The Acer Iconia Smart S300 is touted as a phone with tablet capabilities. Its large screen size, along with its uncommon screen ratio, set it apart from its competitors. The features list is quite exhaustive for this high-end smartphone, but whether it’ll make its own space with its unique size remains to be seen.
The first thing to notice about this device is its design. The huge 4.8” screen has the usual four Android buttons on the bottom (Home, Search, Back and Menu). On the top next to the earpiece are the 2-megapixel front camera and the ambient light, with the proximity sensors quietly camouflaged.
The bottom four buttons are physical buttons, unlike the capacitive buttons HTC uses. It’s easily mistaken for a capacitive button however, and it takes a few seconds to realize that you have to actually press the button harder for it to work.The 4.8” screen has a unique 21:9 ratio making it the widest display we are yet to see on a phone.
On the right side of the phone are the volume rocker and a physical camera button. This is appreciated as many touch screen phones are being released without a physical shutter, making it a little difficult to get the perfect shot.
On the left hand side of the phone, there’s the charging-cum-USB port along with a mini HDMI out. A plastic covering covers these ports. While this plastic cover does protect the phone from dust and grime, it seems a little flimsy,while being opened to charge the phone. Repeated use might see it coming off.
The bottom of the phone has just the microphone and the top of the phone houses the power button (which also doubles as the screen lock button), a 3.5mm jack and an opening for phone signal. The 3.5mm jack is left without any protection, which is strange since the charger/USB is not.
Behind the camera there’s the powerful 8-megapixel camera along with a LED flash. There’s also the speaker grill, proudly boasting the Dolby Mobile logo.
The phone is on the heavier side with 185 grams, but feels sturdy in the hand. The phone looks good with its tapered edges and the texturing of the back adds to its look even though it doesn’t offer any added grip.
The battery is removable and the bottom side of the back opens up to reveal the SIM and the microSD slot. Post opening the bottom there’s another housing to open, which is not easy. Opening the SIM card enclosing automatically switches off the phone and as a result, microSD or the SIM is not hot swappable.
The Iconia comes with a single core 1ghz Qualcomm processor. It also has 512MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM. The 4.8” display has a high resolution of 1024x480, which is probably the widest display any phone has to offer at the moment. The LCD is bright and displays colours accurately. Sunlight display, however, is a concern, but no phone is free from that flaw.
It comes with Android 2.3.3 and has some amount of customization from Acer. The screen estate gives enough room for navigation and typing in the landscape mode is one of the best, thanks to its wide ratio. However, most apps are not built for such a display and many common apps leave the bottom of the screen black.
The user interface is stock Android with Acer’s minimal UI modifications. It offers five home screens where you can add folders, app shortcuts or widgets. Swiping between home screens is an cinch and there’s a bottom indicator telling you which screen you are on.
The call, contacts, messaging and the browser shortcuts are common on all the screens and there’s no way to replace them unlike the other widgets or application shortcuts on the home screens. While it makes sense for the phone, contacts and messaging shortcuts to be constant, people who might want to use Opera or Firefox as there default browser won’t be able to change the default the browser to one of their choice.Of course, one can always make a shortcut on one of the home screens.
The phone supports active wallpapers too, and setting up wallpapers or ring tones is easily done through the supplied Home Décor app.
Acer has developed Acer Music – customizing the stock Android music player. It has as a widget too and music can be easily played back on it. Even the wallpaper can be set to change to the current album art while any song is playing.
The idle screen is a beauty – doubling up as a lock screen with its own set of widgets. There are three idle screens with widgets for a clock, messages, missed call, weather etc. This is very helpful when one wants to take a glance at the received messages or missed calls. However, the lack of a widget for email notifications is a surprising omission.
Typing on this device is very comfortable. While the landscape mode has the wide display, typing on the portrait mode also proved to be easy – especially with the auto-correction option turned on. In the portrait mode, the keyboard can be customized to a half QWERTY – each key having two letters – for easier typing, but the need for that was never felt.
