Review: Acer Aspire One with Moblin 2, Ubuntu 8.10, Windows


I bought the One particularly for mobile functionality—particularly to better work for OSNews, to blog wherever and whenever I want to, to more effectively manage the treasury for the choral department at the school I go to, and to do any work more efficiently and sooner (versus having to wait until I get home to work on a project on my desktop) for said school. However, the web-cam looked mighty fun and did influence my purchase in some small way. At any rate, I shall concentrate on the main mobility and functionality features your everyday netbooker looks for in each system but point out specifics important to my personal taste. Perhaps yours and mine are one and the same.

Hardware overview

Specification-wise, the Acer Aspire One doesn’t stand out from the common netbook crowd. It sports the almost standard 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of DDR RAM, and 8.9-inch glossy LCD screen with 1024×600. One of the main reasons (besides a good deal on that I bought the One was it had a hard drive with enough space to actually be worth using.

Personally, my idea of a usable computer is not one with an 8 GB SDD with some watered-down form of a Linux distribution that has links to all of your programs on the desktop in a way that reminds me vividly of those horrid “learning laptops” you see for sale at Wal-Mart for $79.98. Thankfully it seems that those sort of netbooks are on their way out now that I try finding them online, and ones that actually have some oomph in them are taking those places. I actually haven’t tried one of those systems I speak of, so take that with a grain of salt.

At any rate, the One comes with all sorts of ports and gizmos on the outside for you to use to your heart’s content. It’s got three of your necessary USB ports, a multi-card reader (of which I use SD, MicroSD, and XD—it also supports Memory Stick), another solely-SD card reader, an Ethernet port in case you’re in a fully wired environment (hopefully you never have to use this when you have the integrated wireless-G card), a VGA-out port, and headphone and microphone jacks. There’s also a 1.3 megapixel webcam integrated inconspicuously into the screen as well as a microphone for all of your web-conferencing needs. I find the three USB ports exemplary for mobile use seeing as how I’ll never normally have more than a USB drive and a mouse (if I’m feeling peckish) plugged in.

The keyboard definitely takes a bit of getting used to after using a full desktop or even laptop layout, but after a half hour or so of typing, the somewhat-smaller keyboard felt native to my fingers. The cursed Insert key still gets in my way sometimes, so I suppose that just further proves that the keyboard isn’t all too different. Being designed for Windows XP, you have the wonderful Start Menu key, and the function keys (I mean the ones that work when combined with the Fn key), when used, work rather well; I especially like having the volume controlling keys as the up and down arrows. That makes plenty more sense than the 5 and 6 keys.

The touch pad, however, has something to be desired. It is immensely smaller than a laptop touch pad, and even though that’s expected on a netbook, I still felt it could have been bigger. What really bursts my bubble is that the left and right click buttons are literally on the left and right side of the pad instead of below it or even above it. Whoever designed it this way because it just “makes sense” to put the left on the left side and the right on the right ought to be flayed. In the end, one gets used to it, but only after cursing the existence of such a touch pad perpetually for days.

I was very pleased with the microphone and camera in combination. I used them with Gmail’s Video Chat feature, and it worked very well aside from some instances when the video froze (which I blame mostly on my DSL connection, which often isn’t up-to-par with today’s preferable speeds). The pictures taken naturally aren’t the best, but they do in a pinch when you want to post a profile of yourself with some exotic background such as the brick wall of your school behind you.

Cosmetically, the One is a good-looking piece of equipment, and looks even better in person; I thought it was going to be a little bulky and bulbous from the pictures, but it’s actually quite slim and lightweight. I find it hardly noticeable carrying it around in a backpack or a satchel all day. It’s got quite the glossy finish on all of its parts except the underside. The glossiness, however, is its downfall, as it makes the One a big attraction to smudges, fingerprints, and dust. I am constantly using my sleeve to remove said atrocities. The screen is bright enough that you won’t really notice smudges or dust on the glossy surface except when in direct light of the sun or when it’s off. If you’re not OCD about your netbook’s appearance, however, then this shouldn’t be a problem for you.

The fan was beautifully silent at first, but it began to make a slight humming noise after a few weeks. It is hardly noticeable in most environments but still worrisome. After researching a little bit online, I found that many people had the same problem due to a cheap heatsink and fan, but mine isn’t bad enough that I would send it in for repair. It hasn’t gotten any worse since, and it isn’t loud enough to normally bother me.

I give hardware and physical aspect of the One a 9/10. There could be some minor improvements in the cosmetics and a better fan could have been chosen, but the price for such a good slew of hardware outweighs any cons.


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