Acer recently entered the mobile phone market, and the Acer neoTouch is its top Windows Mobile smartphone.

Available in the UK only outside of normal network contracts, the Acer neoTouch S200 is a compact 3G smartphone taking Microsoft's latest Windows Mobile 6.5 user interface.

Updated, January 7, 2010:

Acer has its fingers in many pies, but we were surprised to see the company making its bid for the smartphone market via the Windows Mobile platform. Surely Android would have been a more obvious choice for a manufacturer coming late to the party?

Things start well for the neoTouch S200. It's neatly packaged, bears a passing resemblance to Toshiba's sleek, vast-screened TG01 smartphone and has a front that's almost nothing but mirrored display.

Acer neoTouch S200 review

The telltale Windows button, call and end-call buttons of almost every previous-generation Windows Mobile device have been swapped for more enigmatic illuminated white indicators.

The main icons (actually user-definable shortcuts) are large enough to select accurately and stand out from the background. You even get a slight haptic shudder when you choose an option.

What happens next isn't great, however. Essentially, you end up at the Windows Mobile screens many of us have toiled through before.

Given the work Microsoft acknowledged it needed to do with Windows Mobile - and seemed to have gone some way to addressing with version 6.5 - we were surprised to find what looks like version 5x on the S200. There's even a stylus input option. Not good.

We soon worked out that pressing the Windows Start key at the top left or the curious grid at the bottom of the screen takes you to the marginally better-looking Microsoft take on icons for this phone.

You can then scroll through items as you'd expect, but do so gingerly - otherwise the S200 tends to open items unexpectedly.

Importing photos is easy - the Windows Mobile Device Centre software installs promptly and we could then drag-and-drop our snaps on to the phone icon.

They looked good on the Acer's snazzy 3.8in screen, but we'd have liked the option to auto-rotate and zoom without recourse to the menu and properties settings.

Reliance on the onscreen keyboard doesn't make for a wonderful experience, either. Typing with any accuracy is a slow process. Missed phone call and email notifications are present and correct.

NEXT: Original full review.

This quad-band Acer neoTouch S200 phone sports a 3.8in touchscreen for the main functions, adding four touch-sensitive backlit buttons below. To type text messages or web addresses, for instance, there's an on-screen Qwerty keyboard.

The Acer neoTouch S200 takes the latest 1GHz processor from Qualcomm, which also powers the phone's 3D graphics engine. And graphics is one area that Microsoft has tidied up, giving the home screen a rich and colourful looking appearance to the phone's home screen.

As well as the usual Microsoft Office apps for mobile use, you'll also find more consumer-focused programs that give links to social network sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Flicker.

Other features include assisted GPS, 802.11b/g wireless and a 5Mp autofocus camera.

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Opening the packaging, Acer has taken a leaf from Apple's book by presenting the phone in an elegant box with side-hinging tray for such accessories as the charger and headphones.

And the Acer neoTouch S200 phone itself looks quite classy - slim and light with shiny black plastic casing. It's not the easiest to open when you need to insert a SIM; it's more a matter of knowing where to wrench off the clip-on backplate.

After a promising start, things deteriorate quickly when you start to use the Acer neoTouch S200 phone. Apart from the main app icons on the home screen, many on-screen items are too small to touch accurately, hindered particularly by the poor quality touchscreen panel.

Unlike the capacitive glass screen of the iPhone, for example, the Acer neoTouch S200 is not especially responsive to finger touches, requiring a little pressure to make things happen. Try to slide the front screen down to see icons below the horizon, and you're as likely to send a command to open some random app.

Windows Mobile has long required a stylus to engage with screen elements, and nothing has changed with Windows Mobile 6.5 here. Yes, you can just about type on the virtual keyboard with your fingertip, when set to its largest size, but be prepared to get wrong characters littering your attempts at typing. And we don't feel that pulling out a stylus just to tap out a quick text message is an adequate solution for such a commonplace task.

Sometime we found the simple act of answering a call required a few pressing attempts for the touchscreen to recognise our touch. Call quality was decidedly average, or below-average.

Internet Explorer Mobile 6 is included for web browsing, and trying to view web pages was as much an ordeal. Some site were rendered badly with elements in the wrong place, and trying to zoom in and out proved a major pain. If any UK network was to offer this phone with ‘unlimited data', they'd be on a safe bet that you're unlikely to have the patience to threaten much of your quota.

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Photographs captured by the camera were not especially clear or bright, although the Acer neoTouch S200 is in good company here among smartphones that have difficulty in capturing images under limited indoor lighting.

Battery life wasn't bad, at least when only used as a phone. We saw up to four days standby time, inclusive of occasional calls and texting. Expect this time to plummet if you get internet access.

Other ‘quirks' - we'll be polite here - include a keyboard lock that didn't always lock the screen, and a ringtone volume that was too quiet (there may be a way to change this, but if so it was too effectively hidden from sight).

The interface as a whole was not especially slick, despite that fast 1GHz processor, with random slowdowns and moments of unresponsiveness.

Windows Mobile still gives a fear-inducing warning, whenever you dare switch off, made worse by some strange new grammatical wording of ‘The unsaved data will be lost if Yes to continue - Yes/No'. A friendly and humane interface this phone certainly does not possess.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Acer neoTouch S200: Specs

  • 3G quad-band smartphone
  • 900/1900/2100MHz HSDPA and HSUPA
  • 850/800/1800/1900MHz GSM/EDGE
  • Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5
  • 3.8in WVGA touchscreen display
  • Qualcomm 8250 1GHz processor
  • 5Mp autofocus camera with LED flash
  • 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
  • assisted GPS
  • mini-USB headset
  • mini-USB sync cable
  • 118x63x12mm
  • 128g
  • 3G quad-band smartphone
  • 900/1900/2100MHz HSDPA and HSUPA
  • 850/800/1800/1900MHz GSM/EDGE
  • Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5
  • 3.8in WVGA touchscreen display
  • Qualcomm 8250 1GHz processor
  • 5Mp autofocus camera with LED flash
  • 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
  • assisted GPS
  • mini-USB headset
  • mini-USB sync cable
  • 118x63x12mm
  • 128g

OUR VERDICT

When there are so many phones that offer an approachable user experience, this phone’s interface remains a sad relic of the slow-motion car crash we know as Windows Mobile. We’d advise you to run, rather than walk, away. We’ve seen plenty of Acer products that deliver; the neoTouch S200 isn’t one of them. That 1GHz Snapdragon processor and beautiful but inept screen are simply wasted.

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