Acer n20w

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Built-in 802.11b (Wi-Fi) wireless connectivity
  • removable polymer ion battery.

Cons

  • Relatively bulky and heavy
  • built-in expansion slot is Memory Stick (CompactFlash and SD are available via an optional add-on)
  • clip-on stylus could be easily lost.

Acer has entered the handheld market with two products. There’s nothing unusual about that -- most handheld manufacturers now have a range of devices aimed at different sections of the market. Where Acer is unique is that its first two products use different operating systems. This one, the n20w, uses Microsoft’s Pocket PC 2002; the company’s other handheld, the s60, runs the rival Palm OS.

Features
At first glance, the n20w looks little different from the average Pocket PC device, but there are some innovations. Notably, the built-in expansion slot supports neither of the common media types (CompactFlash and SD): instead it accepts Sony's proprietary Memory Stick. The same expansion format is supported in Acer's Palm OS-based s60, but this is the first time Memory Stick has been used in a Pocket PC device, and it will be interesting to see how the market reacts. There are alternatives to Memory Stick, though -- albeit at extra cost. The port through which the n20w connects to the docking cradle is called the Acer Versatile Connector, and this also allows hardware to be bolted on to the basic device. One such option, an 'expansion sleeve', has already been announced. This offers both CompactFlash and PC Card slots in one unit, as well as a USB port for connecting hardware such as an external keyboard. The expansion sleeve will sell for £88 (inc. VAT). Many handheld buyers will have wireless connectivity on their list of requirements, and there are already several Pocket PCs with 802.11b and/or Bluetooth built in. The n20w adds to the roster with 802.11b support, hence the 'w' in the product name -- the plain n20 model lacks wireless networking. An applet called WLAN Utility, which is hidden away in the System tab of the Settings dialogue, needs to be configured, but doing so is not great problem. Once you've told the software to look for a wireless network and hook up, an icon sits in the status bar indicating whether the connection is active or inactive. The n20w's other specifications are pretty standard. The processor is Intel's XScale PXA250 running at 400MHz. There is 64MB of RAM for storing applications and data, plus 32MB of Flash ROM for the operating system. The 3.8in., 16-bit colour display has the usual 240-by-320-pixel resolution, and is sharp and bright.

Design
The n20w is fairly large and heavy, measuring 12.9cm by 7.9cm by 1.96cm and weighing 235g (the non-Wi-Fi n20 model is thinner at 1.29cm and lighter at 180g). The standard quartet of application shortcut buttons and a five-way directional movement pad are present beneath the screen. It's possible to charge the n20w without using the docking cradle, but the connector between power supply and the device is proprietary, so you can't carry a generic spare mains adapter. There is a scroll wheel on the left edge of the casing, and a button that activates the Voice Recorder. These are pretty standard, but are supplemented by two less common buttons. One of these activates the Start menu from any application, while the other is a slider marked Hold, which can be used to prevent any buttons accidentally being pressed when the n20w is being carried. Acer has not implemented the on/off button very well. It glows green during charging, which is fine, but the button itself feels a little flimsy. The stylus doesn't slot inside the casing in the normal way, but locks onto the outside on the right edge. It feels solid enough, but we can't help feeling that it's vulnerable to being accidentally pulled out and lost. Acer claims that the supplied 2,000mAh polymer ion battery will provide 16 hours of life with the screen lighting off and wireless networking inactive. Screen illumination and the 802.11b connection will obviously drain the battery faster. The good news on this front is that the battery is removable, so you can replace it with a fully charged spare whenever necessary. This concept, which is becoming more common, allows users to feel confident that they won't run out of power while on the road. However, a second battery is a lot more expensive than a couple of AA cells: in this case, Acer charges £57 (inc. VAT) for a spare polymer ion cell. Every Pocket PC comes with a standard bundle of Microsoft software, but hardware partners generally add a few applications of their own. Acer is no different, providing Acrobat Reader for Pocket PC along with an image viewer/editor called IA Album and Pocket TV for viewing MPEG-1 files. Acer also provides a pre-installed backup utility and a small applet called RecentDo that acts as a shortcut to recently-used applications, Web sites and files. Acer's n20w only breaks significant new ground in its use of a Memory Stick slot. Even so, it's a nice package, offering good specifications and user-friendly features. We'd like to see a thinner and lighter version next time round, though.

Specifications

Display
Technology TFT active matrix
Diagonal Size 3.8 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 9.7 cm
Output Type color
Native Resolution 240 x 320
Miscellaneous
Included Handheld Accessories stylus
General
Operating System Microsoft Windows Mobile for Pocket PC 2002
Processor
Clock Speed 400 MHz
Type XScale PXA250
Manufacturer Intel
Audio
Type speaker(s)
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11b
Networking
Wireless Connectivity IEEE 802.11b, IrDA
Input Device
Type touchscreen
Multimedia
Audio Microphone, speaker
Battery
Run Time (Up To) 15 sec
Technology lithium polymer
Recharge Time 6 hour(s)
Header
Brand Acer
Product Line Acer
Model n20w
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Expansion and Connectivity
Expansion Slots 1 x Memory Stick
Interfaces 1 x headphones
System
Platform Windows
Handheld Type handheld
Expansion / Connectivity
Free Qty 1
ROM
Installed Size 32 MB
RAM
Technology SDRAM
Installed Size 64 MB
Card Reader
Supported Flash Memory Cards Memory Stick
Audio Output
Type speaker
Audio Input
Type microphone
GPS System
Navigation none
Expansion Slots
Type Memory Stick
Total Qty 1
Interface Provided
Interface headphones
Qty 1
OS Provided
Type Microsoft Windows Mobile for Pocket PC 2002
PDA Software
Type Acer Recent Do, Calculatrice, PocketTV, Solitaire, Terminal Services Client, Utilitaire de Backup/Restauration, Voice Recorder, Windows Media Player 8.0, File Explorer, MSN Messenger, Microsoft ActiveSync 3.5, Microsoft Pocket Outlook, Microsoft Reader 2.0 pour Pocket PC, Pocket Excel, Pocket Internet Explorer, Pocket Word
Service & Support
Type 2 years warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Full Contract Period 2 years
Dimensions & Weight
Width 3.1 in
Depth 0.8 in
Height 5.1 in
Weight 8.29 oz

Top ZDNET Reviews