Hands on With Acer's Aspire One Netbook

Acer, the world's third largest PC vendor, is a big believer in the future of mini-laptops, or netbooks, and the company gave me a chance to try out its first device, the Aspire one, in an interview last week.

It's one of the best mini-notebooks I've tested for the price -- which ranges from US$399 to $499, software and other features.

From boot up to shut down, the Aspire one was a pleasure to use. Boot up took just 12 seconds due to the Linpus Linux Lite OS it runs. That compares to 30 to 40 seconds on other mini-notebooks I've tested running Microsoft Windows XP. Aspire one can also come with Windows XP, but after trying out the one with Linpus Linux, I'm not sure I'd want XP.

What Acer did best with Aspire one was focus on the Internet.

The Aspire one is designed for Internet use and comes loaded with software. The home page that opens on boot up offers software options right away, including a browser, an all-in-one email box, unified messaging center, media software and Office-like software.

It will show up to six separate e-mail accounts on one screen. On first opening the application, it prompts you to type in your name and password for each e-mail account, then sends all incoming mail to one box. It works similarly with the messaging software.

Only Hotmail does not work on the Aspire one system, I'm told, though MSN Messenger does.

All of the Office-like applications are from Open Office and are compatible with Microsoft Office software, an Acer representative said.

Other conveniences include allowing you to choose the software that shows up on your home page and a "home page" key on the typing pad that returns you to the main menu immediately. You can't get lost.

The Aspire one I tested used a 1.6GHz Intel Atom microprocessor, 1G byte of DRAM, an 8G byte NAND flash memory storage drive and ran on a 3-cell battery able to last about three hours. For a higher price, there are options for up to a 120G byte HDD (hard disk drive) and 6-cell battery that lasts around seven or eight hours. I'm not sure why anyone interested in a netbook would go for a 3-cell battery. The devices are designed for mobility, so a 6-cell battery seems necessary to me.

The screen and keypad on Aspire one were great. The 8.9-inch LCD screen has an LED backlight (light-emitting diode) which uses less power than traditional backlights and boosts color saturation, giving the screen beautiful 1024 by 600 resolution.

The keypad is easy on the hands. Unlike rival devices, Acer kept the keypad simple with keys that are responsive and spaced out, making error-free typing simple. The keypad is 95 percent as large as a mainstream laptop keyboard, according to Acer, and it felt like it when I was typing.

For easy Internet access, Aspire one comes with Wi-Fi 802.11b/g and a choice of adding embedded WiMax or 3G (third-generation) modules. WiMax, which is broadband wireless Internet similar to Wi-Fi, hasn't rolled out broadly across the world, but 3G networks are up and running in many places.

Aspire one can also read five different kinds of memory cards, and there's an expansion slot on the side of the device where you can add a memory card to expand internal storage.

The device is already on sale in Taiwan and is rolling out across Asia and the rest of the world this month.

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