You can’t escape the buzz about “netbooks” these days. For the uninitiated, a netbook is the term being given to laptops that have a 10-inch screen size or less, a weight of under 3lbs and a price tag of around $400. A netbook is basically good for common PC tasks such as email, surfing the web and running Office applications. Gaming and multimedia are pretty much out of the question because a netbook uses a low power processor and has no dedicated graphics processing capabilities.
Many of the netbooks are being marketed as education tools that can be used by students in the classroom. The HP 2133 Mini Note PC in particular is a netbook designed for the education market. The HP Mini Note costs a bit more than other netbooks, with a starting price of around $650, but it is built a little better than competing $400 netbooks. However, if you’re paying for a netbook out of your own pocket and are a student then it’s highly like price is a big factor for you. If price is a big factor the cheaper $400 range netbooks from the likes of Asus, Acer, Lenovo and Dell are probably better options.
Aspire One with power cord
One of the more recent entries onto the netbook market is the 8.9″ screen Aspire One that was released this August. Acer recently dropped the price on the Aspire One to an incredible $349 for a configuration with Windows XP and $329 with Linux. The specifications on the Aspire One AOA150-1570 for the $349 price are as follows:
- Processor: Intel 1.6GHz Atom
- Memory: 1GB
- Operating System: Windows XP Home SP3
- Scree Size: 8.9-inches with a 1024 x 600 WSVGA resolution
- Storage Drive: 120GB 2.5″ 5400RPM hard drive
- Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
- Battery: 3-cell Li-Ion rechargeable battery with 2.5 hours of run time
- Weight: About 2.5lbs
- Ports: SD card reader (SDHC compatible), 4-in-1 media card reader, 1 VGA port, 3 USB ports, 1 Ethernet port, 1 Microphone port, 1 headphone jack
Acer Aspire One specs as show on the box
That’s quite a lot for $349. Having a 120GB hard drive opens up the possibilities for this laptop to be used as your main laptop, many other netbooks such as the Asus Eee PC have limited 4GB – 8GB flash storage on board.
The question many students will have is “can a netbook replace the need for a larger laptop for my school needs?” At least, that’s the question we want to focus on most in this review and central point that shall be harped on.
Aspire One screen size and viewing
The 8.9″ screen size is of course good and bad. The screen size is necessarily small to make this device more portable and easy to carry around. It’s good because as a student you already lug a bunch of textbooks and adding a bulky 15.4″ screen 7lb laptop on top of all that could just give you a back ache. The 8.9″ screen size is bad because you really can’t see much on the screen at one time, which cuts back on productivity and can be just plain annoying when you have to constantly scroll to read things or view images.
For a student you really have to consider the fact the smaller screen will make it more challenging to surf the web to do research online. It also makes it harder to check email. I use Outlook for email and my setup has three panels (left side navigation, inbox list and email preview item) and it’s almost impossible to use in this fashion since everything is so scrunched onto the screen. You really need to use just a two panel approach, such as Gmail uses. As a comparison, below is a screenshot of the same Google News web page, the top screenshot was taken on the 1024 x 600 (WSVGA) 8.9″ screen Acer Aspire One while the bottom image was on a 15″ LCD panel with 1024 x 768 (XGA) resolution.
Acer Aspire One screenshot of Google News
Same Google News page on a 15″ screen, notice you can see a lot more information on one screen
With the 15″ screen you can see more than twice as much news on the screen, limiting the need to scroll and possibly making it easier to catch important information you are interested in with just one glance. Think about this fact if you are doing a lot of research on the web — it could really slow you down to be using such a small screen.
Aside from the small screen size being a factor, the viewing is nice. It has a glossy finish so it is a bit reflective, but colors show up nicely and brightness is very good. The screen is not quite bright enough to be used for outdoor viewing unless it’s a gloomy day or night time. Too bad, it would be nice to use this on the campus green!
If you rip some media to the Aspire One or attach an external media drive via USB (remember it has no DVD drive built-in) then watching a movie can be enjoyable on the screen. The widescreen format of the Aspire One certainly helps out here.
Speaker audio quality
The speaker on the Aspire One is poor, as you would expect on such a small laptop. The speaker volume does not get very loud and the sound is tinny. It’s fine for system sounds and audio when you’re in a pinch, the headphone jack is there for a reason of course and thankfully the audio delivered via a good headset is excellent.
