Acer Aspire One (Linux) Review

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$379

Pros: Fast boot time; Small footprint; Good-size keyboard; Easy-to-use Linux OS

Cons: Limited storage space; Cannot add applications easily

Verdict: The Aspire One's easy to use, customized Linux operating system and low price make it a compelling mini-notebook.

Mini-notebooks are getting bigger and more elaborate by the day, but Acer enters the crowded market with a simple yet solid miniature laptop for only $379. The Aspire One sports a classic look and its Intel Atom processor gives it a decent amount of power for surfing the Web and light multimedia use. Taking a cue from ASUS' well-received custom Linux interface, Acer packages the system with a lightweight, customized Linpus Lite Linux operating system. We just wish this netbook lasted longer on a charge.

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Check out our hands-on video of the Acer Aspire one here

Sleek, Small Design

The pearl white Aspire One (also available in navy blue, pink, and black) looks far from cheap. Similar to theASUS Eee PC 901, the Aspire One's white lid sports a glossy finish that is resistant to fingerprint smudges. Though it's a small design addition, the neon orange plated hinge adds a little pizzazz to the overall look.

Compared with other 8.9-inch systems, such as the Eee PC 901 ($599) and HP 2133 Mini-Note PC($729), the Aspire One is both slimmer and lighter. Measuring 9.8 x 6.7 x 1.1 inches and weighing just 2.2 pounds--4 ounces lighter than the Eee PC 901--the Aspire One's portability alone makes it compelling. With its included pleather sleeve, the system was perfect for tossing into a shoulder bag or slim briefcase. It's only 3 pounds with the AC adapter.

Decent Typing Experience, Cramped Touchpad

The keyboard, 89 percent of full size, is a shade smaller than those on the HP Mini-Note and theMSI Wind, but it is big enough for comfortable touch typing. It's certainly bigger and more firm than that of the ASUS Eee PC 900/901; it had no bend or flex to it. The keys were quite responsive and offered nice tactile feedback.

Measuring 2.5 x 1.2 inches, the trackpad on the Aspire One is disappointingly small and vertically very narrow. The result is a lot of back-tracking. Similar to the trackpad on the HP Mini-Note, it is vertically straddled with the right and left mouse buttons, forcing us to use both hands to access the buttons.

The Aspire One is well equipped with ports; VGA, three USB, Ethernet, headphone, and microphone jacks surround the system. Acer includes both a 5-in-1 card reader (for transferring photos, music, and other files) and an additional SD Card slot so you can expand the measly 8GB of storage capacity on the system.

Excellent Interface, Hard to Tweak

Similar to ASUS' customized Xandros Linux, Acer hides its Linpus Lite operating system by organizing applications into four distinct sections: Connect, Work, Fun, and Files. Under the Connect heading, you'll find Firefox 2.014; an instant-messaging client that supports AIM, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger; Skype; and a few other Internet shortcuts.

Work contains the OpenOffice suite, Contacts, Calculator, Notes, and Calendar. Fun houses the Media Master multimedia player, Photo Master picture manager, and a slew of causal games. The Files section is home to the My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, My Downloads, and My Files folders.

Though most of the essential programs come packaged with the system,adding applicationsis achallenge. Acer hid both the Linux terminal and add/remove programs section, so novice users will have a nearly impossible time adding open source programs to the system. We recommend the XP version of the Aspire One for those who want to run additional applications.

Decent Display and Speakers

The 8.9-inch glossy display has a native resolution of 1024 x 600. The colorful desktop looked bright, and Web pages fit to size on the screen (so you don't have to scroll horizontally). We were even able to keep a Web page and a document in OpenOffice open side by side.

While a clip from Saturday Night Live streamed from Hulu.com looked extremely clear and detailed, tilting the screen back 45 degrees caused a distracting glare. The horizontal angles were better, but sharing the screen with another viewer to watch a YouTube clip was a struggle.

