One Guy, 3 Netbooks: Page 2

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Netbooks screens, like all LCD screens, come with either a glossy or matte finish. I prefer matte, but the glossy screen on the Acer Aspire One didn't turn out to be a problem. I was afraid of being able to comb my hair looking at the screen but that wasn't the case. Perhaps this is due to the LED back-lighting (most full size laptops use cold-cathode fluorescent lamps as their light source) or perhaps it's simply because the computer is small and easily moved around. I don't know.

This was my first experience with the Atom processor and I was glad to see that it has more than sufficient horsepower. At no time did the Acer Aspire One feel slow or sluggish. That said, I only used it for email, web browsing, playing audio files and word processing. The 120GB traditional hard disk is plenty for a secondary computer and it, too, didn’t cause any performance problems.

The 3-cell battery, however, proved to be annoying. As netbook batteries go, three cells is bottom of the line, 6-cell is top of the line (very few models offer any other sizes). Three-cell batteries are small and cheap but usually don't deliver much more than two hours of run time.

I didn't expect this to matter, but it did. The battery was insufficient for even a short visit with a client that involved using Wi-Fi, and, when I took the computer to a meeting to take notes, I nervously watched the battery indicator sink all too quickly.

Audio was also a disappointment. The speakers are underneath the machine and not very powerful, even judging them with the reduced expectations that come with a cheap computer. I listen to voice recordings rather than music and, at times, the volume would just not get loud enough to be easily heard.

The keyboard is a huge issue with all netbooks. Since they're so small, they all entail compromises. Netbooks with a 9-inch screen, such as the Acer Aspire One, necessarily have smaller keyboards than models with 10-inch screens. Chances are that people who try a netbook and don't like it will cite the keyboard as the biggest reason.

While the keyboard on the Acer Aspire One is very small, it's well laid out and I found it reasonably usable. That said, it does take some getting used to and it’s probably not appropriate for an adult who writes a lot on their computer (I can't judge how a child, or anyone with smaller hands than mine would feel).

One excellent choice Acer made regards the Page Up/Down keys - they are direct keys. That is, you don't have to hit the Shift or Control or Function key to activate Page Up and Page Down. I use these keys very often and, considering the vertical pixel resolution of all netbooks is only 600, I suspect many netbook owners will also be very dependent on these two keys.

Other reviewers have been disappointed with the small touchpad and the placement of the mouse buttons on the sides rather than underneath the touchpad. This is less than optimal, but I didn't find it a big deal.

My first reaction to the Acer Aspire One was shock at how small and light the thing was. Even after living with for a while, I'm still amazed at the size and weight. It can easily fit in any briefcase (and some pocketbooks) and not be noticed, a huge difference from my 14-inch ThinkPad. The picture below shows the largest netbook, the Asus Eee PC 1000, next to a normal sized ThinkPad with a 14-inch screen. The Aspire One is noticeably smaller than the Asus netbook.

netbook, asus, thinkpad

The Asus Eee PC 1000, the largest of the three netbooks, next to a ThinkPad T42 with a 14-inch screen.

But, speaking as an adult male, I don't need my netbook to be that small. I can't point to any particular problem with Acer Aspire One, but after living with it a while, it seems better sized for a child rather than an adult. I wouldn't be happy with such a small computer, so I set out find a model with a 10-inch screen.

Asus Eee PC 1000

I wanted my second netbook to offer as different an experience as possible. In addition to the larger screen, that meant Linux instead of Windows XP, a solid state hard disk rather than a traditional one with spinning platters, a more powerful 6-cell battery and a screen with a matte rather than glossy finish.

The Asus Eee PC 1000 offered all this and more. Unlike the Acer Aspire One, it's a relatively high-end netbook, offering Bluetooth, Wi-Fi N and off-site storage. It also has the mouse buttons under the touchpad rather than on the side. The only downside was the price. When I was shopping around it was selling for $500, which seemed a bit much for a netbook. But, one day I stumbled across a sale and picked one up for $450.

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Tags: Linux, Microsoft, netbooks, Acer, asus

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