Sunday, August 31, 2008

Highly-portable and affordable netbook


Highly-portable and affordable netbook

First impression of the Aspire One: Stylish


The Aspire One marks Acer's entry into the fast-growing netbook market, an era begun by the Asus Eee 701. Like other 8.9in. netbooks, the unit is compact and light, with a footprint about 68 per cent of an A4 page and weighing less than 1kg (with an 8GB SSD and three-cell battery). It comes in five colours; brown, black, white, pink and blue, all with their associated feng shui explanations on Acer's web site.

The test version, with Linpus Linux Lite installed, is in sapphire blue with a matt black bottom. The polished blue lid does attract fingerprints, but the well-built curvy device looks compact and doesn't in any way appear cheap, despite its plastic body. The unit's speakers are located on the bottom - you have to flip the unit over to see them. My first impression is that the Aspire One looks stylish, but let's examine it a little more closely.

The left side of the machine features a power socket, VGA output, a LAN port, USB port and an SD card reader. A Wi-Fi switch is located on the front, to the right. The right-hand side has a mic input, headphone socket, two USB 2.0 ports and another memory card reader (a Multi-in-1 card reader). Like the Eee PC, the Aspire One is quite generous with its connectivity options.

But why two memory card readers, you might ask?

The SD card reader on the left is intended to be a memory expansion slot. This is where you put an SD card semi-permanently to add to the memory capacity to the machine. The slot supports up to 8GB. The unit's own solid state drive is also 8GB, so total drive capacity could be doubled to 16GB, which should be plenty for a Linux netbook.

Time to open the lid. The hinge is firm, and there are no latches to secure the unit during transportation. Although there has been no latches on any netbook I've reviewed so far, I think that, more than any other form factor, a netbook should be equipped with latches - it's likely to be carried around more often, and should be capable of being securely fastened in transit.

The lid can be opened wide, resulting in a comfortable viewing angle even when you place it on your lap. The interior is bi-coloured; shiny black at the top and sapphire blue at the bottom. Like the exterior of the lid, the screen and its bezel are fingerprint magnets. A 0.3MP webcam is at the top centre of the frame, with a microphone next to it. The matt black keyboard, measuring 24 by nine centimetres is about 60 per cent the size of my Lenovo Thinkpad's. The touchpad is tiny, with buttons on the side, similar to those on the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC.

Now, let's turn it on. The first thing I noticed turning on the Aspire One is the fast boot-up speed. The machine is ready to be used in about 25 seconds. It can be turned off even faster (20 seconds). There really are no excuses not to use this device.

The 8.9in. TFT LCD with LED backlight is bright and vibrant. The trade-off is its reflective surface which is somewhat difficult to work with in a bright environment. Wearing my glasses, I have no problem reading the screen at a resolution of 1,024 by 600. Web surfing is also practical at this setting.

The keyboard is well made, and while it may feel cramped - a normal characteristic for a machine of this size - it doesn't flex. It offers good tactile feedback and adequate travel, making typing a joy, considering its size. As for the touchpad, I have no problems using it except I couldn't find a way to swap the buttons. Nor could I manage to set the mouse for left-handed use.

The Linux operating system pre-installed in the machine is, in principle, similar to the one on the Asus Eee PC. The four application groups, Connect, Work, Fun and Files, are all on-screen, each group showing three applications. You access the rest of each group by clicking the "More" button, an action that expands the selected group to full screen.

Like the Eee PC, the Aspire One is a freeware showroom. It contains all the necessary applications for your daily chores, the Firefox web browser, OpenOffice suite, games, webcam application and a file browser, among other things. Instead of providing Mozilla's Thunderbird for email, the Aspire One includes Acer's One Mail instead. This has the ability to see whether people in your address book are on-line and enables you to chat with them. Cool. With all the software installed and the OS, only about 3.2GB of SSD memory is left available.

With a 1.6GHz Intel Atom and 512MB of RAM, operations on this Linux machine are quite snappy - except for jerky HD video playback (WMV game trailers with resolutions of 1,280 by 720). YouTube's low-res video playback is fine, however. So, if you plan to watch videos on this machine, make sure they are within the supported resolution range (1,024 by 600 or lower.)

Overall ease of use is amazing. I like its instant Wi-Fi connection, which requires the input of my WEP's key only the first time, unlike the Eee 900 PC's Xandros Linux, which requires the key to be input every time.

Linux is still strange territory for most mainstream users, myself included. If your need in applications deviates from the standard, or if you want to customise the machine the way you do with a Windows notebook, then you need to know more about Linux. Or you may need the Windows version instead.

Because of the unit's Linux nature, I didn't run the PC Mark test, but I did perform a battery test, running MP3s continuously until the machine shut itself down, using the default power setting out of the box and Wi-Fi off. In such testing, the battery lasts about two and a half hours, which is average for a three-cell netbook battery.

Heat generated during this test is low. During the entire battery test with the machine on my lap, I can only feel slight warmth. Great heat dissipation doesn't come with any noticeable costs - the noise of the internal fan is barely audible even in the quiet environment. Besides moderate battery operations time, I wish the built-in speakers produced better sound, and Acer should have equipped the device with a better web cam. But such complaints are minor.

While many people would choose this model simply because of its cute looks, the Acer Aspire One is a good netbook which would serve you very well, especially as a second notebook.

There are two versions available, the Linpus Linux Lite with 512MB RAM and 8GB SSD, priced at 14,900 baht (ex. VAT), and the Windows XP Home with 1GB RAM and 120GB hard disk, priced at 19,900 baht (ex. VAT). The former weighs 0.995kg and is available in white and blue, while the latter is 1.26kg and available in white, blue, brown and black. A six-cell battery (with a six hour rating) is available as an option at 3,900 baht.



Dimension: 249 by 170 by 29mm

Weight: 995g

OS: Linpus Linux Lite/ Windows XP Home

CPU: Intel Atom 1.60GHz

RAM: 512MB, 533MHz Front Side Bus for Linpus Linux Lite/1GB for Windows XP Home (one additional slot available for memory upgrade)

Connection: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, 0.3 MP webcam, 10/100Mbps LAN, three USB 2.0 ports, no Bluetooth support

Display: 8.9in. WSVGA TFT LCD, 1,024 by 600 resolution with LED backlight

Storage: 8GB Flash memory for Linpus Linux Lite/120GB HD for Windows XP Home, one storage expansion and one multi card reader (both support up to 8GB of memory)

Audio: HD audio support, two built-in speakers

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