is likely to be the killer blow, so the X960 is likely to find itself rolled out to employees to keep them connected to the office, rather than be snapped up by people spending their own money.