Battery life, like most Android phones, failed to impress. The average battery life was 12 hours with a few hours of calls and occasional 3G usage. The device also automatically switches off 3G to connect to known Wi-Fi signals – but whether that affects battery life was inconclusive.
Audio quality is very good with the Dolby Mobile speakers. However, volume is where it lacks. Even the highest volume gets drowned out in the presence of a lot of ambient noise.The bundled headset is not of great quality and music enthusiasts would surely want to use their own set of headphones.
Messaging is like any other Android phone offering threaded views. Continuing a conversation or composing a new message is very easy – all you need to do is tap the conversation or tap the compose button.
Emails can be accessed via the in-built Email app – or via the Gmail app if you only use Gmail. While the Gmail app offers threaded views, the stock email app is disappointing without the threaded views functionality.
As mentioned before, typing is a piece of cake. Selecting, copying, pasting text is also easy and same as other Android 2.3 devices, with markers coming in and helping you in selection.
This is where it finally boils down to when using a phone. With the 1GHz processor, it’s not in the league of the dual-core phones currently available in the market, but that didn’t deter the Iconia from giving a stable performance.
Some small issues were faced, though, like when switching between high performance games like Asphalt to the home screen, it took a few extra seconds than expected.
Similarly, a few times, unlocking the phone felt a little slow.
While the phone performed well with most apps and the touch response was good, strangely, the touch response in Fruit Ninja wasn’t up to the mark.
Video quality on the screen is excellent, with crisp blacks and accurate colours, which makes watching videos a dream. While the sound isn’t as loud as one would hope it to be, the audio quality is decent.
With the large screen – it’s a good entertainment device while consuming media or playing games.
The Iconia boasts of an 8-megapixel camera but the camera quality was below par. While the day pictures came out well, low lighting situations caused problems in the photos. The flash wasn’t powerful enough to compensate the lack of light.
The camera mode is however excellent. Due to the large screen estate, this phone has the luxury of putting all the settings buttons on the side, without cluttering up the viewfinder. The physical camera button is also a welcome relief from the other touch-based shutters.
Video quality, again, was unsatisfactory. While it shot in high resolution, the quality could have been better.
Connectivity and Internet
Starting from Bluetooth andWi-Fi to 3G (HSDPA), the phone offers connectivity of all kinds.3G/HSDPA speeds were fast enough to surf the web with. With the wide view in the landscape mode, webpages fit well. For zooming in and out, it’s the standard pinch and zoom feature.
The 3G automatically switches to Wi-Fi if the WiFi is on and it detects configured signals around. So when coming home or going to office, one doesn’t need to remember to switch off 3G to switch to WiFi and unless of course you’re on an unlimited 3G connection, this helps in reducing costs.
The phone can even transmit to media servers – a serving we couldn’t check for the lack of compatible equipment.
With the bundeld mini HDMI cable, the phone can be connected to HDMI supported displays. This mirrors the phone display, without switching off the phone display – something that eats additional battery and would have liked the option of shutting off the display while connecting to a HDMI display. But, most videos play off the phone and HD videos display on HD screens via the HDMI port beautifully.
The browser is the usual minimalistic Android browser with jus the address bar on top, which also disappears once the page is fully loaded.
Contacts and Sync
Syncing contacts is no problem, like other Android phones as it connects to the Google address book and syncs all the contacts. Even Facebook contacts can be synced with the address book.
However, we felt that social integration could have been better for the phone. While Facebook contacts are loaded, there is no option for loading Twitter contacts. Also, even from the phone book, though one can go to the Facebook profiles of connected contacts, it’s not very intuitive.
On the whole, the phone performs well. But whether the price tag of Rs. 27,000 is justified is a question one needs to answer.
While it’s featured as a phone with tablet capabilities, it feels like an oversized phone and is too small to be considered as a tablet. While the uncommon screen size might be the deal breaker for most, the lack of apps optimized for the screen size will put off most people.
The phone is perfect for web surfing, watching videos, messaging, emailing and regular phone usage, but with the competition offering faster phones in the similar price range, that might just not be enough.