E-TEN V900 WM6.1 Device Review

I’ve been very fortunate to have a wonderful working relationship with the folks over at E-TEN, now part of the Acer family.  The folks associated with the Glofiish mobile devices have been wonderful to work with, and have been very generous. Over the years, they have been kind enough to send me a number of devices to review.

Recently, we reviewed the Glofiish X800, Glofiish X650, and we gave away the X800. It was all very exciting.  Recently, Acer sent us the Glofiish V900.  I’ve been using it for a while and its been an interesting go.  How interesting..?  Let’s take a quick look and see…


As you can see from the date on the picture, I’ve been in the device for a little more than 7 weeks.  Personally, I don’t care for reviews that critique a device over a few days, or even a few hours of use. While many impressions may be somewhat accurate, I believe it takes time to get to know what a device can and cannot do.  That being the case, the previous 7 weeks have been interesting to say the least.

Accessories and Cases
The included case is, well… just ok.  It does a great job of holding the device; and the belt clip insures that it won’t fall off of your belt when you bend over; but the case does just an OK job of protecting the device.  My device fell to the ground, only once, during the review period when I was on my iPhone, trying to take the V900 out of the case (when it was NOT on my belt). Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any other case offerings for the device anywhere.

As I mentioned, the case is nothing to write home about

Spb Mobile Shell
I get the feeling that the V900 is supposed to be the Glofiish answer to the HTC Touch.  I could be wrong and off base, but I don’t think so… I’ve used Spb Mobile Shell before, and a lot of people like it.  On a device like the V900 though, I wasn’t very impressed. I don’t like that the interface is part of the ROM, and that the base OS install has it tied into the registry.  E-TEN allows you to uninstall just about any of its system software; but when one of the device’s soft buttons default to relaunching Mobile Shell, uninstalling it really isn’t an option.

Spb Mobile Shell’s main screen

While I’m all for tweaking, and always have been, lately I’ve been on a “let’s use it out of the box and see if it will fly” kick.  That might be related to my recent iPhone purchase and the complete LACK of tweakability on its part. It might be to the way things have been running for me lately. I haven’t had a lot of free time to tweak and play with my stuff as I usually do.

Spb Mobile Shell’s Programs page

Interestingly enough, you can get from one page to another by swiping to the left or right.  While Spb Mobile Shell is an OK enough interface, I had a hard time getting used to it. I really wasn’t that keen to it. Maybe its my time with HTC Home and some of the recent TouchFlo 2D/3D cooked ROM’s I’ve been using on my Tilt. Maybe not… However, I did find it to be a bit on the heavy side when it came to performance. I found that the device did much better with Mobile Shell turned off, than on.

Hardware Impressions & Issues
I want to start off by saying that the BIGGEST draw for this particular device, the digital TV tuner, doesn’t work in the US.  The tuner can’t receive the digital broadcast signals we use in The States; and therefore, in my opinion, the biggest draw for the device is gone.  At this point, the device simply becomes a 3G device with VGA screen, a fancy-schmancy, default UI, and average (by modern comparison) hardware specs.

Don’t get me wrong, the form factor is nice.  The V900 isn’t too large, or too small.  It fits very well in my hand and feels pretty good.  The flush screen is nice, too. The bevel on my Tilt can be difficult to work with, especially if I have to tap an area of the screen near the edge.  With the flush screen on the V900, this isn’t a problem.

The V900 fresh out of the box.

The device also has a configurable accelerometer.  Included as part of the way cool digital media/TV experience, physically rotating the device in any particular direction, like its (very) distant cousin, the iPhone, will automatically rotate the screen in that direction.  I had a bit of a problem with this thing… No matter how I configured it, it was way too sensitive. When enabled, the device would rotate, and then not rotate back to the way I wanted it, without a lot of trying, retrying and trying again.  This was a cool feature, and is likely to be a huge boon in countries where the digital TV tuner works, but to me, was a huge PITA.

Radio Reception
As a phone the device was solid.  I really have to hand it to E-TEN (now ASUS).  They finally got the radio part of their devices right. The 3G radio on the V900 had absolutely NO problem finding, and retaining a 3G signal here in Chicago. I travel on the train to work, and my line, I’m finding, has a lot of holes when it comes to cell coverage. My iPhone 3G had a great deal of time finding and holding ANY kind of cell signal on the rail line.  The V900, on the other hand, has been a wonder. I’ve almost always got a 3G signal, and its usually three or greater bars. In the basement test lab where I work, it has 1-2 bars while my Tilt has 1, and the iPhone, usually none. It also was quick to reacquire a signal coming out from under the Old Post Office, a-top Union Station inside The Loop, when I was on the train.  The iPhone sometimes took 15-20 minutes to reacquire a signal if left to its own devices.

