Consumer Reports Misses the Mark on Netbooks

BATTERY LIFE

Consumer Reports claims that battery life is "surprisingly good ranging from 3 to 9 hours". I disagree at both ends of the spectrum.

At the low end, I own two netbooks whose battery life is best measured in minutes rather than hours. The Averatec machine they reviewed has a battery life of 2 hours and 15 minutes (doesn't anyone proofread?) and they also rate the HP model under three hours.

At the high end, the claim of a 9 hour battery life on the Acer Aspire One AOD150-1165 is suspect. The machine comes with either a 3 cell or 6 cell battery. Consumer Reports tested a model with an "extended battery". Exactly what that means they don't say.

Acer claims "up to" 6.5 hours of battery life "depending on configuration and usage" for the 6 cell battery and "up to" 3 hours for the three cell battery. Everyone knows that vendor claims are at the upper end of optimistic.

So how does Consumer Reports get 9 hours of battery life on a machine where the best case from the vendor is 6.5 hours?

What Consumer Reports didn't mention is something that Laptop magazine reported on in February:

"... the first batch of Aspire Ones-including review units-inadvertently shipped with a 5800-mAh (milliamp-hour) six-cell battery ... Turns out, the Aspire One was supposed to ship with a six-cell, 4400-mAh battery, which means it stores much less energy than the 5800-mAh battery ... While Acer estimates that the 4400-mAh battery will get about 6 hours, our own data suggest that it may be anywhere from 4.5 hours to 5.5 hours ... those who can snag one of these Aspire One's with extra-long endurance will have something of a collector's item on their hands. Since there's no way to know ... how many 5800 mAH batteries are out there, it's sort of a crap shoot as to whether you'll get one. For those that do, though, you'll be able to brag that you have the longest lasting netbook to date. "

But even the mistakenly supercharged review unit that Laptop magazine tested got just under 8 hours of runtime. So how could Consumer Reports possibly get 9 hours?

They don't say.

Normally, a reputable review that reports on battery life tests, explains the methodology involved. This is crucial, as some people (Walter Mossberg being one) try to stress the machines to get the worst case, while others try to simulate normal usage.

The Acer Aspire One is coming soon to AT&T and Costco. Don't buy one expecting 9 hours of battery life.

KEYBOARDS

Consumer Reports thinks that portability (as opposed to price or operating system considerations) is the key reason for choosing a netbook, so they don't give ergonomics much weight in their evaluation. This strikes me as a mistake. After having used a handful of netbooks, the thing that made the most lasting impression on me was the keyboard. There is a huge difference in keyboards.

I, for one, can attest to the annoyance of the right Shift key being in the wrong place on early Asus netbooks such as the 1000H on the cover of the magazine. The newer Asus chicklet style keyboard moved the right Shift key, but it has a drastically different feel than the older keyboard. Perhaps most striking is that the keys are flat rather than sculpted. Personally, I can't use a keyboard with flat keys. The Acer Aspire One has excellently sculpted keys, but they were too small for my adult hands.

At least the Asus chicklet keyboard has a space between the keys. Other netbooks don't, they feel like you're typing on a table top.

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