Acer was among the first companies to bring a dual-core Atom netbook to market for a price meant to trounce the competition. Though the Aspire One D255 offered an impressive design, pretty good performance, and a low $329 price, a wonky touchpad and other drawbacks outweighed the benefits. This time, Acer is determined to get it right with the Aspire One D260, offering a slick dual-core system that fixes the flaws of its predecessor and provides features you normally don't find in a netbook--such as 2GB of RAM and Windows Home Premium. These perks come with a higher price tag of $399 (though you can find it for about $40 less online). Is the D260 worth more than its predecessor and competing $299 netbooks?
This slim 10.2 x 7.3 x 0.95-inch netbook definitely has the wow factor when it comes to looks. Between the blade-like taper on the front and the in-your-face aquamarine color, the D260 will stand out wherever owners whip it out. The netbook also comes in black, charcoal, pink, and purple, all with a flake pattern.
Unlike the lower-cost Toshiba mini NB505, the blue color on the D260 isn't just for the lid; it extends to the deck, surrounding the black keyboard. The blue of the backlit power button on the upper left doesn't match the color palette very well, but that's a minor nitpick.
Though it weighs a bit less than most other netbooks--2.6 pounds instead of 2.8--the Aspire One D260 feels even lighter, perhaps because of its streamlined and compact chassis. We like that the bottom panel is smooth and comes off in one piece, similar to what we've seen on recent HP netbooks and small ultraportables. This makes upgrading components easy.
During testing and use, the D260 stayed relatively cool. We measured temperatures between the G and H keys (84 degrees Fahrenheit), on the touchpad (81 degrees), and at the center of the underside (87 degrees) and found them all well below our acceptable threshold. However, the area by the vent, which points down instead of out to the side, reached 104 degrees, causing some discomfort when we were using the netbook on our lap.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Acer's FineTip keyboard on the D260 feels slightly cramped. The layout is flat like a chiclet-style keyboard, but the keys are close together like a traditional keyboard. This arrangement resulted in some typos, but at least the keys themselves supplied snappy feedback.
The 3.0 x 1.5-inch multitouch touchpad is nice and wide and has the same smooth texture as the surrounding deck; there are lines to delineate it both visually and by touch. We were able to execute multitouch gestures easily and experienced none of the jumpiness we saw previously on the Aspire One D255.
The long, single mouse button bar on the D260 had some stiffness to it. We prefer two distinct buttons, but at least it's long enough to distinguish between the left and right sides by feel.
Display and Audio
The 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600 LED-backlit matte display has a matte finish, so you don't have to worry about reflections. When we were within the optimal viewing area, we noted smooth playback of online video from Hulu at full screen. Though the netbook had no trouble playing HD clips from Vimeo, YouTube, and the hard drive, we did note subtle hitching.
Since it sits so far under the front lip of the D260, we didn't expect much from the thin speaker bar, but it surprised us by pumping decent volume even at 50 percent. At 75 percent, it was enough to fill a medium-sized room. The bass on Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" came through, but it wasn't resonant (as we expect form a netbook).
Ports and Webcam
The Aspire One D260 offers the normal array of netbook ports: three USB, VGA, Ethernet, memory card reader, headphone and mic, all arranged on the left and right sides.
The 1.3-MP camera captured crisp images for an integrated webcam. While talking to a friend on Skype, they noted very little blur, even when we moved fast. Though colors looked somewhat muted, they're mostly accurate, including skin tones.
The Acer Aspire One D260 stands out from other dual-core Atom systems because it packs 2GB of RAM alongside the 1.5-GHz Intel Atom N550 CPU. These components power Windows 7 Home Premium instead of Starter. The result: better-than-average benchmark scores. In PCMark05, which measures overall performance, the D260 scored 1,947. This blows away the average netbook (1,429) and trumps the closest dual-core competitors: the Samsung NF310 (1,646), ASUS Eee PC 1015PEM (1,729), and the Acer Aspire One D255 (1,696).
The D260's Geekbench score of 1,105 was a little closer to these other systems (though still comfortably above the 909 average): Samsung NF310 (1,074), ASUS Eee PC 1015PEM (1,079), Acer Aspire One D255 (1,106).
In real-world testing, the D260 proved speedier than most netbooks in transcoding a 114MB MP4 file to AVI, completing the task in 4 minutes and 45 seconds (the average is 5:47). However, the Samsung NF310 completed the same test in 3 minutes and 50 seconds.
The 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive completed the LAPTOP File Transfer test in 3 minutes and 34 seconds for a speed of 23.8 MBps. It's faster than the average netbook (20.0) and above most others in its class. The 1:07 it takes to boot into Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit was only a few seconds slower than average.
While using the Aspire One D260 to write this review, we noted snappy application open times and good overall responsiveness. The performance is still netbook-grade, but this combination of CPU and RAM means that owners will be able to open a few more tabs in their browser or have more programs open at the same time before things slow down.
With Intel's integrated GMA 3150 graphics on board, one can't expect much in this department. The D260's 3DMark06 score of 149 is on a par with similar netbooks, all of which are within a few points of this score. As we mentioned, we were able to play up to 720p HD video on the netbook, though there was some hitching and dropped frames. But the extra power from the dual cores does mean that full-screen Hulu video runs smooth (something we don't see often with single-core Atom netbooks), as do full-screen Netflix videos. Resource-intensive casual games, such as Pet Society on Facebook, still won't offer speedy gameplay.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The Aspire One D260 lasted for 6 hours and 33 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. This is an impressive score for a dual-core system with a 4400 mAh capacity six-cell battery. This score is just a few minutes longer than the netbook average and almost exactly the same as the Samsung NF310. The Aspire One D255 and the Eee PC 1015PEM lasted more than an hour and a half longer (8:14 and 8:07, respectively).
The wireless radio isn't the strongest we've seen, but does offer consistent connectivity even at greater distances. At 15 feet from the router we saw a throughput of 24.3 Mbps, and at 50 feet it only dropped to 20 Mbps. Though the close range score is under the average (25.7 Mbps), the average netbook only manages 18.3 Mbps at the longer distance.
Software and Warranty
Acer includes its branded eRecovery Manager, CrystalEye Webcam, as well as an Updater to keep things current on the D260. On the multimedia front, there's the Acer Games Console, Barnes & Noble's desktop app, Microsoft Silverlight, and Times Reader. For security and protection, users get McAfee Internet Security Suite free for 60 days, along with Norton Online Backup, MyWinLocker, and eSobi.
Acer covers the Aspire One D260 with a one-year International Travelers limited warranty. To see how the company fared in our tech support showdown, click here.
These days, netbook makers have to offer something special in order to justify a price above $300. Between the 2GB of RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium, and a decent keyboard and touchpad combo, the Acer Aspire One D260 does just that. Still, we give a slight edge to the Samsung NF310, which, for the same price, has a more distinctive design, a higher-resolution display, and better audio. Still, the D260 is also stylish, and it offers a larger hard drive and strong overall performance. For $358, this netbook is worth opening your wallet a bit wider.