Acer neoTouch P300
Review courtesy of Vince @ Tracyandmatt
Before even turning on the phone, Acer has managed to give a good impression. The box design is very impressive with its top compartment swivelling out from a magnet to reveal the manuals and accessories. The attention to detail that the packaging has received is quite a pleasing thing to see, maybe even be on par with HTC. Other than the phone, the box contains a slim and lightweight battery, micro USB cable, headphones, charger, and manuals, all cleverly hidden below the swivel top section of the box.
The phone itself is not as unorthodox, with its clean, simple, businesslike lines. The design by no means stands out but it looks smart and understated, and it would probably go well with your suit and briefcase. It feels pretty solid in the hand too, weighing in at 130g. It's not particularly thin either, thanks to its slide out qwerty keyboard, but at a touch over 15mm thick, it's a comfortable phone to hold. The entire casing is plastic which feels pretty solid with no noticeable creaking anywhere. The front is a fingerprint attracting glossy plastic but at least the back cover is matte, which should cut down the time you spend constantly keeping it clean.
The unit I received included a second battery and a nice Acer branded carbon fibre-effect slip case, but the manual unfortunately doesn't list these in the box contents, so they might not be included with retail units.
The display on the main face is more of a mixed bag however. It's a 3.2" resistive LCD with a 240x400 resolution, identical to its non qwerty brother, the neoTouch F400. On the upside, it's bright and sensitive (for a resistive) display, roughly matching the iPhone but on the downside, it's very glossy. Not only does this attract fingerprints, but it's extremely difficult to read in direct sunlight. Even when I cranked it up to full brightness, all I could see was my own face like a mirror! This seems to be quite common on phones nowadays probably because it looks good, but I would swap looks for usability in an instant. Another welcome alteration would be a larger, higher res screen (although this would increase the price). It's 240x400 display isn't bad, but I do miss the beautifully crisp 480x800 display on the HTC Touch Diamond2.
The three buttons below the screen are just how you would expect them to be - they work perfectly fine, but feel cheap and plasticky. Also, because they're shaped as long thin bars, you only get a tactile response when you hit them dead centre. If you press the left or right ends of the buttons, it's either the phone that doesn't know you pressed it, or it's you that doesn't know you pressed it. Either way it's not ideal, but I didn't find myself using them enough for them to become a real annoyance. On the right hand side there is an unusual sliding volume control - slide it up to increase volume, slide it down to decrease. To put the phone in silent mode, you move the springy slider down until it locks into place. I am quite fond of this design and it would be nice to see it on other devices.
The 4 row side-sliding qwerty keyboard does quite well in making the most of the space available in the F300's compact frame. The slide feels quite solid, but it doesn't have that 'click' when fully open to lock it in place and this makes the mechanism feel a bit wobbly. It is quite heavily sprung though, which makes the slide feel a bit better. Despite what it looks like, the buttons themselves are not really separate buttons. It has a plastic layer over the front with raised, rubbery rectangles for keys. In my mind, these are not a good design of keys, as they lack travel and it means you have to press slightly harder than usual. This may not seem like a deal breaker, but I typed a draft of this review on it, and my thumbs were aching after about ten minutes, so for hardcore emailing, this keyboard is perhaps not the best choice. There is a (very!) thin silver lining to this design though - because the buttons aren't actually separate buttons, there is no way dust and debris can collect underneath, and it could probably survive light spills.
The layout of the keyboard is overall pretty good though. The letters are printed large and are very clear, and there is a number or symbol on each key, allowing quick input with a quick tap of the Fn key. There is an outlook/sms shortcut button too which is very handy as well as the d-pad. Another thing which is sometimes taken for granted is the shift and Fn indicator LED's. These light up when they are active and so they tell you with an instant glance whether you are going to type what you want. However, there is one glaring design issue which bugs me - the placement of the spacebar. It's shifted off to the left hand side, which I still cannot understand why. Nokia, with their N97 and N97 mini, have also done this, except moved it in the opposite direction. In Nokia's case I can understand why, as they only had space for a 3 row keyboard due to the tilting slide mechanism. Therefore, they chose to move it to the right, probably because most people are right handed. Acer have fitted a 4 row keyboard though, so not only have Acer unnecessarily moved it, but they moved it to the left! They have absolutely no excuse - if the spacebar and the email/@ buttons just swapped places, it would have been back to normal. I presume in the long run people can get used to this, but my question is why should you have to? Small yet significant design choices like this could swing the bar away from the F300 when people chose their next smartphone.
On the back, there's just the lone camera lens, recessed from the back cover. This covers the entire back, and slides off easily, but it's not so loose that it starts coming off on its own accord. Underneath, there's the SIM card slot and the battery. The battery is only a measly 970mAh unit, so don't expect this phone to last any longer than other smartphones. In fact, it underperforms compared to similar phones. It's rated at 4 hours talktime and 400 standby, but I found it hard to get anywhere near that. Under medium usage, I just got through a normal day. I did a bit of browsing on wifi, light music, and messaging, no more than about 15 minutes of each, and I was down to 11% by 7.30pm, though I did get through two days back-to-back with very light usage.
The camera is pretty basic at 3.2MP. Luckily, it has autofocus, but lacks a flash or self-portrait mirror. The picture quality was reasonable in daylight, although to get a decent non-blurry photo, I had to keep my hands very steady even though it was a bright sunny day. You can pretty much forget low light pictures though - they're very dark and grainy but then this is to be expected from a camera with no flash. For video, it wasn't too bad but fast movements of both the camera or subject caused a fair amount of blockiness - fine for the occasional snaps, but it's definitely not a replacement for your point-and-shoot.
The Windows Mobile 6.5.3 on the P300 has (thankfully) been left pretty stock by Acer, apart from a few of its own additional programs such as a better looking Contacts app and a simplified Settings app. Acer have also very slightly improved the onscreen keyboard, but you'd hardly find yourself using it when you have a hardware keyboard. The OS runs pretty well considering it has an older generation of hardware, but thanks to the responsiveness and sensitivity of the touchscreen, taps and swipes are registered first time.
Although Acer seems to have produced a slightly disappointing phone in many ways, it was never destined to be a high-flying, cutting-edge, do-it-all device. It is a budget smartphone and it certainly feels like one, but for the price, you'd be hard pressed to find a better alternative. If you have the cash, I would recommend something along the lines of the HTC Touch Pro2, as it's generally better in every way, but at the cost of added bulk. Nevertheless, Acer have cleverly created a handset to cater for the needs of people who are after an entry level Windows device, and for that, they deserve a pat on the back. So if you're after a cheap compact Windows Mobile handset with a keyboard, then despite its shortfalls, the P300 should definitely be on your list.