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Who knows how these things happen, but one day while minding my own business I happened to stumble upon the Acer N311 on Ebay at would seemed like a remarkably good price £120. I had no need for this PDA (personal digital assistant) but was driven by a force stronger than man to make the purchase. As it turned out my purchase was not such a waste of money as I first assumed.
The Acer N311 in size is about 3 inches high, by 2 inches wide; it’s just over half an inch deep. It has a nice sized screen so you can see all the data you need to see without straining your eyes.
Having switched the pocket PC on you are greeted with a screen saying Microsoft Windows Mobile Premium Edition. This then takes you through a variety of pages as part of the registration of the product. Luckily this part is fairly straightforward if you have not had much experience of PDA’s and the language of graffiti. Everything is self explanatory, and because both this and my PC have Bluetooth the PDA quickly transmitted my information to Microsoft.
For easy navigation there is a central joystick, and four hot key fuctions that achieve individual fuctions or on occasion work like the buttons on your PC’s mouse.
Having got beyond registration I was amazed at how nice everything looked on screen and how much the PDA with a bit of fiddling could have a similar look about it as a desktop PC. Last time I had a PDA the screen was green and black and the functions were fairly basic. This one wanted to sing and dance for me.
The processes are simple you can access the internet via Bluetooth connections with either your PC or your mobile, if you did not have Bluetooth on your mobile then you can obtain a variety of leads from stores like Carphone Warehouse to connect your PDA to your mobile, in fairness this makes the process a little arduous and perplexing as the wire set up gets tangled up etc. I initially bought a lead set up because I had concerns about transmission of information via Bluetooth. However a month down the line and I was ready to take that consequence, why I should worry so much however as there is a pretty solid looking security arrangement between your
mobile and the PDA inviting you to change the procedure with each connection. Once your happy and safe you can visit most conventional websites via the PDA and access and write e-mail. This is where I found things great, the ability to access e-mail was a massive help. Although you can collect e-mail via a mobile phone, the process can be annoying especially when it comes to sending back a reply.
The PDA comes with 128mb Flash and 64mg SDRAM; which is not a great amount however you can use memory cards up to a maximum of 2GB to expand your memory further you can get a reasonable 2GB memory card from Woolworth’s for about £69. The reason I mention this now, before discussing the PDA’s other features is all down to memory. In order to make full use of other features your simply going to need more, but once you have more memory this device comes into its own.
With enhanced memory you can watch full length movies in AVI or MPEG format, these you can either store on your PDA by putting your memory card in your PC (if you have that facility) or by connecting the PDA via lead to your PC (this lead comes included at no additional cost and also acts as a docking device and charger). I found I could get about 7 films easily on the PDA, and with the enhanced Lithiom Ion battery on a long train journey I managed to watch two decent sized movies. I should point out at this point that as well as playing the noise through the built in speaker, you can use the supplied earphones to connect up for stereo sound. The picture quality is as good as watching something on your PC, with the exception to the fact that from a certain standpoint the quality is better, the reason I say better is because more often than not your PC is doing other things while playing a movie, your PDA focuses on one operation only when looking at media, as aresult you don’t get the occasional break up you get when watching AVI files on a PC.
Not into watching? Then listen, with a 2GB memory card in you can store about 300 MP3 tracks. These rather nicely are played at a slightly louder volume than I had been used to with most MP3 players. The media player that’s built in on the PDA allows you to set up tracklists etc. Or if you wish just play all the tracks from a particular album or artist. While listening to the MP3 you can use other aspects of the PDA, like surf the internet, or use the onboard diary, e-mail, or word document maker. Or even if your feeling really risky, while you play games.
Yes you can play games on the PDA not massive graphically challenging games, but the more addictive traditional style; Tetris style stuff. These games I find are easy to obtain free of charge via numerous websites as they are shareware products. I found well over 2000 games on most of the popular websites everything from role playing games, to fishing. These install easily again via Bluetooth for the best results, and to get a good collection on your PDA you don’t even have to buy any additional memory.
There is also an area to store photos and create slide shows merging music and imagery. And obviously you can store your own home video’s again all can be transferred to your PDA via Bluetooth.
A nice feature that I as yet have yet to use is that it also works as a Dictaphone allowing you to record conversations and memo’s digitally on your phone.
With a £40 enhancement you can turn the PDA into a satellite navigation device; I have not used this function as I tend not to drive unless I really have too.
Now the complex bit, while you have a onscreen keyboard which you can touch type with a special stylus pen. The best way to get stuff onto the PDA is by a special form of language recognition tool which is called on palm products Graffiti; on the Acer it gives it no name but works the same as Graffiti. This works on a sort of points system, you write down the letters but make emphasised points at the top and bottom of each letter. After a while both you and the PDA get used to each other, but I cant deny it will stress you out to start with there are only so many times you can write Thinks, only to see the word Thanks appear without it driving you mad.
There are no limits to the amount of things you can install on your PDA, everything from databases, to medical dictionaries, to language translation devices, and pocket guides of the world’s greatest cities.
Some points to bear in mind prior to purchase you will ultimately need a larger memory card, it’s not worth investing in anything less than 1GB to get the best use out of your PDA. Secondly make sure if you want to use the PDA for e-mail that you get your POP3 and SMTP information from your ISP, some simply wont give you that information meaning that in order to use the PDA to its best advantage you might need to change your e-mail service provider. One final point is the handwriting recognition this will take many hours to get the hang of, and at times you may feel like your fighting a losing battle; the key is never to give up as suddenly it all falls into place and before you know it you’ll be writing your Ciao reviews on one as quickly as that.
All the programs that the are on the Mobile facility units i.e. internet explorer, word, outlook express, diary, and database can all be transferred to Office programs with great simplicity. So you can easily have universal control over your programs via both devices. You will also notice that Acer supply a few of there own organizational products, these I tend not to use; however if you don’t have Office on your PC I would recommend the use of them.
The Battery takes 3 hours to achieve a full charge, and you can get roughly 6 hours including movie use for that charge. If travelling on a Virgin Voyager or Pendolino train, the full charge never quite achieves so don’t think charging it for 3 hours will be enough to get 6 hours use out of it. I tend to plug it in as soon as I arrive on a Virgin train, that way I’m literally using nothing from the battery still giving me a full charge. Virgin’s supply of electric gives about half the charge time that conventional electric output does.
The Acer N311 generally retails from about £200 both on and offline. It might be worth checking out reputable Ebay traders as I did as I saved myself a packet even having gone out and bought separate leads and memory card it still came in at less than the RRP.
I really enjoy using this PDA and feel I’d be lost without it, it’s easy to use (with exception of Graffiti). And you’ll discover yourself doing things that you never dreamed about doing on your PC.