Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tech: Acer Aspire One Review

Like most things, a netbook is a compromise. They're small and inexpensive, but you give up usability and performance. The Acer Aspire One doesn't really break out of this mold; it still has a cramp-inducing keyboard, a tiny 8.9" screen, and a processor that sometimes struggles with YouTube videos. Throw in the 2-1/2 pound, trade paperback-sized form factor and a $350 asking price, however, and you might have yourself a deal.


The term "fingerprint magnet" gets tossed about a lot these days, but the Aspire One deserves the appellation. The outside of mine is a beautiful glossy blue - or it was, rather. Because after using it for about a day, the grease from your hands makes interesting streaks all over the outside cover. Ditto for the inside, too: the screen, the screen bezel, and even the palmrests show smudges like no one's business.

Aside from that, though, this is a pretty solid-looking netbook. I liked the orange flourishes on the screen hinge (orange and blue - go Gators!), and I thought the overall contours of the Aspire One were attractive. The One certainly doesn't look like a toy, which certainly distinguishes it from the previous generation of ASUS Eee netbooks.


I'm getting used to the keyboard a bit more. Aside from the size, the keyboard has fairly run-of-the-mill tactile response to your keystrokes. It actually reminds me of an old Sager desktop replacement I had - a little mushy, a little uncertain. At least all the keys are in or near the standard positions, unlike some other netbooks.

The 8.9" screen is passable, with decent vertical viewing angles and mediocre horizontal angles. One thing you have to realize is that a netbook screen is the smallest thing you've ever tried to compose a document on - you'll get severe eyestrain in a short time if you aren't careful to take breaks every now and again. Also, you wouldn't want to write your term paper on this sucker without hooking up an external monitor.


These two categories are actually intimately linked when you're talking about netbooks. You see, when the Aspire One is plugged into a wall outlet, the Intel Atom processor inside can work at full throttle. I've heard that when it's working at full tilt, an Atom is like a old 1.2 GHz Pentium M. You can stream movies from the Web, and you can even play basic 3D games (the original Half-Life ran okay).

When off the wall, the Aspire One slows down noticeably. Sometimes, I literally can't open searches in Westlaw because the thing gets so pokey. About all it's good for then is web surfing, e-mail, mp3s, and basic office productivity apps. On top of that, the battery only lasts for 2 to 2-1/2 hours before giving up the ghost. Then again, if you're using the Aspire One continuously for more than that, you're probably going to need a new pair of prescription glasses.


So is the Aspire One for you? I suppose that depends on what your expectations are. I could actually see students using this thing as their only computer (hooking up an external keyboard/monitor when it comes time to work on that big project). When people asked me how much the Aspire One ran, they seemed amazed that you could buy such a small computer for $350. The One is smaller than most of my law school textbooks, for crying out loud. In any case, the market has spoken - the One has become a smash hit.


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