Acer has announced details of a new PDA in the form of the N50. However, the N30 (£169 inc. VAT) is the only consumer handheld currently available. For those looking for a little more, there is the Acer N35 (£245 inc. VAT) that comes with integrated GPS. The company has dabbled in the Pocket PC and the Palm platforms in the past, but the N30 is a Pocket PC-based handheld running the 2003 version.
The N30 uses plain styling that is unfussy and neat. However, the addition of black edging to the shell adds a degree of individuality. Where the central multidirectional control pad or joystick would normally be there is a small speaker, supplying louder sound than you normally get on a PDA. This can be used in conjunction with the voice recorder to play back voice notes. The four shortcut keys on the front are sunk into the casing, which can be a little awkward to use, but we soon managed to get to grips with the device.
To keep the cost of the unit as low as possible, Acer has opted to use a Samsung S3C2410 processor running at 266MHz. While this lags behind some of the more powerful chips from Intel, we found that in use it offered good all-round performance.
Memory allocation is very much in keeping with the price group, with 55MB of the 64MB RAM available for storage. An SD/MMC slot with SD(IO) capabilities is in place for adding extra memory or peripherals. The inclusion of Bluetooth will appeal to those looking to hook the handheld up with their mobile phone.
The 3.5-inch screen is bright, with a 240 x 320-pixel resolution. It may not be the largest screen available, but we found it usable. However, as the N30 runs Windows Mobile 2003 as opposed to the second edition, it lacks support for a rotating screen.
The N30 offers a good compromise between affordability and functionality. With a host of accessories available, such as cases and extra memory, Acer offers a full PDA package. Most home users will probably be drawn more towards the Palm devices, but for business users and those keen to own a Pocket PC-based device, the Acer is a good choice. Michael Browne