By December 9, 2008

Acer Aspire One Review

Acer Aspire One Review – Appliance computing

Another day, yet another small cheap portable computer. This time it’s the Acer Aspire One. After having been wowed by the MSI Wind of recent, I was keen to see how the Acer compared as it takes a different approach to the task of lightweight mobile computing.

Aspire_open

The Acer Aspire One

What’s in the box?

Not a lot. Bearing in mind that this was a review machine, the contents of the box are not likely to be representative of retail machines.

1. Acer Aspire One

2. Mains charger.

General

Controls and ports:

Left side: Power jack, VGA port, RJ11 ethernet socket, USB2.0 port, SD card slot (marked as storage expansion)

Aspire_left

Right side: Microphone socket, headphone jack, 2 x USB2.0 ports, multi-card reader, Kensington lock socket

Aspire_right


Acer Aspire One Specification:

  • CPU: Intel ® N270 Atom 1.6GHz
  • Operating System : Linpus Lite v.0.5
  • Chipset: Intel ® 945GSE
  • System Memory: 512MB
  • 8.9”LCD panel, 1024×600 pixels with LED backlight.
  • 8GB Intel SSD
  • Keyboard 80 key keyboard/Touch Pad
  • I/O Port USB X 3,Mic in, Earphone out, D-SUB, RJ45, SD/MMC/MS/MS
  • Audio Speaker x 2
  • Integrated Acer Crystal Eye Webcam, supporting 0.3megapixel resolution
  • Networking: Wireless LAN 802.11b/g, 10/100 LAN
  • Protection: Kensington lock
  • Battery: Li-ion 2200mAh
  • Dimensions: 260 x 180 x 19-31.5mm
  • Weight 1.15kg
  • 1year RTB warranty

Highlights:

  • Robust feel
  • Simplicity.
  • Linux stability.
  • Sturdy screen hinge

Lowlights:

  • Mouse glidepad and buttons
  • Screen
  • Dumbed-down operating system

Review

The review unit was the base A110L with 512MB of Ram and an 8GB solid state disk which retails for about £200 – £220 online.

In use the first thing to strike you is how quick this machine boots up. The operating system is a lightweight and optimised version of Linux that goes by the rather unfortunate name of Linpus. Together with a solid state disk they make any similar Windows-based netbook look positively tardy. From cold to rock ‘n’ roll takes 12 seconds. Portable computing is not quite instant, but it’s getting there.

The 512MB and 8GB solid-state disk might seem a bit lightweight these days, but it’s not that long ago when leading edge desktops had that amount of RAM, and 8GB is more than enough for a tight Linux installation. For this class of machine there’s sufficient applications installed for everyday tasks which left about 4GB of space for files. A machine like this is not going to be used for storing large numbers of files on, but mostly surfing, music and email so 4GB is enough, but for those of you who need more this can be augmented by popping a high capacity SD card into one of the two available slot.

Aspire_closed

The operating system can best be described as a dumbed-down version of Linux. On boot-up you’re presented with a desktop, which is divided into four panels: Connect, Work, Fun and Files. Within each panel software is installed so, for example, in Connect we find a web browser (Firefox), an instant messenger application, an e-mail client (Thunderbird), Skype and Google Maps. In Work we find a word processor, spreadsheet application, a contacts database and calendar application. Everything you might need for computing on the move is there and, my only criticism is that adding to the suite is not easily possible unless you know your stuff because the o/s is locked down tightly. For Linux fans like myself this is disappointing as one of the things I like about Linux is its versatility, its ability to be customised, new applications compiled, installed or removed. This cannot be easily done with the Acer. There’s not even access to the command line which, is the backbone of Linux. In many ways though this is not a bad thing as it removes the potential (of which there is plenty with Linux) for completely screwing things up badly!

With a speedy and silent SSD, applications loaded very quickly indeed and there was little noticeable lag. In comparison to other netbooks running Windows XP Home the little Acer was noticeably quicker and a joy to use. Setting up a wireless network connection was simplicity itself compared to Windows machines. Sadly, it was unreliable. Sometimes it would connect and sometimes it wouldn’t despite all settings being correct. I never got to the bottom of the problem.

Typing is like on any other netbook, it takes some getting used to. I did find the Acer more fiddly and cramped than other netbooks that I have tried recently and there was too much flexing in the keyboard for my liking. It felt flimsy which, was highlighted by the left-shift key falling off. Having said that, it was obvious that the review machine had been through a bit of a hard life.

Aspire_keyboard

Aspire One glidepad and keyboard

 

The mouse glidepad was perhaps the only bit of hardware I disliked. It was small, imprecise and had the mouse buttons unconventionally either side of it. In use I found that the mouse pointer would suddenly veer off screen which caused no end of confusion. The pointer was small which didn’t help and there were no means of changing the speed, size or acceleration of it.

The 2200mAh battery should be more than capable of delivering enough life for the type of use the machine would be put to. Having an SSD means battery life is likely to be better than hdd-equipped competitors. The battery in our review unit was, unfortunately, unable to hold a charge for more than a few minutes – again evidence of the life the review unit has lead. Reports elsewhere state that using the machine for a couple of hours at a time seems to have virtually no impact upon the charge level. I’d estimate 3-4 hours use would be possible with more aggressive power management.

The display is a typical netbook standard 8.9” 1024 x 600 pixel item. It’s nowhere near as good or sharp as the MSI Wind’s display, but then again this machine costs a fair bit less so you pay your money and take your choice. Illumination is even and bright, but it lacks punch and the standard themes included with the o/s are dull. In fact, all colours are fairly dull, but the screen is fine for documents, surfing and mailing and not so good for photos and videos.


Conclusion

I liked the Aspire One. It feels quite well put together, the software is solid, reliable and well matched to the hardware so the machine is surprisingly fast and responsive. I am a little disappointed in the operating system and software suite insofar as adding to it is not immediately possible, but perhaps that is no bad thing because the upside of this is simple, utilitarian appliance-like computing. At about £200-220 depending upon specification it is good value and arguably more so than my current fave the MSI Wind, but is this enough to overcome the lack of Windows familiarity for many people?

 

Review by: Nigel

[ Post Tags: UMPC, laptop, Windows Mobile, Acer, Aspire One, tracyandmatt.co.uk ]

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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