Acer says the Aspire One is not a laptop. It might look and smell like one, but the company has gone to great lengths to promote the message that the One is an 'Internet device'. Others, such as Intel, refer to it as a netbook — a new category of device spawned by the Asus EeePC 701. You, friends, can call it what you want. We'll stick with mini laptop.
Despite its lateness to the party, the One has pretty much everything it takes to be a market leader. It's attractive and lightweight. It offers solid performance and it's easy to use. Most importantly, however, is its price: AU$699 for the XP Home version, and AU$599 for the Linux — those who get in quickly at launch will also score themselves an AU$99 cash back redemption.
The One's dimensions are somewhat deceiving. The 249 by 29 by 170mm chassis makes it approximately 25mm wider than an EeePC 901, but it's also marginally thinner. At 995g, it's also lighter than the 1.1kg Eee 901. Be warned, though: the One saves weight because it comes with a very small, very lightweight 2200mAh battery, which is dwarfed by the 901's 6600mAh unit.
The One, on the whole, is attractive — particularly with its lid closed. The curved edges and glossy blue finish — it's also available in white — give it a more contemporary, grown-up look than the EeePC series. The general consensus in the CNET offices is that it isn't quite as attractive as an EeePC 901, but looks are always a subjective issue — you may think it's the best thing since sliced bread. It'll eventually have five colours to choose from — Seashell white, Sapphire Blue, Golden Brown, Coral Pink, and apparently Black is on the cards as well. The XP edition will intially launch in white, the Linux in blue, and then the further colours will be released in late August.
By making the chassis wider than most netbooks, Acer has been able to incorporate a keyboard that's 95 per cent the size of a full laptop keyboard. Amazingly, you can actually touch-type on the One without much compromise in your speed. Sure, the enter button isn't as big as we'd like, but the rest of it is spot on. Both shift keys are large and even the Ctrl and Fn buttons are the right way around. Unfortunately, the mouse trackpad is extremely shallow and its remarkably skinny buttons live on either side instead of directly below. This takes a lot of getting used to.
There's plenty to talk about elsewhere. There are three USB ports in total — two on the right, one on the left. There's also a D-Sub video output port, Ethernet port and mic and headphone ports. Unusually, there are two SD card readers, one on either side. The idea is that one SD reader — which also recognises MMC, xD and Memory Stick Pro cards — can be used to access removable media. The other is intended for semi-permanent storage — you simply slap an SDHC card in and leave it there.
Like most netbooks, the One comes in Linux and Windows XP versions. The entry-level Linux version packs the hugely popular 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU and 512MB of RAM. Standard storage levels aren't great — just 8GB of NAND flash memory is provided, but you can't complain given the amount Acer's asking you to spend.
The basic Windows XP model uses the same 1.6GHz Atom CPU, but gets 1.5GB of RAM, plus a 120GB mechanical hard drive. We love that it has plenty of storage space, but the mechanical hard disk has moving parts, which makes the One more prone to accidental data loss than machines with solid-state drives.
The majority of the One's other features are common across all versions of the device. The 8.9-inch, 1,024x600-pixel display is a good one and the 1.3 megapixel webcam above the screen comes in handy for anyone who wants to video chat with faraway friends and relatives.
Wireless technology in the One is arguably inferior to that of the EeePC 901. There's no Bluetooth, for a start, and the wireless is of the 802.11b/g variety, which maxes out at 54Mbps. The 901, in contrast, comes with Bluetooth and 802.11b/g/n and the latter allows connections with a maximum theoretical speed of 300Mbps.
Where the One gets one over the EeePC 901, however, is with its optional 3G/HSDPA adapter, due in Q4. Behind the battery pack, there's a SIM card slot into which you can plug your 3G SIM for go-anywhere Internet access.
Many of us will be familiar with Linux-based operating systems, but relatively few of you will have seen the particular "Linpus" implementation in the One. The home screen is divided into four sections: "Connect" for all Internet, instant messenger and email-related tasks; "Work" for accessing OpenOffice word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and database applications; "Fun" for the games, media player and photo management software; and "Files" for accessing your data. There's also a search bar at the top right that can be used to search the Internet directly or the files on the hard drives.
The Acer Aspire One feels quick in everyday use. It takes approximately 17 seconds to boot the operating system — 3 seconds quicker than an EeePC 901 — and about 10 seconds to launch common apps like OpenOffice or Firefox. The Linpus interface is also a joy to use; it's quicker and more responsive than the Linux distributions on most of the One's rivals.
Battery life wasn't particularly impressive, though. As mentioned, the One ships with a three cell, 2200mAh battery as standard, which lasted just shy of 2 hours when playing a DivX movie. That's a far cry from the Eee PC 901's 4.5-hour figure. Those wishing for better battery life can purchase a six cell, 4800mAh battery when it's released later in the year, and eventually the XP model is expected to migrate to the six cell as default.
Acer offers a one year, courier pick up repair/return, although this can be extended to a three year warranty for an extra AU$100.
In some respects, the Acer Aspire One is better than an EeePC 901. It has an excellent keyboard, solid performance and is highly portable. The EeePC 901 still has the edge in terms of battery life and mouse input, so it's a close call between the two machines.