I’ve now been using this great little laptop for just over a week. Where last week I was asked “Which one did you get?” this week I’ve constantly been asked variations on the same question:

“How does it perform?”

“Do you like it?”

“What would I do with it?”

Essentially “Do you think it’s worth it? [for me]” and my answer is a resounding “Yes!” But let’s unpack that quickly.

XP? Vista? Linux? Win7?

Literally the first thing I did was install Vista Ultimate on the PC. I will install Windows 7, once the beta is released, but didn’t want to risk a pre-beta version on the computer. Why the upgrade to Vista, rather than just running XP? A number of the usual reasons – security, usability, and all the other benefits you just get with Vista without heaps of plug-ins and power tools (like I just plug in a graphics pad and it natively becomes a tablet computer).

The next obvious question becomes: “How well does it run Vista?” Well, clearly I’m not running Aero, and I rather doubt I’ll be rendering video any time soon. But for the applications I run: Outlook, Live Photo Gallery, Live Writer, Communicator, Live Meeting, Excel, and Powerpoint it’s certainly snappy enough. Two other benefits of Vista over XP [and Linux] include:

  • Ready Boost – I have an 8GB SDHC card, which gives me an extra 4GB of RAM besides extra storage space.
  • Virtually Instant Wake from Sleep

With it’s promised smaller footprint, and optimised performance, however, I am really looking forward to installing Windows 7.

Roadtest or Featurefest?

I originally started this blog post as a run through all of the features. Then realised that the post just read like the usual subjective generalities, you know: Battery life lasted 2hr40, screen is sharp and bright etc.

If this is a roadtest, then how did the machine actually perform? On the road?

So how well does it Travel?

There’s no denying that this is a great PC for travel. Heading through security at the airport, jammed in Economy on a Qantas jet, sitting on a bus – all great. My Aspire One fits neatly in the small front pocket of my laptop bag, leaving the big pockets for other things (like clean clothes)

Running Vista means that once at the gate, or in the lounge, the Aspire One is up pretty much instantly. No matter how little time I have before boarding, I can get a mail/tweet off.

Whilst in Vanuatu I managed to catch up with my blogs (thanks to WLW), organise our photos, even collate our dive videos.

On the aeroplane I watched a couple of episodes of Dexter, and caught up on my blogging. That sharp 9” screen is awesome for watching movies of your own choice, rather than the airline controlled offering. But I did need to get a bigger battery. The 3-cell, 2200mAH only lasts a couple hours (maybe 3 max) on the flight. (I invested in a 6600mAH 9-cell which arrived yesterday, and I’ve given it the first full day of workout.)

No amount of the chair in front leaning backwards is any longer an issue. The 9” screen just rests on the table nonchalantly as you like.

En route, keeping up with email was another small pleasure whenever I was in a wireless zone. But I do feel the need to acquire a 3G modem. The idea of being online whenever I open the lid is appealing. Rather than negotiating whatever (home, work, hotspot) wireless network I happen to attach to. Here is arguably where the Dell, with it’s integrated 3G PCI Express card will have an advantage.

But I am sold. This is now my travel machine of choice. I haven’t yet had a work or personal travel scenario that the Aspire One doesn’t fulfill.

How about in the Office?

There are 4 tools I use most commonly when away from my desk, which is when I’ll be using this PC: Powerpoint, OneNote, Excel, and Communicator. Of course in meetings I shouldn’t use Outlook too much (not if I’m truly present in the meeting) but occasionally I’m caught triaging email.

OneNote is the most common tool, which I use for all of my 1:1 and meeting notes. For this, the Aspire One works seamlessly. Then I simply share the notebook file in a Live Mesh folder, which keeps this in sync with the rest of my work computers. I do miss the ability to [hand]write my notes, as I do with my tablet computer, but when it’s battery life & portability vs handwriting, the Acer wins hands down. With its small screen, I find it’s not too obtrusive a device to take notes.

Powerpoint is great on the Netbook, and the VGA out will drive a far larger screen resolution than any of the projectors I’ve come across to date.

Excel can be a bit tricky on the small screen, but my solution for that is to connect the PC to a projector.

