February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Acer Aspire One Netbook

Operating system: Linpus Linux Lite, a customized version of Linux Fedora. Processor: 1.6 GHz Intel Atom. A model with 512 MB RAM, 8 GB solid state flash drive (expandable), Linux OS, and 3-cell lithium ion battery costs about $325. www.acer.com/aspireone.

It’s come to my attention that avid followers of my Test Drive column as well as pathologically obsessive numerologists—three people, in all (Hi, Mom!)—have detected an industry-driven trend in my superb reportage. On the even-numbered months of the last half of 2008, I’ve consistently reviewed little laptops, called netbooks, subnotebooks, or UMPCs. I proudly continue this nascent tradition by looking at yet another cool little lappie geared at quickly handling routine Web-based tasks: the Acer Aspire One.

I’ve now used four of these digital diminutives, each representing varied success with balancing the competing interests of power versus portability. In terms of operating system, functionality, and feel, the Aspire resembles the ASUS Eee PC I reviewed in April, while closely mimicking the more expensive Mini-Note 2133 in footprint and style. With these comparisons in mind, let me cut to the chase on this compact laptop.

Things I really like about the Aspire:

Quick start-up: Yeah, I know, I really gushed about the beefier Windows Vista-based Mini-Note. Still, after using the leaner Aspire with its customized Linux operating system, I was reminded that waiting a couple minutes for boot up really doesn’t fit the UMPC ideal, which is all about providing fast Web access. Fifteen seconds? Now that’s more like it.

Seamless, card-based memory expansion: The Aspire features two SD/MMC memory card slots. Use the right one as a card reader. The left slot lets you add up to 8 GB more memory and will split that storage integrated with onboard memory if necessary. Sweet!

Mini-Note-like display and keyboard: While neither feature quite meets up to the Mini-Note’s standards, the Aspire’s 8.9 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel glossy display—though slightly less fine—is clone-close to the Mini-Note and a big improvement on the Eee PC. The keyboard is slightly inferior to the Mini-Note’s, but cramp-free and certainly comparable given the price.

Things I didn’t like about the Aspire: Speaker sound quality: It’s pretty sucky. While both the Eee and the Mini Note have stereo speakers that flank their screens and sound remarkably big, the Aspire delivers sound from the bottom front, adding a hollow quality to its acoustic tinniness. Luckily, for education, that might not mean much.

The unusual touchpad thing: Frankly, I didn’t really notice this perceived defect on the Aspire, having already encountered it on the Mini-Note. Still, I know it bugs laptop users accustomed to having the left/right mouse click buttons located atop the touchpad. The Aspire employs an unorthodox placement of these buttons—on the side of the touchpad—to gain keyboard space. Initially awkward? Yeah. Insurmountable? No.

Things I’m not so sure about:

The Linux-based operating system: Lean, customized Linux versions make low-cost UMPCs viable. Not only do they drastically reduce system requirements and boot time, they also allow tailoring that lets you put the most frequently used apps front and center. While the Aspire has an OS and desktop very similar to the ASUS I reviewed, it made it difficult to add or delete elective software. The Eee PC let me survey, download, and add most programs in the Linux universe through its add/remove programs feature, but the Aspire limited me to performing “Live Updates” via the control panel. Simpler, yes, but there were no options to install elective software like Skype, which I wanted to test out on the built-in webcam during a chat. Such limitations are bound to turn off more sophisticated users who crave a little flexibility along with the streamlined functionality of a netbook.

Ultimately, there is certainly no perfect UMPC. The Acer Aspire One, however, remains in the running for “most nearly perfect,” a title that will go to the machine that best maximizes utility while minimizing cost, size, power consumption, and weight. Avid readers and numerologists, stay tuned. This one’s not over.

Jeff Hastings is a library media specialist at Highlander Way Middle School in Howell, MI. Email him at hastingj@howellschools.com.


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