The form factor for the V900 is awesome. The device is about the same size as a Blackberry Curve (it fits in my BB device case without a problem), and feels very nice in your hands. If the device had a keyboard of some kind…and not the standard on-screen keyboard SIP that Windows Mobile has, it would be a very cool device here in the States.

The biggest problem that the device has is the lack of hardware buttons. It has a camera button, call send and end buttons, a volume rocker, record button, and a power button. That’s it. The lack of application buttons on the device, is a sore point with me.  I don’t care how wonderful Spb Mobile Shell is.  I may not want to use it, and may want to uninstall it. Thankfully…you can. All of the installed apps from the extended ROM are fully appear on the Remove Programs list, and are uninstallable.  However, the inclusion of a customized UI doesn’t make up for the lack of application buttons, and I see that deficiency as a problem.

The Full 360

The AT&T Tilt, the Glofiish V900, the Glofiish X610 and the iPhone 3G. The V900 is about the same size as a BB Curve.

As you can see from the picture, above, the V900 and the X610 are similar in size, but smaller than both the Tilt and iPhone 3G.

The front of the V900…Icky finger prints!

The V900 is nice sized; but finished with a glossy, finger print-magnet black finish.  The flush screen is nice as well, but as you can see, the device doesn’t have any hardware based, application buttons.  The front has a light sensor, a front facing VGA camera, a call send button, call end button and a multi-directional joystick/action button.  The joystick is not a joy. It’s stiff, not very responsive and really, difficult to use. It and the lack of hardware buttons really make this device more difficult to use than it has to be.

The back of the V900…if you look, you can see my palm print

The back is made of a matte finished, black plastic.  While it doesn’t collect finger prints as easily as the front side, you can still see some smudges on it.  The back also has the device speaker, 3.0MP camera, flash, and self-portrait mirror.

Right side from top to bottom: The Glofiish V900, Glofiish X610, AT&T Tilt and iPhone 3G

The V900 has two buttons on the right side of the device: the power button at the top and the camera button at the bottom. The right  side also has a covering for the device’s microSD memory card slot.

Left side from top to bottom: The Glofiish V900, Glofiish X610, AT&T Tilt and iPhone 3G

The left side of the V900 has the volume rocker and the record button.

Bottom from top to bottom: The Glofiish V900, Glofiish X610, AT&T Tilt and iPhone 3G

From left to right, the bottom of the V900 has a telescoping antenna for the digital TV and FM radio, the 2.5mm headphone jack, mini USB jack and stylus.

Top from top to bottom: The Glofiish V900, Glofiish X610, AT&T Tilt and iPhone 3G

The top of the V900 has a lanyard hole, but that’s about it.

Over all, the Glofiish V900 is a decent device. I am not quite certain what I am going to do with the device, as right now, it really doesn’t fit my needs. The device doesn’t have a keyboard for my e-mail centric job as a Software QA Director, and doesn’t hold any dazzle for me without the digital TV working.  The GPS receiver, as always is spot on, and the device works well with AT&T Navigator, though the VGA resolution does make it a challenge with the version that I tested with.

The device is likely a slam dunk in countries where the digital TV works, however, here in the US, its not high on my “must have device list,” due to its lack of a keyboard. However, the form factor is awesome, and as a phone, its going to be hard to beat.

I wasn’t all that taken with Spb Mobile Shell.  Its not my favorite interface; and the device uses it extensively and is designed around it. If I found the device compelling enough and could find an alternate interface for it, I would. However, I’ve got bigger fish to fry and better devices that fit my needs at my disposal. Though as always, your mileage may vary…

Cost: The Glofiish V900 retails for $799.99 and can be found here for much less than that.
What I liked: The form factor, the radio, and the GPS receiver, are solid. E-TEN/ASUS finally got the cell radio part right, and that’s HUGE!
What needs improvement: Hardware buttons, the joystick/D-pad, Digital TV compatibility, Spb Mobile Shell…not so much on it; but that’s a personal choice.

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