4 Mini-laptops: Which Is Best?

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Acer Aspire One

I'm glad Acer waited out the first round of mini-notebooks. To my thinking, the recently introduced Aspire One is the best of this young breed, offering the killer combination of top performance and five hours of battery life in a design that is as good looking as it is functional. At $375, it fulfills the promise of mini-notebooks at a great price.

At 1 by 9.8 by 7.4 inches, the Aspire One is right in the middle of this group of mini-notebooks; bigger and slightly heavier than the Sylvania G Netbook but smaller and lighter than the Eee PC 1000. With its standard battery, it weighs 2.2 pounds, but with the extended battery pack it came in at 2.5 pounds and ran for a class-leading five hours 15 minutes.

The small AC adapter adds 5 ounces, giving the Aspire One a petite travel weight of 2.8 pounds with the bigger battery, half a pound less than either the 2133 Mini-Note or Eee PC 1000. Its three-prong power plug will probably prove to be a nuisance in older buildings that don't have grounded outlets; the 2133 Mini-Note also has a three-prong plug.

I looked at the sleek white model, but Acer also sells ones that are black, blue and pink. Whichever color strikes your fancy, the Aspire One is well made and looks like a computer costing hundreds of dollars more, but it comes with a cheesy vinyl slip case.

At a Glance

Aspire One

Acer Inc.

Price (as tested): $399

Pros: Exceptional battery life, top performer, excellent software, low price

Cons: Awkward three-prong power cord, small amount of storage space

Powered by a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor, the Aspire One has 1GB of system memory and 8GB of solid-state storage space, of which 6.4GB is available for files. This can't compare with the 104GB hard drive that the 2133 Mini-Note has and will quickly fill up, so you'll be well served by getting a memory key or flash card for more storage.

Like the 2133 Mini-Note, the Aspire One has an 8.9-in. wide screen, which may be a little short of the Eee PC 1000's 10-in. panel but shows the same 1024-by-600 resolution; it is also significantly brighter. There's a webcam above it.

While the 17.3mm keys can feel skimpy, they have a generous 2mm of depth. It was the firmest keyboard and the easiest to get used to of the test systems.

In the lower left is a handy home key that brings up the system's opening screen. Instead of a cluttered desktop, the Linpus Linux Lite operating system's home screen is divided into four groups: Connect (Web, e-mail, IM), Work (word processing, presentations, spreadsheets), Fun (games, media, images) and Files (links to storage). There are more choices for each category that you can get to by clinking an arrow as well as a settings section for adjusting the system's parameters. It's different from what the others -- and Windows -- provide, and I've found it to be a powerful paradigm. The system comes with the OpenOffice 2.3 suite, which includes all the basics, including word processing, presentations, Web browsing, e-mail and more.

Ports on the Aspire One are on a par with the others: three USB ports, external monitor, headphone, microphone and a LAN jack. There's also a pair of flash card readers that work with Secure Digital, Memory Stick and the tiny xD modules.

The notebook's 802.11b/g wireless client had a range of 115 feet, the longest of the four minis I looked at.

After passing every compatibility test I threw at it, the Aspire One sped through the performance tests, with the fastest times for starting up, opening an Acrobat file and printing a Word document. Paradoxically, it also ran for five hours and 15 minutes on a charge, the longest of this bunch of notebook runts and about three times longer than the 2133 Mini-Note. Even with the standard battery, the Aspire One would have outrun the 2133.

Priced at $399, the Aspire One that I looked at is a bargain, but if it's too expensive, you can get one with a smaller battery that weighs less for $330; a version with Windows XP Home runs to $350. For travelers or those looking for an inexpensive second (or third) computer, the Aspire One is a digital dream come true.

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