Using the keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard for the Aspire One is another point that students will be greatly interested in. During school you’ll be typing like a fiend. Just think of the list of tasks you’ll be using a keyboard for: taking notes like a madman in class, typing up long research papers, sending emails to friends, family and professors, collaborating online with classmates for projects and of course using FaceBook to communicate with friends and keep that profile up to date
Aspire One keyboard
You can expect to spend several hours typing on a keyboard some days. So does the Aspire One keyboard make doing this type of thing comfortable? Definitely not, especially if you have larger sized fingers. The Aspire One keyboard isn’t terrible as far as netbooks go, but the keys are definitely smaller than a standard sized keyboard you’ll be used to and the feel of the keyboard overall is somewhat flimsy. After a while you will get more used to the keyboard, but it’s impossible to type as fast as a regular keyboard and simply not as comfortable. I find myself making many more typos than is usual, and my fingers are fairly small.
The touchpad and mouse button design is a little strange, the mouse buttons are vertically aligned on either side of the keyboard. The touchpad works ok, though you’ll have scroll your finger a couple of times across the touchpad in order to move the cursor from one side of the screen to the other. The mouse buttons are pretty poor and hard to use. They are very stiff and hard to push down and also quite noisy.
Aspire One performance
The Aspire One surprised me in how snappy it is. When just using Firefox to browse the web the experience is much the same as a Core 2 Duo powered machine. Bootup is snappy, Windows XP feels quite fast with the 1GB of RAM. It really helps that Acer doesn’t install a bunch of bloatware either, it’s a very clean installation so startup times are really helped due to that. When using the Aspire One for any general PC task you’ll get performance that’s just fine. It’s if you try to do a lot of multi-tasking, gaming or things like playing HD video content that the Intel Atom processor will simply choke. For your average student just looking to get some work done, I see nothing stopping you with the performance of the Intel 1.6GHz Atom processor. A Core 2 Duo 2.40GHz processor laptop scored 2,602.74 on the PC Wizard benchmark while the Aspire One scored a paltry 401.73, but the performance didn’t feel five times slower like the score might indicate. So perception wise, performance of the Aspire One is quite good, though it won’t benchmark well at all using any of the modern benchmark applications.
Design, will I look good carrying the Aspire One?
Shallow as it may seem, we all care what people think about us and the things we choose to carry with us. When you’re carrying a laptop around with you everywhere you go and are seen with it everyday, it could be as important as that designer pair of jeans you bought in terms of saying how stylish you are. The Aspire One comes in a variety of colors, this model happens to be blue, which really looks nice. The orange accents on the hinge and overall clean look could certainly turn some heads and provides a nice clean look. The Aspire One logo on the hinge is also very cool. Because the Aspire One is so small, it also has that “neato” type of appeal to it, so you can rest assured the look and design of the Aspire One will add points to your style meter and no risk of being accused of lack of taste.
The only thing you’ll have to make sure of is that you clean the screen area and lid which tend to pickup a lot of fingerprints due to the glossy finish. You could be accused of having greasy and oily skin if you don’t stay on top of that!
Noisiness of the Aspire One
A problem that has been noticed in many other reviews on the web about the Aspire One is the fact that it is indeed quite noisy, even when it’s not being used to do work. This problem does indeed exist, for such a small little laptop the fans are quite loud, especially when it is used to do intensive work such as playing movies or music. Even rendering a web page with Flash in it causes the processor to do a bit more work than usual and thereby causes the fans to rev up and get louder. If you’re using this in a classroom setting where there isn’t much ambient noise around then other students around you will definitely hear and notice it. If you’re in a lecture hall with a low din and noisy air conditioner then it will not be noticeable and you’ll be fine.
Basically what you need to know is that If you’re the only person in a small classroom with a laptop and it happens to be loud it can be embarrassing for you and annoying for others, so keep that in mind. If a bunch of people in a classroom have their laptops then it won’t be a big deal.
Portability of Aspire One
One of the great advantages of the Aspire One is of course how easy to carry it is. Weighing only 2.33lbs without the power cord means this thing is lighter than a textbook. With the power cord and brick, which are very light, the total comes to only 2.37lbs of weight to carry around.
