As prices keep dropping in the Netbook Wars, staying competitive among a slew of me-too Atom-powered mininotebooks is a challenge. While paying $500 for a Netbook was common just a year ago, today, stripped-down yet still functional Netbooks are now pushing $300, led by Dell and its bare-bones Mini 10v. Acer's Aspire One helped define the Netbook to the masses, undercutting the competition at $350, and the latest version drops the price (while slimming down the chassis) with the $298 Aspire One AOD250.
Just a few months ago, Acer launched the first 10-inch version of the Aspire One Netbooks, the AOD150. In February it cost $350, and we called it very good, but it had its limitations: a terrible touch pad, somewhat bulky size because of a six-cell battery, and a keyboard that was positively cramped compared with the competition.
The AOD250 weighs less and is thinner than the AOD150 because it has a three-cell battery now, not a six. The specifications on processor, hard drive, and RAM are identical, but the new Aspire One's more compact design makes it feel a bit less like a budget product.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$298|
|Processor||1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270|
|Memory||1GB DDR2 RAM 533 MHz|
|Hard drive||160GB, 5400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 945GM Express|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 950 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows XP Home SP3|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.17 x 7.24 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.36/3 pounds|
Our review unite came in Ruby Red, but other colors (Diamond Black, Sapphire Blue, and Seashell White) are available. The finish has a metallic-flake look, with a glossy but not outrageously fingerprint-attracting finish. The screen hinge, where the bulk of the battery is housed, is matte black and lies relatively flush with the rest of the machine. Inside, the black keyboard is housed in red plastic with a finish that looks like brushed metal, while the glossy 10.1-inch screen is surrounded by shiny black plastic. It's not an unattractive look for a budget Netbook, but perhaps not exactly business casual.
While it's a decent-looking machine, it doesn't particularly stand out as groundbreaking in any way, unlike what Asus did with the stylish new "Seashell" Eee PC 1008HA. On the other hand, the Seashell costs $429, while the AOD250 is $130 cheaper. That's a huge difference in a low-cost product.
The keyboard feels comfortable to type on, and although it has a pair of full Shift keys (no ugly right-side compression), it's still far from full size. As a result, the typing experience is more cramped than working on an HP Mini 110 or a Samsung N120. The keyboard could have gone fully edge-to-edge, and in the future we really hope Acer makes this shift. The touch pad is definitely an improvement: while it's still tiny and inset, the bottom rocker button is much more clicky than before.
The 10.1-inch wide-screen LED-backlit LCD offers a 1,024x600-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. Colors are sharp, and text and icons are crisp.
The stereo speakers, which are embedded somewhere within the Netbook (upon examination we still couldn't find where the sound was coming from), are weak, both in volume and sound quality. While it's not surprising for a Netbook, headphones are almost a must.
|Acer Aspire One AOD250-1116||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
If you're familiar with the AOD150, you'll know what to expect here as well. The same budget no-frills ports are available here; while three USB 2.0 jacks are generous, there's no Bluetooth. For only $30 more, the HP Mini 110, while thicker in size, includes Bluetooth as well as a fuller edge-to-edge keyboard. You'll have to look to more expensive Netbooks for features like 802.11n or ExpressCard slots.
Intel's Atom N270 processor is the same that's seen across the entire world of Netbooks, and there's nothing else under the hood that's not cookie-cutter standard now for an Atom Netbook: 160GB hard drive and 1GB of DDR2 RAM. For basic Web surfing, media viewing, and accessing office documents, it works perfectly well. Performance in our benchmark tests was similar to Atom N270 Netbooks from other manufacturers, including more-expensive models. Not surprisingly, like all Atom N270 processors, it doesn't handle full-screen or HD-streaming video well; you're better off sticking to downloaded files or in-browser Hulu and YouTube.
When it comes to Netbook batteries, the most common choice is between three and six cells; three cells are thinner but generally last 2 to 3 hours, while six cells are thicker and can last in the 5-hour range. The Acer Aspire One AOD250 ran for 1 hour and 50 minutes on our video playback battery drain test using the included three-cell battery, which is lower than average; the three-cell HP Mini 110 lasted for about 30 minutes longer. While that doesn't leave much time for mobile work without an outlet, keep in mind that our battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
The new Acer Aspire One models come with a standard one-year parts and labor warranty, which can be extended to three years with the Acer Advantage service (about $90 to $100 for two years' extension online). The toll-free 24-7 support number is 1-800-816-2237, and software and drivers can be found on Acer's site, with a little hunting around.