Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Acer Aspire One
by Chris Taylor

In the spring of 2007, I was looking for a new computer. My old desktop computer was getting long in the tooth, Vista had been out for a little while, and I had money burning a hole in my pocket. What better way to spend it than on a new computer. Note that's a statement, not a question!

I decided to go with a laptop in order to gain portability. I thought I could take it with me to OPCUG meetings and have all my programs and data with me. I could carry it out to the living room, connect up to my wireless router, and use the computer while watching TV or movies on the DVD player.

Given that it was to be my only computer, I decided to get the beefiest computer the burning money in my pocket could afford. I ended up with an HP Pavillion DV9000, with 17" screen, twin 120 GB hard drives, and 2 GB RAM. At the time, it was a pretty decently equipped laptop. To round things out and make it easier for me to deal with an external 22" wide-screen LCD monitor, full keyboard and mouse, I bought the docking station designed for it.

And I found that it almost never left the docking station in the computer room. It is too big to haul to OPCUG meetings and it was even awkward to take it out to the living room. My next main computer will be a regular desktop machine. You can still get considerably more power for fewer bucks by going non-portable.

I still wanted a machine for portable computing. But now I realized, for a portable, I really didn't need to have the kitchen sink. Portability was key. I could live with under-powered. I could live without all my data. I could live without all my programs. The main things I needed were a word processor and a web browser.

I started reading about a relatively new class of computer variously dubbed ultra-portables, subnotebooks or netbooks. One of the first really popular ones to catch people's attention was the ASUS Eee PC, introduced in late 2007. The original had a 7" screen (800x480 pixels), 256MB RAM and a 2GB solid state drive and came with Linux pre-installed. Many models have come out since then and the size and power has grow, with models sporting 10" screens (1024x600 pixels), 20 GB solid state drives or regular hard drives and up to 1 GB of RAM. Windows XP is an option, but to get it you either have to pay more, or get less, such as a smaller solid state drive, to pay for the XP license.

With a confusing array of choices, I began sorting out the best combo for my use. I was weighing storage capacity, memory, screen size and cost.

I was almost ready to take the plunge. I was even set to try out Linux and see how I liked it. After all, I was not looking to have all my favourite Windows programs. The free Open Office is perfectly adequate for me in terms of a word processor and I am already a Firefox user, so I could use the Linux version of that web browser. And I knew the Linux/Open Source SIG could help me out of any jam I might get myself into. I could just hear an Asus Eee PC calling my name.

And then a most fortunate accident happened - I forgot about it for a while.

In July, 2008, Acer released the Aspire One. Early in the fall, both Future Shop and Best Buy carried a model I could play with. And I was impressed.

If you look at the Acer web site, they list a whole bunch of configurations. I will talk only about the one configuration available at Future Shop and Best Buy - model AOA 150-1283. The one I bought. In October, it was going for $379. Since then the price has jumped to $399. This model comes with Windows XP Home.

The screen is a very bright, 8.9" WSVGA screen running at 1024x600 pixels. I had two concerns about the screen. First, I know there is some software that expects a minimum of 768 vertical pixels. But so far, I have not had any problems, not even with Microsoft Office 2007, which claims to require 1024x768 minimum. I presume Microsoft states this because of the large amount of space taken up by the ribbon (oh Microsoft, please give me back my menus!)

The other screen concern was about the brightness. A bright screen chews through the battery and I wanted the option to turn down the brightness when on battery to maximize the time I could use it before recharging. The keyboard controls only allow a modest reduction in screen brightness. Fortunately, there is a keystroke to immediately blank the screen, so if I am desperate, I can just keep the screen on when absolutely necessary.

The 85-key keyboard is 89% the size of a full keyboard. If you are touch typist you might have to get used to the slightly closer spacing of the keys. Being a three-finger (and two-thumb) typist, I don't have any problems with the keyboard.

The processor is Intel's Centrino Atom 1.6 GHz, single core, with a 533 MHz front-side bus and a 512 KB L2 cache. Main memory is a full 1 GB of DDR2 RAM. The hard disk is a surprisingly big 160 GB.

For input/output ports, the Aspire One come well loaded. There are three USB 2.0 ports, two card readers (one takes only SD, while the other is a 5-in-one, handling SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro/xD), a webcam, and a built-in microphone. There is a mic-in jack and a jack for external speakers/earphones to complement the quite tinny-sounding built-in stereo speakers. The external VGA port will handle just about any resolution external screen or projector you want to plug in.

On the networking side, there is 10/100 Ethernet and 802.11b/g wireless.

The touchpad feels a little cheap but it seems to work just fine.

The whole package is a trim 24.9 cm x 17 cm x 2.9 cm. It weighs in at 0.995 Kg, including the battery.

About that battery … it is a 3-cell, 2,200 mAh battery. The specs say "up to 3 hours". I get about 2.5, so that's not far off spec, but I wanted more. Some models come with a 6-cell, 5,200 mAh battery, but I had a hard time finding a source. I finally found that TigerDirect.ca carries them for $127.70 (taxes and shipping included). Then I found a 6,600 mAh battery. Total cost in Canadian dollars was $125.66. I bought one and am very happy with it. Since then, I have found sources for a 7,200 mAh battery for US$115, shipping included.

The Aspire One is less than half the size of a Compaq CQ-50, which has a 15.4" screen. It is slightly thinner and just 38% of the weight. All this translates into a computer I can easily tuck under my arm when going to a meeting, stuff in the bag that I take to work, and grab when moving from room to room.

Since starting to give presentations at the Ottawa Public Library, this computer is ideal. I can walk in with this tiny laptop, plug into their projector and give my presentation. Very convenient.

And it turns out I really didn't have to give up power to get convenience. This machine is no slouch. It is a peppy little performer. From power on, I get to my Windows XP desktop in under a minute. The Atom processor certainly seems to be a decent performer. One GB of RAM and 160 GB of disk space will be plenty for the life of this computer.

In the month I have been using this wonderful little portable computer, I have been very satisfied with it. If you want to take a look at it, see me at any OPCUG general meeting. It's almost certain to be tucked into my bag.

Perhaps my next computer will be my venture into trying Linux.


Bottom Line:

Acer Aspire One
model AOA 150-1283: $400
www.acer.ca


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Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

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