These little PCs are all the rage, but are they worth YOUR while?  Should they be considered a replacement for their larger brethren?  Is one right for you?  That depends upon who you are!

Focus will be on the small netbook category, and the little 10.1-inch LED backlit Acer Aspire One D250-1165 being used to write this review as my means to this end.  There are many similar products without distinction in this size as well as in other sizes in the category.

What’s hot?

• Small and lightweight, highly portable

• XP Home operating system so the OS is not a huge drain on performance

• Inexpensive at about $300

• Good secondary computer choice for couch potatoes, travelers who can do all that is needed, others; maybe right for you

• Easy to reconfigure trackpad software for fun multitouch use

• Has most built-in features consumers generally expect – 160GB HD, bright screen, multicard reader, three USB ports, mic and headphone jacks, VGA out, low-light webcam and more.

• With realistic expectations, users will find adequate performance along with value.

• Come on – it’s only $300!

 

What’s not?

• Almost too small for laptop use (mostly for guys who do not easily keep knees together when seated.

• Processor power may be lacking for users expecting use-it-everyday, “real” computer performance – multitasking not its strong suit.

• Patience is a virtue

• Standard three-cell battery “only” lasts up to three hours, realistically less.

• Track pad buttons a bit stiff, may be uncomfortable after little use

• Lacks good volume from speakers in all but the quietest of environments

• Lack of optical drive means doing workarounds for optical media-based installations and for getting needed content from CDs, DVDs (once understood and comfortable with workarounds, this may not be a problem for users, and not a big drawback for this user).

• Keyboard is smaller than standard size, for some users may be tough to type quickly, accurately.  Even users with small hands may have issues with this 89% of full-size keyboard.

• 1024×600 display does not easily shows full web page on the screen.

• Sapphire Blue plastic case looks and feels cheap.

• Starting at “only” about $400, consumers can find deals on standard size low-end Windows laptops as well as larger screen netbooks with full-size keyboards.

 

Conclusion

First anticipation, then disappointment, then reassessment and acceptance of all it is and all it is not.  It’s small and lightweight, and it’s reasonably inexpensive.  Most of all, it’s small and lightweight.  Its small size translates into super portability.  It’s not everything users would want it to be, but it’s more than serviceable, kind of fun to use and much easier to schlep than a big one.  Now is a good time to remind would-be buyers to approach potential purchase with realistic expectations.  As a traveling laptop for users who don’t need full functionality, it’s a fine choice.

As an instead-of-a-laptop for students who expect, want and need more, it’s not going to be a good choice for most.  Not only is it slow and with the smaller keyboard, but I am not sure it’s a good fit for an iPod-using student.  Admittedly, I have not and will not try this, but it is my opinion that many students would not find the 160GB HD and low-end performance to be adequate for the long haul of a four-year college experience, for example.  And then there is the issue of low amplification of sound through the speakers. For students on the tightest of tight budgets and for those just not into tech, this would be acceptable and appreciated, I am sure.  Some, too, will simply appreciate the small size and light weight over heavier alternatives.

What’s it like?  Very strange for the uninitiated.  I’ve heard stories that these little things can’t even play YouTube videos without choking.  Not true.

What about the lack of optical media player?  Just today, I faced this dilemma.  How does one install software residing on a CD or DVD?  I placed the subject software source in the optical drive of a MacBook.  Then, I dragged to copy the contents onto a 2GB flash drive.  Had I needed a larger flash drive, I’ve got them.  Successfully copied, I plugged the FAT32-formatted flash drive into the Acer One netbook and launched the installer.  Sure, it was a bit awkward and slower than the usual method, but, in the end, it was fine.

I’ve made a concerted effort to use the netbook while at home base, too.  It is in this general use that I discovered just how small and difficult it is for this size box to be a comfy laptop.  Not the fault of Acer or the others, but it’s mainly a guy thing I discovered.  We males do not sit as easily as does the fairer sex with our legs snugly together while seated. We, that is, most, I am sure, sit with a bit of comfortable spread, some more spread than others.  It is this natural spread that creates just enough of a gap that makes it difficult for this size product to easily straddle the divide. I never had this concern with larger screen laptops, even with the original 12-inch iBook.  So, guys, think, too, about this as a possible impediment to total satisfaction with this size computer.  Alternatively, placing the Acer on a solid surface in front of me has proven to be no problem at all.

Traveling with the netbook has been a pleasant surprise.  At an observed weight of just 38.1 ounces (that’s two pounds, 6.1 ounces) and with its very small size, I like that it fits almost anywhere and requires little to nothing extra.  I didn’t need my (ONLY recommended brand) prized and favorite wheeled Brenthaven laptop traveler.  I packed the little netbook with its diminutive power supply in my little carry-on duffel.  I felt as if something was missing, something was wrong, but it was not!

