I decided that I really didn’t want to haul around my Lenovo Thinkpad for 3 weeks in China. I’m already carrying more camera gear than I truthfully should and another 6.5 pounds just wasn’t going to cut it. I ended up deciding to get myself a Netbook. I’ve been following the Netbook market quite a bit this year. I would have probably gone with the MSI Wind if I had more time and could get it locally, but needed something now. I haven’t been terribly impressed with the Asus eePC line, which pretty much left the Acer Aspire One as my only local purchase option. I managed to grab the last one in stock at Office Depot for $330+tax after instant rebate. They actually didn’t have the unit on the shelf or on display with their other notebooks, just a small “take this slip to the front to purchase this item” next to a model number in the notebook section. I had to run off a salesperson who was doing his utmost best to not sell me Netbook, by telling me all the ways in which the Acer Aspire One was deficient compared to a full fledged notebook.
From what I gather, brick and mortar retailers aren’t exactly loving the Netbook trend. The profit margin on these devices is razor slim in an already highly commoditized PC market that hasn’t seen high margins for years. At the same time, Netbooks are likely undercutting the conventional Notebook market. As of this moment, Netbooks take up 5 of the top 10 sales spots on Amazon in the overall “Computers and PC Hardware” category and 6 out of 10 in the narrower Laptop category.
Here is what came in the box for $330+tax:
-Saphire Blue Acer Aspire One with 9″ display with 1024×600 resolution, 1.6 Ghz Atom 270 processor, 1 GB ram, 120 GB HDD, Windows XP Home, 3 cell battery, power adapter, slip case.
Sure, its not going to break any speed records, but it is honestly as fast as many full fledged notebooks people were buying 3-4 years ago. For typical day to day computer use, it will do the job and it will do it without costing several thousand dollars for a full fledged notebook in a similar weight range. In the US at least, I see the Netbooks competing not so much with the 15-17″ work-a-day notebooks, but with the ultra portables like the Lenovo x300s and Macbook Air. Sure, it can’t compete with those devices performance wise, but if a device which is $1700+ cheaper does the job adequately, I will certainly keep $1700 in my pocket. So, how does the Acer Aspire One stand up?
-Light weight and small size. I hardly notice it in my bag and honestly had to double check that it was there one time.
-3 USB ports. One on right and two on left.
-Well laid out keyboard. A little too cramped for rapid touch typing, but no odd key placement or missing keys, such as the missing right shift key, split left shift key and arrow key complaints endemic to other Netbooks.
-Tiny power adapter that doesn’t add a lot of extra bag burden to take along for the ride.
-Dual card readers. One of the card readers is presumably used for additional storage space on the solid state drive versions of the Aspire One and only supports SD. The other reader slot supports the usually laundry list of standards plus idiotic formats from Sony.
-VGA port which is actually useful for plugging into projectors. Increasingly overpriced ultra portable machines are coming equiped with oddball mini-display port, mini-dvi port or even more proprietary connection which almost universally require an expensive dongle to hook to anything useful.
-Well supported in the latest version of Ubuntu, Intrepid Ibex. Everything works out of the box, except the Wifi adapter, which is easily fixed.
-Glossy plastic bezels and surrounds on casing are attractive for about 3 seconds until covered in greasy finger smudges after which it is just disgusting. I feel dirty touching the machine and find myself obsessive-compulsively reaching for the microfiber cloth and screen cleaner far often than I should.
-Touchpad has buttons on left and right side instead of above or below and is still undersized. I would have definitely taken the trade-off of a slightly larger unit for a bigger touchpad with properly placed buttons.
-Screen is only 9″ and 1024*600 resolution is at the lower end of usability these days. Some program dialogs are actually too tall to fit on the screen. Screen is of a lower quality type that exhibits serious fade when viewed from off center.
-The built in speakers are decidedly underwhelming and sound tinny. I can’t recommend trying to use this Netbook for video playback without using headphones.
-The Aspire One is not as end user upgradeable as many other netbooks. Even to upgrade the ram requires almost complete unit disassembly. Maximum ram capacity is a mere 1.5 GB (512 MB onboard plus 1 GB user added DIMM).
-My unit came with only a wimpy 3 cell battery which is good for ~2 hours. A 6 cell battery can be purchased with some versions, but is not widely available aftermarket. Several other Netbooks have 3rd party batteries available which provide 6-10 hours of battery life.
-Copy of XP included with the unit is loaded with crapware. I found it extremely amusing that a trial version of WinDVD was included on the unit, given that it doesn’t come with an optical drive! It took me about 5 minutes to decide to reformat the unit. It doesn’t come with restoration media, although the drivers for everything are readily available on Acer’s website.
-No built in Bluetooth or WWAN slot.
Overall, I quite like the unit and for a mere $330 I can overlook a LOT.