Acer Aspire One Review

Posted by Tejus Parikh on September 28, 2008

I’ve had the machine for almost two weeks and used it a bunch, so it’s time to write a real review of the system.

Interface

I’ve got the one running Linpus Linux Lite.  Linpus is based off the Fedora project and optimized to run on lower powered machines, such as net-books.  The goal of the interface appears to be to abstract out as much of the Linux guts as possible.  The main screen is a collection of application buttons to launch the applications that someone figured would be the most used.  The list is pretty sensible.  I’d imagine the vast majority of users would actually use the machine for Web Browsing, Instant Messaging, and writing documents.  In another attempt to make things comfortable for main-stream users, the default theme and window dressing looks like WindowsXP. [caption id=”attachment_204” align=”alignnone” width=”300” caption=”This is how the Aspire c”]This is how the Aspire c[/caption] However, if you aren’t a Linux Newbie or want to learn more about the how to use Linux, it’s pretty easy to break out of the Linpus box.  The Linpus interface is just some custom stuff on top of Xfce, a Linux interface that I’m a big fan of.  Like with any other Linux system, once you have root and a terminal, the sky’s the limit on what you can do.  I followed the steps in the link to enable the Xfce menu, which allowed me to add custom keybindings, virtual desktops, get rid of the default WindowsXP window dressing, and a hot key to open the run dialog. [caption id=”attachment_205” align=”alignnone” width=”300” caption=”more visually palatable”]more visually palatable[/caption]

Installed Apps

There are a few surprises here.  Instead of shipping with Pidgin, it ships with an app called Messenger.  Messenger supports Skype, along with the standard text protocols, with the downside being that the interface is not as nice. Despite the vast speed improvements present in Firefox3, the Aspire One continues to ship with FireFox2. Otherwise, it’s your standard set of linux productivity tools, such as OpenOffice, some random media clients (no Amarok because the system in GTK based), and some of the usual free (and fun) games. It’s pretty much what you’d want in a system like this, unless…. Well I’ll get to that in a bit.

Input

The keyboard is slightly smaller than a standard laptop keyboard.  I believe Acer claims it is about 95%.  I used to use a Fujitsu mini-notebook that had a similar sized keyboard.  Personally, I like slightly smaller keyboards because they require less finger travel.   Another big plus is how responsive the keys are.  I often find Dells are just a little mushy.  The Acer keyboard is very nice and springy. The mouse, on the other hand, is not as nice.  It supports up/down and side to side scrolling.  However, the scroll points aren’t right at the edge, so it’s very hit or miss on whether you’ll get the behavior that you want.  The placement of the mouse buttons to the left and right of the trackpad is a bit weird too.  It’s going to take a lot of practice to reliably hit them without accidentally scrolling to somewhere on the page.  All this means that using the mouse can often be frustrating.  Playing with the sensitivity settings may help a bit, but I have yet to find that sweet spot.

Performance

This is where the little machine really shines.  I figured that 1.6Ghz low voltage processor would be a bit of a dog, but this machine is pretty fast.  Of course, I’ve cheated a bit, I did pop open the hardware and add an additional Gig of RAM.  Websites are very usable on Firefox.  Openoffice loads quickly and is usable.  The games are smooth.  Messenger is pretty quick too.  I often have multiple applications open at a time and hardly get frustrated by the performance of the processor. There has been a lot of noise online about the write speed of the built in flash drive.  It’s not super fast, but I haven’t done anything that’s made me mad at it. Also the connectivity options sort of suck.  You can’t get one with 802.11n or Gigabit ethernet.   However, I find it somewhat unlikely that you’re going to transfer very large files to a machine with 8G of Hdd.

Linuxy-ness

Make no mistake, this is a real Linux system.  Occasionally this manifests itself in weird gui behavior.  When the network disconnects, I get about 4 error messages about it.  That’s somewhat annoying. What’s not annoying is that a little knowledge of yum can set you up with gedit, mysql, postgresql, gcc, ruby and whatever else you want to run.  Since the performance is so good you can actually use it as a goof around development box.  While nobody is going to mistake it for a dual-core Macbook Pro,  it’s actually very usable. There are times that you’re going to want something with a bigger screen, or more horsepower, but $330, a machine that can do that much is really quite cool.

Summary

I had hoped that the performance of this machine would be good enough to take to a coffee shop and hack.  It’s far exceeded those expectations.  I love using this thing and it covers about 80% of my computer usage.  If you want something small, cheap, and useful (and your handy with a screw-driver) this is the machine that you want to get.  As long as you aren’t trying to develop some silly J2EE app, you’ll be thrilled with what it can do.

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: