If we could use one word to describe Acer's Aspire One D260 (23797), it would be "cute." While other netbooks might cringe at such an epithet, the D260 soaks it up. The target audience for this netbook is users who care more about good looks than battery life, and whomever these people are, they will certainly get their wish. Still, cute isn't a dirty word, especially when the D260 manages to be thinner, lighter, and less expensive than most other models in its class. Is the charm factor enough to make this slim and pretty $299 netbook fly off the shelves?
Weighing just 2.6 pounds and measuring 10.2 x 7.3 x 0.9 inches, the lithe D260 feels feather-light. Unlike Acer's larger notebooks, the branding on the D260 is much more overt: the upper left-hand corner has Acer's logo in dark gray, and "Aspire One" is emblazoned in chrome across the middle. The light matte gray finish of the lid extends to the deck surrounding the Fine Tip keyboard, and is interrupted only by a gently glowing blue power button at the top and four status LEDs on the bottom left.
Those who find a gray finish too staid can get the netbook with an aquamarine black, pink, or purple lid. The black and charcoal lids are solid, but the others feature a flake-like pattern that extends to the palm rest.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Like other Acer netbooks, this one sports a 93-percent of full-size FineTip keyboard that isolates the keys slightly. Though some may find the keys positioned too close together, we didn't mind. During our typing sessions the keyboard offered strong tactile feedback, and we appreciated the large right Shift and Enter keys. The shrunken arrow keys were easy to locate without looking.
We'd like to see Acer follow the lead of other manufacturers and turn the function key shortcuts into direct action keys in the top row. For example, to raise the volume you have to press Fn + Up Arrow, when it should just be a dedicated button.
Oddly (but pleasingly), the 3 x 1.6-inch touchpad on the D260 is larger that of the 11-inch Aspire 721 and provides ample room for executing multitouch gestures. Also unlike the Aspire 721, the D260's touchpad is slightly raised from the rest of the deck, providing a tactile clue if your finger strays. The low-friction surface is smooth, making it easy to zoom around the screen. Though we usually prefer separate left and right mouse buttons, the single bar on the D260 is long; we were always able to distinguish between the two buttons.
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After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the D260 remained cool, reaching 84 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 86 degrees between the G and H keys, and 88 degrees underneath. The only part of the machine that got uncomfortable was near the vent, which registered 102 degrees.
Display and Audio
The picture on the Aspire One D260's glossy 1024 x 600-pixel display was bright and crisp when surfing the web and viewing images. Though there was plenty of detail when watching standard-definition episodes of Lost, narrow viewing angles and reflections during dark scenes made the overall experience less enjoyable.
Though the front lip of the netbook tapers up to give the speakers beneath a boost in volume, we were never able to fill a small room while listening to music. Volume for Hulu was decent, though. Once we put the D260 in our lap the sound was almost completely muffled, just as with the 721. Despite these drawbacks, the quality of the audio impressed us, pumping the bass line in Superchick's "One Girl Revolution" and separating different layers of music enough that we heard the flute in Guns n' Roses' "November Rain" over the guitar solo.
Ports and Webcam
Acer included the standard spread of ports along the left and right sides--Ethernet, one USB, headphone, mic, and memory card reader line the right, and the remaining two USB ports and VGA connector line the left.
We weren't impressed with the 1.3-megapixel webcam. Even with backlight correction set to its highest level, the images it captured were dark and didn't represent colors well. While chatting with a friend on Skype they reported that we looked blocky and blurry whenever we moved.
Click to enlargePowered by a 1.83-GHz Intel Atom N475 processor and 1GB of RAM, the Aspire One D260 scored 1,366 in PCMark05. Though about 60 points below the average, this score is above the Samsung N150 Plus (1,300), and on a par with the HP Mini 210 (1,365). Still, it doesn't match the $299 ASUS Eee PC 1001P (1,384), and all of these systems have Atom N450 chips.
Despite this good showing, we found the D260 to be occasionally sluggish, such as when opening new programs or creating new tabs in Internet Explorer. Though the netbook was able to multitask, as few as five programs slowed it down.
The 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive booted Windows 7 Starter in 64 seconds, a few seconds slower than the 61-second category average. The drive turned in a file transfer rate of 18.8 MBps, just above the category average of 18 MBps and the Eee PC 1001P (17.5 MBps).
Though transcoding video isn't usually a netbook's strong suit, the D260 took only 5 minutes and 20 seconds to convert a 114MB MPEG-4 to AVI. The average netbook takes nearly a minute longer (6:17), as did the N150 Plus (5:44), Eee PC 1001P (6:02), and Gateway LT2118U (6:33).
Intel's integrated GMA 3150 graphics chip earned the system a score of 167 in 3DMark06. This is well below the category average of 256, although that score includes powerhouse Ion systems. Compared to other recently reviewed netbooks like the N150 Plus and Gateway LT (both 156) and the Eee PC 1001P (155), the D260 is once again ahead. Unfortunately, users still won't experience smooth streaming video from Hulu or YouTube, though it is at least watchable. When we attempted to stream an HD video from Laptopmag.com (an iPhone lightsaber battle), the netbook dropped so many frames that it was impossible to follow.
Battery Life and Wireless
Although the Aspire One D260's six-cell battery is rated to last up to 8 hours, our review unit didn't get anywhere close to that. It turned in a mediocre runtime of 5 hours and 4 minutes, which is more than an hour less than the six-cell netbook average (6:22). It also falls way behind the N150 Plus (7:12), HP Mini 210 (6:37), and the Eee PC 1001P (8:40).
The 802.11b/g/n Atheros AR5B95 Wireless Network Adapter delivered very strong throughput at 15 and 50 feet away from our router, managing 35.9 and 22.5 Mbps, respectively. That's comfortably above the category averages (23.6/18.1 Mbps) and is only bested by the Gateway LT at the closer range (43.3/21.5 Mbps).
It took the Aspire One D260 3 hours and 24 minutes to fully charge the six-cell battery, averaging 21 watts, for a LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 14.1. Lower scores are better on this test, and this system comes in below the category average of 16.2, though it's not as efficient as the N150 Plus (11) or the ultra-green Eee PC 1001P (8.2). This notebook has not been rated by EPEAT.
Click to enlarge our configuration of the Aspire One D260 is the only one listed on Acer's site with the 1.83-GHz Intel Atom N475; all others come with the 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450 processor. The other 12 configurations shown include ones with a smaller 160GB hard drive, a three-cell battery, or Windows XP, as well as the various color options mentioned above.
Software and Warranty
Acer includes several of its own utilities, including Acer Updater, ePower Management, eRecovery Management, Acer VCM, and CrystalEye Webcam.
The netbook comes with Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash player pre-installed, plus Skype, Windows Live Essentials, Microsoft Works, and trial versions of Microsoft Office 2007. For protection, Acer bundles a trial of McAfee Internet Security Suite and the EgicTec MyWinLocker Suite, which includes a password-protected virtual safe for confidential data and a file shredder.
The company backs the Aspire One D260 with a one-year limited warranty. Tech support hours are from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST (Mon--Fri), 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Sat), and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Sun). See how Acer fared in our latest Tech Support Showdown.
Acer prioritized looks and portability above longevity in the D260, but this netbook manages to be charming even with its below-average battery life. Its $299 price is equally attractive, but for the same amount you could scoop up the ASUS Eee PC 1001P, which, though it has a smaller 160GB hard drive, fared better in several performance tests, including battery life. Still, if you think 5 hours or runtime is enough, the Aspire One D260 has plenty going for it, not the least of which being its charisma.