It's funny that just a short time after reviewing the mammoth 18.4" Sony Vaio laptop we find ourselves working on the diminutive flipside of laptop computing, the Acer Aspire One. The ultra-portable and affordable notebook is amongst a growing number of pint sized laptops that are not meant as primary computers, but as portable web surfing and emailing devices that can handle light work tasks while also being powerful enough to run an occasional game of World of Warcraft. We've been using Acer's popular offering for the last week, introducing us to the world of netbooks and what they have to offer (and what you give up). More details about our impressions of the Acer Aspire One below...
The Acer Aspire One comes powered with a 1.60GHz Intel Atom Processor and equipped with 1GB of memory, a 120GB hard drive, pre-installed Windows XP, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card, built-in webcam and stereo speakers (admittedly, they sound like someone singing from a tiny tin cup)...a machine we wished we had back in college. Unlike our precious MacBook Pro, the Acer Aspire One is a machine you find yourself comfortable taking and using anywhere due to its puckishly solid construction, but there are definite trade-offs when switching over from a laptop to a netbook.
Our model came with a glossy deep blue finish, which is eye catching without being gaudy (although a bit of a fingerprint magnet). Handsomely shaped with a curved edge, the Aspire One is as comfortable to hold as a large paper back book and we've been pleased at how easy/fun it is to carry around. Inside, a matching glossy 1024x600 resolution 8.9" screen provides a bright and fairly impressive image; our only gripe is the non-standard dimensions which occasionally results in some scrolling for certain apps and web pages.
If we were to praise one feature of the Aspire One besides its portable can-do capabilities, we'd mention its extremely pleasant keyboard. With a satisfying tactile sensation per keystroke and a typing real estate that doesn't feel cramped, using the Acer Aspire One to bang out a few emails or leave a few comments online didn't feel as awkward as we imagined; in just an hour or so of using, our efficiency rating jumped from about 75% to 95% once we got used to the spacing of the smaller sized keyboard.
What we were not so hot with is the touchpad, which feels a bit like it has been covered in plastic wrap, due to a painted surface finish which isn't as smooth as it should be. Compared to our talcum-on-glass smooth touchpad that graces the MacBook Pro, the Aspire One's input device would occasionally drive us batty, driving us to use the arrow keys to navigate. We weren't loving the side mounted mouse buttons either, as their awkward placement were ideal, but this was easily replaced using tap-clicks on the trackpad and keyboard shortcuts. Finally, look to upgrade the battery to the six-cell add-on if you plan to use the Acer Aspire One beyond a couple of hours untethered. The small package sacrifices the duration of power use; we saw about 2.5 hours of usage with wi-fi before we had to plug it back into its AC adapter.
Here are a couple of shots showing the comparative size difference between the Acer Aspire One and my girlfriend's MacBook. Speaking of which, we've got plans of converting the Acer Aspire One over to Mac OS X, as we've discovered a very healthy hack/mod community dedicated to these netbook reporting a very usable OS X experience on the machine. Add that and a non-solder touch screen modification and we think we might have found the heart of a media control device for a January Jumpstart project revisted taht we had put on hold for a long while due to budget constraints. It is that exact affordable quality coupled with its durable 2.2lbs portability which makes the Acer Aspire One a fantastic deal for a student, traveler who wants basic online accessibility or mod-enthusiast looking to tweak and modify the Acer to their heart's content. We've become quite smitten using it in the short time we've had the Acer Aspire One and think it would make a great stocking stuffer (almost quite literally at its size).
The Acer Aspire One is available for $349 with free shipping from our review sponsor, Staples, who is also wanted us to share news about their holiday giveaway. Until December 24th, Staples is offering up to $5000 to 10,000 customers, covering the cost of their holiday purchases (basically what you've purchased will be reimbursed by the prize package). The "Gift It For Free" sweepstakes is open to both online and store shoppers, with all details available here. We needed to buy a new inkjet for our mom, so we're entering ourselves with the hopes of being chosen as one of the lucky 10,000 (because darn if we're bummed we can't enter our own giveaways).