- Review Price: £287.00
Is the PDA dead? Well, its debatable Last year, a Gartner report claimed PDA shipments were up, while IDC said they were down. The discrepancy was due to how each defined devices. What’s clear though is that regular PDAs have been losing out to increasingly capable smartphones, with the draw being carrying one device instead of two.
However, there are still things that can best be done on a dedicated PDA and if you’re in the market for one there’s no doubt that the Acer n311 is one of the finest on the market. The most immediate feature of note is simply its size. The dimensions of 70 x 14 x 110mm (WxDxH) are impressively small, especially the depth figure, as it means that you can slip it into a jacket pocket without it spoiling the lines. It’s also reasonably light at 135g, compared to 175g for a Dell Axim X51. In fairness though the Dell is larger because it has both Compact Flash and SD card slots – the Acer only features the latter, though as SD cards are so capacious and affordable these days it’s only a loss if you already have CF cards.
The small size of the Acer also means that its appearance is really dominated by its 3.7in screen, which offers an impressive VGA (640 x 480) resolution. It’s capable of displaying up to 65,536 colours and photos looks great, but isn’t as vivid as something like as the screen on the PSP.
Design wise the Acer is on the money. It’s black and silver colouring is smart and the buttons and joystick have a good feel to them. In fact, the Acer feels particularly good to hold in the hand, a combination of the size, weight and materials. Turn it round and you’ll find a brushed metal finish with an Acer logo covering the removable battery. The power button is on the left – press once for on off and hold down to activate the backlight. Below this is hold switch, a great addition, which makes it ideal to put the PDA in your pocket or bag and use as a music player. At the top there’s an SD card slot next to a standard 3.5m headphone jack. There’s a yellow light on the right to show charging and one that lights up blue when wireless is activated.
The Acer is running Windows Mobile 5, which means that it makes better use of the native resolution than previous versions of the OS. There’s a rather poorly drawn icon that when pressed rotates the screen from portrait to landscape mode. However this proves to be rather sluggish. One of the advantages of Windows Mobile 5 is that it uses the same code for both Windows Smartphones and Windows powered Pocket PCs so applications can in theory be used on both . The soft keys at the bottom of each corner of the screen are in the same place as they would be on a Windows Smartphone. However, unlike on a phone there are no hard keys that tally up so you can’t use it one handed without a stylus, which is a shame.
Specs wise the Acer is just reasonable. The processor in the review unit is a Samsung Arm-900 S3C2440 running at 400MHz, which is more than enough for basic tasks. A 300MHz version of the PDA, the n300 is also available and costs less. However, the Acer isn’t as snappy as the superb Dell X50v reviewed here, which features a hefty 620MHz CPU. If you want to use Skype then you’ll need the 400MHz version, as Skype requires a minimum CPU speed of 312MHz.
The Acer also doesn’t feature the fancy 16MB of dedicated graphics memory that Dell’s Axim range does. This does have an impact on video playback performance. I installed the excellent, Core Media Player application (much better than the supplied Pocket TV app) enabling me to play DivX content natively, without having to transcode. Though my sample movie file played there were noticeable dropped frames. A Palm LifeDrive, which I had to hand also proved better playing video. However, with a low bit rate MPEG file, it had no problems, whatsoever. Though the Acer is capable of video playback then, it isn’t an ideal partner.
In terms of memory complement the Acer has 64MB of flash RAM, and 128MB of ROM. The flash RAM is a great inclusion as it means that you won’t lose your data when the power runs dry.
Connectivity is pretty good, with both Bluetooth 1.2 and 802.11b Wi-Fi. Once I’d entered the correct settings, getting online through the office Wireless access point was straightforward. I did try to get online via my 3G phone too and though pairing it via Bluetooth was easy I needed the correct dial-up settings to connect and I didn’t have them to hand. Conversely, with a Palm LifeDrive all the settings were built-in and were easy to set up via a wizard. Extra touches like this by Acer would have been welcome.
A cradle is supplied, which is very welcome and enables you to sync and charge the PDA. It has a space for charging a spare battery. In a clever move the cradle can be placed on its side so that you can keep it in there while viewing the PDA in landscape mode. There’s also a USB port at the back – plug a keyboard into this and you can just start typing in Pocket Word, which is really cool.
Battery life is given at around eight hours with light use and no backlight. This seems about right with unit lasting about this long with MP3 playing constantly and some light use. Enabling Wi-Fi or Bluetooth would inevitably cut into this though.
In terms of pricing the Acer is pretty much spot on. It’s more than the mid-range Acer X51, which offers 520MHz as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but the Acer has a VGA screen – you’d need to go to the top end Dell to get that.
The Acer then is a good choice as a connected, quality PDA that literally won’t burst your pocket. It’s certainly the best PDA we’ve seen from Acer. We would have liked to have seen a faster CPU and a better graphics chip in it but as long as you aren’t planning on watching a lot of video on it, it’s a good choice.
The n311 is an attractively small and light PDA, dominated by a large good quality VGA screen. It’s not the fastest PDA on the block though, and video playback can suffer but for the vast majority of tasks this is a good machine.
Score in detail
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