So, I adjusted plans from the norm, lowering expectations from when traveling with a real computer.  As part of my setup routine on this new computer, I installed a few things.

This Acer Aspire One model, and I suspect many others in this category, comes with Microsoft Works, which might be all most users would need on a secondary computer.  As for me, I downloaded and installed the free OpenOffice suite with its, well, FREE and useful suite of applications.  This article is being written using the suite.  Regardless of your computer, needs or interests, you are encouraged to download and try it yourself at www.OpenOffice.org.

I’ve also installed my perennially recommended favorite FREE Windows app for saving anything printable on the screen as a PDF – CutePDF Writer.

I’ve set up Outlook Express for my POP3 email.  I’m downloading the free Thunderbird mail app and switching to it shortly.  Of course, Web mail is also an option.  Apple’s FREE Bonjour is here to enable near configuration-free network printing to our Gadget Central printers.  Google Chrome, the low overhead browser is installed, as is Apple’s Safari and Opera, as well as Firefox.  Now, I have lots of choices.

Skype, of course, is here for, well, my Skype calls. The computer came with a trial of McAfee Internet Security that, upon expiration calls for either continuing with a paid subscription to it or, my choice, switching to the best, ESET NOD32 Antivirus.  There’s no contest here.  QuickTime was installed because I like and use it as my preferred media player.

Now, I can stream and watch content from Hulu and others, I can write, otherwise surf online, do my email, work and play, for the most part, though it is still just not the same.  It’s SLOWER in all aspects than what I am accustomed to.

Surfing is better and faster with Chrome and Safari than with Explorer and Firefox. Still, it’s not always satisfying to try more than one thing at a time or risk random and otherwise inexplicable slowdowns wherein the browser shows at the top in the bar that it is not responding.  This is less apt to happen with Chrome or Safari, but it happens.  Partly a function of the slow Atom processor and partly because of the 1GB RAM, that’s the way it is.  I’m living with it and adjusting, exercising uncommon patience.

And then there is the screen, crisp and bright, yet small, really, really small.  It can show a page of text such as what it being written here.  However, surfing online, I find I am scrolling left and right constantly.  Annoying and different, but that, too, is the way it is.

The low-light webcam does a fine job, as well.

It’s all about compromise when considering one of these, be it the Acer Aspire One or any others.  Some have larger screens, slightly larger, and some have a slightly larger keyboard.  All are about the same speed.  All have just 1GB RAM.  Forget about the optical drive.  Were it larger, faster and better equipped, it would no longer be a $300 computer!

Battery life?  I wish it was better than under three hours.  For MORE money, of course, there is a higher capacity, six-cell battery providing double the rated operating time per charge.  This $50 accessory may be advantageous to many users, especially those whose requirements dictate being away from power for extended periods.  Higher capacity also means more bulk and weight. Given the option, who wouldn’t want the higher capacity battery?  As for me, I can live with it the way it is for now.  I also carry one of those supplemental rechargeable Lithium batteries that can have anything small and light on the power load plugged in, so that gives me a little extra boost, and also adds to the weight.  To each his own!

The keyboard size compromises include additional concessions.  There is no place the some of the customary dedicated keys.  Users need to become accustomed to using the Function key along with another to access Page Up and Down, screen brightness and volume controls.  You get the drift?

Ordinarily, I am not moved one way or another by style or color, unless it is something particularly outstanding and outside the norm, such as what usually comes from Apple.  This Acer Aspire One case feels like “plastic” and its dark blue exudes anything but quality.  So, there are no high marks toward style or case material quality.  However, and I cannot stress this enough, what can be expected for only $300?

I wonder, too, about suitability for an upgrade to Windows 7 or if the current crop of this and similar netbooks is doomed to be perpetual XP models.  I have no answers for this one, but I suspect it will always have to be an XP device, unless it’s switched to a Linux variant as some users do.  Linux can make a netbook like this seem downright speedy.  Others are finding ways to install the Mac OS and loving the experience.

For now, I am enjoying the experience just as it is, looking forward to another round of travel with this little wonder from Acer.  I like it much more than expected!  From what I have seen as far as sales in this category, and especially of Acer’s rise in popularity, it would appear that I am not alone.  Will the popularity continue? Will consumers tire of the compromises?  Will they look for a relatively quick upgrade to the next level, effectively costing more than originally considered?  Go ahead and put in your two cents worth!

I keep coming back to the overriding notion of convenience trumping the negatives and that’s where I will leave it – for the reader to determine if the tradeoffs send sentiment toward or away from ultimate purchase.  Without mucking up the works with lots of software and other changes that tend to slow down even the best of Windows computers over even a short time after initial boot-up, is the $300-ish investment, plus annual antivirus software and, possibly an extra $50 for the longer lasting battery worth the price of admission?

Pin It on Pinterest