The integrated 0.3-megapixel webcam worked when we initiated a video chat over Meebo, but our face looked a bit washed out. The microphone, located to the left of the webcam, picked up a bit of background noise, but our caller could hear us quite well without having to speak up. The speakers, located on the bottom of the system, produced a loud yet tinny sound; we could hear Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" from a 6-foot distance, but we prefer the ASUS Eee PC 901's fuller, Dolby-powered speakers.

Acer Aspire one Performance

The Aspire One uses the same 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor as the Eee PC 901, but it comes with a relatively small 512MB of RAM compared with the Eee PC's 1GB. Additionally, the RAM on the system cannot be upgraded easily, since the RAM is secured to the motherboard.

Nevertheless, programs loaded relatively quickly even when we had several others running in the background. (Keep in mind that we were testing the Linux version of the Aspire One.) We were able to listen to music, surf the Web, and write a document in OpenOffice Writer all at the same time with no hang-ups.

The mini-notebook packs an 8GB solid state drive, which helps boot the system in a quick 20 seconds.However, despite the durability and speed of the SSD, we were disappointed by its limited 8GB of storage space, of which only 6.4GB is available to the end user.

By comparison, the Linux version of the Eee PC 901 comes with a 20GB SSD. To its credit, Acer does include two card slots, both of which accept SDHC Cards. Interestingly, when a card is slid into the dedicated SD Card slot, the computer treats it not as separate storage but as part of the hard drive.

During testing, the Aspire One got a bit hot on the underside of the unit on the left side (toward the exhaust), measuring about 107 degrees. The rest of the system felt only a little warm on our lap, however, with most other areas measuring 87 to 94 degrees.

Shorter Endurance, Good Wi-Fi

With its Intel Atom processor and a three-cell battery, we expected the Aspire one to last longer on a charge. We managed to squeeze about 2 hours out of the battery with Wi-Fi on. Because of its Linux operating system, we could not run any standard battery run-down tests, but with regular use, including surfing the Web, listening to music over Pandora, and word processing, the mini-notebook got 1 hour and 58 minutes of runtime. You'll want to keep the AC charger at arms' length. The Eee PC 901 delivered double the runtime with 4 hours and 38 minutes of battery life using a six-cell battery. Acer will offer an optional six-cell battery upgrade, which should double the endurance.

The Aspire One's 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi radio connected easily to our WPA-protected access point. It never dipped below 92 percent signal strength in a 50-foot radius, and we experienced no dropped connections. Web pages loaded quickly on our office network; NYtimes.com loaded in 5 seconds, and Laptopmag.com in 8 seconds. We also had no problem streaming video from Hulu.com; Party of Five had minimal video pauses and audio skips.

Verdict

The Acer Aspire One isn't the only 8.9-inch mini-notebook on the block, but at $379 it's a pretty good bargain--if you can live with short battery life. However, prospective buyers may prefer the $399 Windows XP version, which sports a larger 120GB hard drive and 1GB of RAM, Others may prefer the longer endurance of the ASUS Eee PC 901's six-cell battery and its 1GB of RAM, although its $599 price and cramped keyboard will give some pause.

The 8.9-inch HP 2133 Mini-Note PC has a sleeker, more durable design, but the Linux version isn't nearly as consumer-friendly as what Acer or ASUS offers. In the ever-growing field of mini-notebooks the Aspire One is a decent buy for those on a tight budget looking for a secondary PC for getting online. It's a better deal than the more expensive 7-inchEee PC 4G.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270
Operating System Linpus Linux Lite v1.0.3.E
RAM 512MB
RAM Upgradable to 1.5GB
Hard Drive Type SSD Drive
Display Size 8.9
Native Resolution 1024x600
Graphics Card Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year parts and labor/24/7 toll-free
Size 9.8 x 6.7 x 1.1 inches
Weight 2.2 pounds
Company Website http://www.acer.com/aspireone