Early Review of Acer Aspire One (11.5″) netbook

All the activity around netbooks which I saw while I was in Japan earlier this year made me curious. While they might be good for casual/student use, would they be sufficient for someone who works at his computer most of the day? Even though I’ve been a very happy with my 17inch MacBookPro for the last few years, I decided to keep an eye on these new netbooks, and be willing to experiment if something suitable came along.

The big thing for me was finding something with a usable keyboard. One good contender was the HP2140; I really liked the keyboard, and the very solid case, but the awkward touchpad/buttons and slightly-too-small-display kept me away. Then I saw the 11.5inch Acer Aspire One which had:

  • fullsize keyboard, I liked it even more then the HP2140 keyboard
  • 11.5″ screen (1366×768)
  • 2GB ram
  • 250GB disk
  • 6cell battery
  • 1.3GHz Intel Atom cpu
  • model# AO751H-1893. (Interesting note is that the Acer Aspire One is actually a series of different netbooks. They all look the same when shopping online, so model#s are important. The first part of the model# is about the screen / physical size, so AO751H-xxxx is for the 11.5″ display, AOD150-xxxx is for the 10″ display and AOA150-xxxx is for the 8.9″ display. The last 4 digits of the model# is about the RAM/disk/O.S. and 3-6cell battery configuration.)

I’m still getting used to the Acer, installing software etc, but here’s some first impressions:

Pro:

  • keyboard: this is great, I liked it even more then the HP2140 keyboard. Somehow Acer managed to get a full sized keyboard onto what was basically a very small, light, device. I’ve used it now for a few multi-screen-long emails/blogs, and still really like it.
  • screen: while this is obviously smaller then my 17″ MBP, it is big enough that I find it surprisingly workable enough without too much scrolling around.
  • size&weight: I know the Acer Aspire One is smaller and lighter than the 17″ Mac Book Pro. However, as a fanatical one-carry-on-bag-only traveler, I was amazed at how much extra room it left when packing my travel bag. Carrying between meetings is now so trivial that I worry about putting it down someplace and forgetting where I left it!
  • 6 cell battery equals *long* life. A typical day of a few hours usage between meetings throughout the day, means that the same one charge lasts across two days. Lets see how much that degrades as the battery gets older, but the difference from my MBP is life-changing. I used to carry an extra battery, and continuously seek out power outlets in meeting rooms and airports. Now, I just use one battery, can sometimes forget to bring the charger with me to the office and its ok.

Con:

  • Vista came pre-installed so I reimaged with Windows7 Release Candidate, which works better then Vista afaict, except for an annoying need for manual refresh of desktop when resuming from suspend/hibernate. I’ll try Windows7 for a while, and see how it goes, before I seriously consider installing linux.
  • slow CPU, little RAM; I’ve had to change my normal habits of running with 200+ tabs/windows and lots of concurrently running applications. Now, I make sure to focus on one thing at a time, and close all tabs/windows/applications as soon as I’m done. I’ve also noticed that with the MBP I’d typically wait to use it once I had a desk to work at, but with this netbook, I’m far more likely to whip out this Acer and do a quick item on-the-spot, regardless of location. It feels far less intrusive to use when others are around. Whether this is a good/bad thing is still unclear, but it is a change in my behavior triggered by the design of this new machine, so I wanted to point it out.
  • thin case: this makes me wonder how rugged it is, and how long this machine would survive the abuse of being tossed into my bag, cycling to work, long distance travel, etc. So far so good, but the MacBookPro, and even the HP2140 feel a lot more solid.
  • screen: A nit. The glossy screen has reflective surface, so backlighting can be annoying. In use so far, its been easy to reposition to avoid this, but I’d definitely prefer a matte screen to reduce this.
  • keyboard: A nit. For dim lighting situations, I miss the keyboard backlighting on the MBP.
  • lack of bluetooth seems silly, especially as some of the bluetooth specific control keys are present. Seems to be an available option in some locales, but why not everywhere? update: I’ve since discovered a little switch on front left underside which toggle bluetooth on/off. This is in addition to the keyboard fn-F3 setting. Not the most intuitive design, but it does work. joduinn 22oct2009

I’m using this Acer to write this blog post, and while traveling this week, and so far I really like it. Lets see how it goes over the coming weeks!
As an aside, I found it interesting how few applications I had to install on this new machine. The complete list of what I installed is:

  • Firefox
  • Thunderbird
  • Skype
  • Pidgin
  • OpenVPN
  • putty (for ssh)
  • OpenOffice (havent used this yet, but seemed useful)
  • (The only thing I miss is “Things”, which is a Mac-only to-do list application)

Its early days still, so if I find myself installing other applications over time, I’ll update this list. However, so far its a very short list, and mostly geared around accessing information/programs/data on other remote machines. After all the talk about “cloud computing”, “hosted services” and “moving to the web”, I was actually kinda surprised to see how close to reality this seems to be… with the obvious endorsement of the whole netbook concept.

I’m curious – what other applications (apart from the ones listed above) do other people in Mozilla use?

9 thoughts on “Early Review of Acer Aspire One (11.5″) netbook”

  1. Whoa. I’ve been looking for a new laptop lately, and had been avoiding netbooks due to the painfully small screen size, but I had no idea there was an 11.5″ Aspire One.I’ll definitely be giving this a look, thanks.

  2. I recently had to set up a new laptop (coincidentally from Acer and with very similar characteristics to yours, just a bigger screen and a more powerful processor). I’ve certainly installed a lot more applications on mine, if you exclude various developer tools: Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird, Secunia PSI, Light Alloy, MiKTeX, SIPPS, Foxit Reader, PDFCreator, Word/Excel Viewer (argh), K-Lite Codec Pack.

  3. I have a Dell Mini9 for “casual” use round the house, it is 1024×600 and I do wish I’d gone for something about 1280×768, so the 1366×768 sounds useful. I also miss having the backlit keyboard that my work laptop has.

    With just that list of software installed why not put Linux on instead of Windows7?

  4. @JAB, @Daniel Glazman : My biggest concern was whether this smaller netbook shape was even workable for me. So far so good, but I’m still trying it out. After a few more weeks, if it continues to be this good, I’ll be putting more effort into this and will be investigating hackintosh and linux options. (Having said that, most of our users in the rest of the world are on windows, so part of me thinks its “reasonable” to run what they run, regardless of personal preference!)

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