I mentioned yesterday that I had an Acer Aspire One arriving, specifically the hard drive version of the 8.9-inch netbook.
Well it arrived yesterday afternoon, and I’ve had a chance to go through a few charge cycles and give it a good work out both last night and this morning on the way to work. This is a bit longer than most “first impressions”, but it’s due to the fact that I was able to do quite a bit right out of the box with it.
First off, the construction of the Aspire One. The build quailty feels very well made. It doesn’t feel like there is any wasted space. That said, now that I understand what’s involved in upgrading the memory and hard drive, I believe I’ll wait until this weekend. Both definitely need to be done at the same time. You don’t want to be taking the rubber feet off to get to the screws more than once.
It is incredibly lightweight – much lighter than I initially expected. I will trade off some weight for increased battery life, no problem, so moving to a six-cell battery when they come out (other than the price) won’t be an issue. The footprint of the Aspire One won’t be increasing too much.
The keyboard is solid and has no real give or flex. I would like a bigger Enter / Return key plus a larger delete key, but such is the sacrifices we make for something this small. I was surprised at how fast I was able to acclimate to typing on something that small.
I’m still getting used to the button placement on either side. The touchpad scrolling and zoom in and zoom out features are taking some getting used to. The touchpad scrolling works just fine with most websites as long as you pay attention to keeping your finger along the right side. Scrolling with Google Docs and Evernote works just fine as well. The touchpad buttons are a little loud – I find myself double-tapping on the touchpad rather than clicking on the buttons.
Connectivity and Expansion
The wireless works great (better than my MacBook Pro and ThinkPad). Ethernet works fine as well. Not much can be said there. The Secure Digital slot on the right-hand side is not a full slot – when you insert an SD card, it sticks out a bit. I could see somebody trying to force it if they weren’t paying attention (I almost did).
Like others, I’ve gotten around 2.5 hours with WiFi on and the screen brightness reduced. I could easily get 3 hours with the WiFi off. Looking forward to the six-cell battery.
It’s not an iSight, but it’s definitely doable with Skype. I would imagine that anything with a better resolution would impact system performance quite a bit. The tradeoff is worth it.
Performance wise, I’m impressed (even when using power saving features while running on battery). Of course, a lot of the software I will be using on this thing is tied to user input rather than any clock speeds of any CPUs. I’ve got 1GB of memory, and going upto 1.5GB will certainly help in a few areas, but I could see getting by with 1GB if needed. Would I like a true dual-core Atom? Sure, but with the hyperthreading, it’s just fine as it is (and I’m not sure how much the HT is helping, given that I’m not doing too much at any one time). One thing I wouldn’t give up for a dual-core Intel Atom is battery life.
I don’t care for the trial software that it comes with (Microsoft Office trials, McAfee security software trials, WinDVD). A quick check of Acer’s website showed that the drivers were up to date (the bottom of my Aspire One shows a manufacturing date of last month – July of 2008). The actual Acer software and drivers seem to work just fine.
I have moved a lot of my hobby and side work (such as Small-Laptops.com) online. It wasn’t necessarily something I willingly did (or a lost bet or a challenge). I found myself needing to access various data from different machines. As such, I use Google Docs for spreadsheets and some word processing (I still prefer plain text for a lot of stuff though). I also use Google’s newsreader to keep up on RSS feeds. Both of these run just fine through Firefox on the Acer, and as I said earlier, the scrolling with the touchpad works with them. I was a little concerned before I tried them out.
I have not tried Google Gears for browsing and looking at offline documents I’ve created in Google Docs, but will be doing so, since when I have this, I’m not going to have internet connectivity in many cases (there is some irony there). I expect a bit of a performance lag there, but we’ll see.
Firefox on the Aspire One
Firefox runs great. Something this small requires tabbed browsing. The touchpad scrolling is smooth, as long as you watch finger placement. There’s also a full-screen mode, although I haven’t felt the need to really use it. Zooming in and out with the touchpad also works, but it’s not perfect – it can be a little sporadic.
Unless it’s a spreadsheet or needs full word processing, I store everything else in Evernote. Evernote is basically the reason why I bought an iPhone earlier this week. It does work great on the Aspire One, both through the web interface and through the standalone Windows versio. Like Firefox, Evernote has a full-screen mode when typing up notes or documents, and it works great here. Scrolling with the touchpad also works here.
Paint.net is probably the only graphics editing software I would use on the Windows version of the Acer Aspire One. Besides the fact that it’s free, it’s lightweight but offers more than enough features for typical graphics editing. The various windows (color picker, layers, tools, history, etc.) fade out of the way when you hover over one that is being overlapped by another, and in such a small form factor display as the Aspire One (albeit at 1024×600, it’s not *that* small), that’s a blessing in disguise as you can kind of stack them up to free up room for the main image.
As I said, I’ll be posting photos I took of the Aspire One that I also edited on it – I think this is where I’m going to really notice the performance of the Atom, as well as hard drive access.
I have a feeling, just from what I’ve seen, that the Acer Aspire (as well as other netbooks with hard drives such as the MSI Wind U100 and the Asus Eee PC 1000H) would make for a decent mobile photography accessory / image bank and/or backup. Right now, there are actually devices out there that are approaching the cost of the Aspire One (and the other netbooks in its class) that were created specificaly to backup and display pictures. There’s no reason why the netbooks can’t replicate those functions (those specific devices are much smaller of course, but money wise, a netbook makes more sense, and given the WiFi options, a netbook can help you get your photos, etc., backed up online).
If you have any questions or requests, just leave a comment. I’ll be posting a lot more over the next few weeks.