Acer n311 review

Arguably the best PDA to have passed through the PC Pro labs, with some unique features to lift it above the crowd. Only a high price and niggly problems stop it from winning an award

Tim Danton
17 Mar 2006
5
Price when reviewed 
246
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There are times when photos, words and a grand list of specifications won't do a product justice. What we'd really like to do is simply place the object in your hands and say, 'There, hold it. Feel the quality.' And that's just what we think about the Acer n311.

Because Acer has definitely cracked the PDA form factor with this compact little device. Measuring a mere 14mm thick and weighing 135g, it's one of the thinnest and lightest PDAs we've seen, yet it still feels pleasantly solid in the hand. Quality again describes the screen. To start with, it's large, dominating the surface area of the PDA, and with a 480 x 640 resolution and a bright backlight photos look superb.

The rest of the hardware design deserves praise too. There's a Hold button to stop the PDA being accidentally switched on, which you'll certainly appreciate if you decide to use the n311 as an audio player (its battery lasted for more than 11 hours of uninterrupted playback), while the four shortcut buttons and joystick make navigating around Windows easy. One slight surprise is the omission of infrared, but both 802.11b Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are integrated.

Even the desktop cradle deserves praise. It's designed to be used either in the conventional portrait position, or with the n311 in landscape mode on the side. And that's especially useful, as the rear includes a USB host port - plug in a keyboard and you'll be able to type directly into the unit. Quite a feature. There's also a very handy slot for charging up a spare battery.

Unfortunately, you might find you need a spare: the n311 managed just three hours of use when connected to a Wi-Fi access point, five-and-a-half hours with no Wi-Fi, and all with the backlight set to medium-low. In comparison, the HP iPAQ rx1950 lasted five and eight hours in the same tests.

This is one side effect of using a 400MHz processor, and the payback is speedy performance in general use. The only time we noticed any lag was when playing back video; a shame, as Pocket TV Pro is the only notable software that's included.

The other faults are more trivial, but annoying nonetheless. First, the pouch you get - presumably to protect the n311 when on the move - is useful only for protecting against scratches. It won't protect the screen from any sort of hit, so head over to www.proporta.com right away for a dedicated screen protector. Second, there's no decent software included to take advantage of that super screen; HP has the right idea by bundling Pocket Informant with the hx4700.

As the n311 uses Windows Mobile 5, though, you do receive the latest versions of Excel, Word and PowerPoint Mobile, plus Outlook 2002 for your PC. It also benefits from flash memory - so even if you leave this PDA in a drawer for three years, all your data and settings will still be there.

Although around £80 more than the HP rx1950, there are plenty of good reasons to choose the Acer n311: it holds the advantage of integrated Bluetooth, a docking cradle packed with extra features, and it also wins for looks. It's those niggly faults - the jumpy video playback, lack of screen protection and disappointing battery life - that prevent it from gaining an outright recommendation, as well as missing out on an award.

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