Acer Aspire One review: Acer Aspire One

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MSRP: $299.00

The Good Attractive, slim design; big keyboard for such a small system; affordable.

The Bad Only 512MB of RAM limits performance; wimpy battery life; no Bluetooth.

The Bottom Line The Acer Aspire One is easily the best of the current under-$400 Netbooks, but its meager allotment of memory and tiny battery limit its appeal.

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6.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 5
  • Battery 4
  • Support 4

With recent entries from Asus, MSI, Sylvania, and models from Dell and Lenovo on the way, the Netbook field is becoming increasingly crowded. While many of the second-generation Netbooks are creeping toward mainstream laptop prices, we're pleased to see the smart-looking Acer Aspire One holding the line at $379, without skimping too much on features or design.

Despite the wallet-friendly price and large keyboard, we have a few reservations. For one, the system comes with only 512MB of RAM, which limits its performance. For another, the battery life is nearly as bad as that of the otherwise excellent MSI Wind; both hover about the 2-hour mark--far too little juice for such a mobile machine. And the Linux OS of our review unit limits its mass appeal, though we're pleased to see that an XP Home version of the Aspire One also includes 1GB of memory and a 120GB (spinning) hard drive for only $20 more.

Still, this is easily the best all-around Netbook we've seen for less than $400, although similarly priced upcoming entries from Lenovo and Dell may make the Aspire's window of opportunity rather small.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $379
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270
Memory 512MB 533MHz DDR2
Hard drive 8GB SSD
Chipset Intel GM945
Graphics Intel 945GME Express (integrated)
Operating System Linpus Linux Lite v1.0.2.E
Dimensions (WDH) 9.8x6.7x1.1 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 8.9 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.1/2.8 pounds
Category Netbook

Physically, the Aspire One is very similar to the slightly larger, pricier 10-inch MSI Wind, with a reasonably large keyboard that's much easier to use than the tiny almost smartphone-like keys found on the Asus Eee PC 901 or the Sylvania G Netbook. That's because the Aspire is a little wider than the Asus, and it's also a few ounces lighter, thanks in part to only having a small 3-cell battery. We were please to see that it includes dedicated page-up and page-down keys, which are especially useful on devices with smaller screens that require lots of scrolling to get through long Web pages.

The touch pad is wide, but not very deep, giving it a letterbox-style look, similar to the one found on the HP 2133 Mini-Note. It's reasonably easy to use, at least as far as the small touch pads on Netbooks go. The mouse buttons are positioned to the left and right of the touch pad--not below it--which may take a little getting used to for touch-typists.

The 8.9-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1,024x600-pixel native resolution, which is the same as found on other 9- and 10-inch Netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC 901 and the MSI Wind. It's wide enough to display most Web pages correctly, but you'll find yourself frequently engaged in vertical scrolling.

  Acer Aspire One Average for category [Netbook]
Video VGA-out VGA-out
Audio headphone/microphone jacks headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, two SD card readers 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None None

The Aspire One is generous with the USB ports, offering three, but there's no Bluetooth, so tethering your smartphone for mobile broadband is out of the question (which we've successfully done with the Asus Eee PC 901). Like all Netbooks we've seen up to this point, it lacks an ExpressCard slot, which the upcoming Lenovo IdeaPad S10 is expected to offer, making it easy to use a mobile broadband card. The dual SD card slots are handy for expanding on the 8GB solid-state hard drive, especially since Netbooks with 20GB and 40GB SSD drives are now available (although at higher prices).

With Intel's new 1.6GHz Atom N270 CPU, specifically designed for low-power Netbooks, you're not going to find the same level of performance you'd get from even an inexpensive Core 2 Duo laptop. The Linux-based system wasn't able to run our usual suite of benchmarks (which use Windows and Mac applications such as iTunes, Microsoft Office, and Adobe Photoshop), but even the light Linux OS felt occasionally sluggish (thanks, in part, to having only 512MB of RAM) when using the preinstalled Open Office suite of productivity software, although Web surfing was generally trouble-free. For everyday use, however, our anecdotal tests showed that it offers a faster, smoother experience than another $399 Netbook we recently looked at, the Sylvania G Netbook.

The Acer Aspire One ran for 2 hours and 14 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included 3-cell battery. That's barely more than the MSI Wind, which was also saddled with a puny 3-cell battery--and the biggest flaw for both systems. MSI plans to upgrade its battery to a 6-cell version in the near future, and Acer offers a 6-cell battery that we've seen online for $119--a large premium for such an inexpensive laptop.