Communicator is what IMHO sets this machine apart from even the much more expensive Toshiba R500. Where the R500, doesn’t have an integrated camera, and would simply freeze every time I tried to use communicator on a voice/video call, the Aspire One simply works.

Again, I haven’t yet found myself lacking functionality in the office with the Aspire One. To be fair though, I don’t have anything like the number of windows and applications open as I do with my main productivity PC.

Any use for the machine at Home?

Here’s another area where this is where the computer really shines. As it’s so small, light, and unobtrusive, I find the PC is never really far from hand. So checking the weather, updating Facebook/Twitter, catching up on blogging, have all become ambient tasks.

Rather than hiding away in my study, whether I’m in the kitchen, or in the front room, I simply open up the PC, complete my task, and close the lid again.

Don’t underestimate the power of the processor either. The shot below is a stitch of some 5 x 6MPx photos I took in Vanuatu, which I edited on the Acer.

Hideaway Sunset 2

Finally, this is a great media player. Whether listening to an audio book, podcast, or watching a movie, this machine is the perfect size. Not too big and heavy, and not unusably small. Did I mention how bright and sharp the screen is? :-)

What about for study?

I’ve not been a student for a long time, at least not formally signed up. But I can see just how useful this PC would be in school or at Uni.

With a decent sized battery, you’d be able to run for a day taking notes. And you wouldn’t be lugging around a lead weight, with reels of spaghetti and power supplies. At the price, it’s very affordable too.

The 120GB HDD provides ample space for the most demanding coursework or thesis, as well as references.

As a student, or for my kids, I would ensure to install:

  • Vista (or Win7 once it’s out) – ReadyBoost and Tablet features score here
  • Office OneNote (as a minimum) – Actually for students Office is only $75 so go the whole hog. But OneNote is invaluable for lectures, research, collating notes for coursework, even for planning.
  • LiveMesh – which keeps all my notes, pictures, and other files in sync
  • Windows Live Tools – for organising my digital life
  • Witty or Twhirl for Twitter
  • Audacity for podcasting/recording

It’s not perfect though, is it?

Not by any means. A colleague of mine, Pat, commented on a fan noise that so annoyed him he changed the machine. Until today, I can’t say I was bothered by the fan at all. At times (high processor utilisation) it did kick in, but compared to ambient noise, wasn’t an issue in the slightest.

Today, however, I used the 9-cell battery for the first time, and heard what must be irritating Pat so much. I guess the larger battery, which raises the back of the laptop from the desk, gives more clearance and allows more sound to leak out.

Again though, once the PC was up and running, and had settled after boot-up, the disturbing noise went away. I will keep an ear out for it thought, and work a solution if I need to.

The other slight frustration was the Synaptics Enhancement driver, which controls additional features on the touchpad. For the first week or so, my cursor would just freeze about 30 secs after boot, and it took a little while for me to diagnose the conflict. (nothing mentioned in the Event log).

An advantage of running Vista was easily disabling this as a startup routine, which just removed the problem entirely.

As the machine is so small, you will have to watch for excessive use. I could imagine RSI and shoulder tension becoming real problems with too much time hunched over this little beast.

Anything else pleasantly surprising?

Yeah – total surprise when I was travelling. I’d installed the SD card from my camera into the SDHC slot, later when I reached into the bag to get the SD card out, it was missing. I was dismayed and not a little disappointed to have lost the card, and for it to have fallen out of the PC.

Then I discovered I’d had the PC the other side down in my bag. The SD card was still in the SDHC slot, and what I’d discovered was another memory card slot. This one is a 5-in-1 reader for most of the common formats – xD, SD, MMC, MS Duo and MS Duo Pro. Wow – so you can expand storage, have ReadyBoost and still upload photos and files from other memory cards.

I was really concerned with only 1GB of RAM to run Vista, but have honestly been surprised at how well it runs. I will be upgrading to 1.5GB soon, but I’m not in any rush.

Overall

I mentioned in my last post about the netbook that the vendors have reached the Price/Performance/Portability/Usability sweet spot with this computer, and my personal roadtest confirms this assessment.

I’d rate the Acer Aspire One a solid 4 stars out of 5.

When you see me in the office, on a plane, or at home, chances are, this PC won’t be far away. But for now – I have some Dexter to catch up on….

R42

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