Saturday, June 7, 2008

Acer Aspire One

  • Pros Very light. Quick to boot. Perfectly priced
  • Cons Battery life only two hours. No Bluetooth

We could try and review Acer’s brand new ultra-portable, the Aspire One, without mentioning the Asus Eee PC, but that would be futile. Not only would you be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two without your contacts in, they’re almost identical in terms of functionality.

But the Aspire One has a few tricks up its sleeve. It’s even cheaper at £200, and promises better performance thanks to Intel’s Atom processor.

Why go mini?
The appeal of these tiny notebooks is that they combine size, better-than-average build quality and an incredibly low price. It’s the latter that makes them so desirable.

HP, for example, missed the mark with the rather more lovely to look at Mini-Note because of the cost. As Asus has improved the Eee, it’s also come within tackling distance of a ‘proper’ laptop. The best configuration of the Aspire One – the one that runs Linux, natch - costs less than the original Eee.

The mighty Atom
The One’s secret is that it uses Intel’s new Atom processor. It requires so little cooling that the One is completely silent, but it boasts astonishing performance for little cost.

Just a week ago the Mini-Note seemed like an acceptable compromise in terms of desktop power for portable prowess: compared to the Aspire One it’s computing in molasses, not computing for the masses.

Simple tasks on the Mini-Note – like opening a website with just a hint of basic Flash scripting – take forever. The Aspire One is ready ten seconds after pressing the power button, and even the notoriously sluggish OpenOffice leaps into action as soon as you click the icon.

Tricky interface
The interface isn’t quite as friendly as that of the Linux Eee, though. It’s tricky to find files on memory cards, for example, and you can pretty much forget about sharing media or copying documents across a home network.

This could hopefully be fixed with a software update in the future. The One may accept a WiMAX or 3G card fitted for browsing the web on the move, but it should also be able to stream a video to watch in bed.

Simply the best
Size-wise, the Aspire One shares almost identical dimensions with the Mini-Note but keeps the weight down to that of the Eee. The 8.9in screen is also identical to the Eee 900, and the larger text is more comfortable than the higher definition Mini-note.

As good as the One is, though, it could be better. Despite the fact that the CPU throttles to half speed when you stop typing, the battery life is rubbish. We managed just two hours in ‘power save’ mode, so the optional six-cell battery pack or a spare will be an essential.

The mousepad, too, is a small fiddly affair compared to the brilliance of Asus’ multi-touch one.
And with Dell and MSI yet to start sampling their new ultra-portable contenders you may yet want to hold off committing your cash to one side or the other. But for now, at this price, the One is the one to buy.