The size footprint wise is also smaller than your average textbook. The thickness is about 1.2 inches, so again that’s smaller than many textbooks. Overall the Aspire One is a joy to carry around, you won’t even feel the extra weight in your backpack.
Aspire One next to a textbook
If you put the Aspire One in your backpack with books it’s a very good idea to protect it. Acer provides you with a nice faux leather slip cover. It’s a nice touch, but it doesn’t offer any cushioning for protecting the Aspire One so you might want to think about getting a padded sleeve.
Aspire One included free sleeve
Aspire One port selection and wireless
For such a small laptop the Aspire One offers a good number of ports. Three USB 2.0 ports is really good for such a small machine. Then you still have an Ethernet port, monitor-out port, 4-in-1 card reader port (which can read SD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro and xD cards), a dedicated SD slot (SDHC compatible for higher capacity SD cards), headphone jack and microphone in.
From a wireless perspective the built-in 802.11 b/g is great and has worked well in my usage, connects fast and holds a good connection. There is no Bluetooth, which is quite a bummer, many people with Bluetooth enabled phones would like to pair it with a netbook so they can surf the web from anywhere (assuming your phone has a data plan to do that). It would also have been nice to be able use a wireless Bluetooth mouse with the Aspire One.
Front view of Aspire One
Left view of Aspire One (power jack, monitor out, USB port, SD-card reader)
Right view of Aspire One (headphone jack, microphone port, 2 USB ports, 4-in-1 media slot)
Battery life for Aspire One
If you’re in a lecture hall and taking notes then battery life is very important, your laptop needs to make it through that lecture so you can take notes. You can’t rely on being able to sit next to a wall and have an outlet available, unless maybe you’re in a fancy business school where every desk has a power outlet. The average lecture is either going to be an hour or two hours. Luckily the average battery life on the Aspire One came to around 2 hours and 20 minutes for me, so it should get you through the lecture, just make sure to keep the screen at around 80% brightness. The battery is only a 3-cell, supposedly Acer will offer a larger 6-cell battery at some point. This would be a nice upgrade, but of course add extra weight. It’s worth buying an extra 3-cell battery to carry with you if battery life is important, but spare batteries are hard to find right now.
The $349 price for this netbook is excellent. It’s certainly the best value for any netbook on the market today considering everything you get. There’s simply no debating that issue.
Although I have sounded negative in a few areas of this review, I really do like the Aspire One. Can I recommend it as a main laptop for a student? No, I cannot. You really do need something that’s larger, more powerful and more durable to serve you through college. If you’re on a tight budget, i can understand the appeal of a $349 laptop, but why not spend $50 – $100 more and get a 15.4″ screen Compaq C50Q or Celeron powered Acer laptop? The larger screen and fuller sized keyboard is a really big deal for usability.
If you already have a powerful computer, be it a desktop or larger sized laptop, and just want a small and portable netbook to take to class for note taking or a computing device to use around campus for a few minutes a day, the Aspire One is a great solution for that. I view netbooks as companion devices and not replacements for more fully featured laptops or a desktop PC. The Aspire One fills this role of a companion device for on the go well. The value you get for $349 is really amazing, the design is very appealing, the port selection excellent.
- Very nice design
- Excellent amount of storage space (120GB) for such a small laptop
- Intel Atom processor offers enough performance for common work tasks
- Superb price of $349 with Windows XP OS
- Great port selection, very nice to have 3 USB ports and two media card readers
- Hard to use small keyboard and cramped screen viewing which are innate to any netbook
- No Bluetooth
- Mouse buttons are tough to use
- Noisy fans and runs warm
- Under 2.5 hours of battery life, would be nice to have 3 hours
Design: 8/10 (good color options, very appealing looks, glossy finish is attractive)
Value: 9/10 (can’t beat the $349 price tag with Windows XP, 120GB hard drive, 1GB memory and Intel Atom processor)
Features: 6/10 (good selection of ports, but missing Bluetooth and no ExpressCard slot for accessories)
Performance: 5/10 (netbooks are not meant for performance, so this mid-range score just goes with the territory)
Overall: 7.5/10 (Good)