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Jewish World Review
Sept. 4, 2009
/ 15 Elul 5769
Acer Netbook a Net Gain for Travelers
ABOARD BRITISH AIRWAYS FLIGHT 264 Usually a trans-Atlantic flight while seated
in coach means a loss of productive computing time. But the arrival on the market of
various micro-notebook computers boasting Internet connectivity of some stripe,
popularly dubbed "Netbooks," is changing things, at least for this road warrior.
I'm in the first leg of what will likely be a total of 20 hours in flight to reach
my destination, the southern Zambian city of Livingstone. That's a lot of time in
the air, and it's nice to have computer that's smaller than my 17-inch Apple MacBook
Pro to place on the tray table. (As wonderful a system as the MacBook Pro is, I
don't know if I'd open it in flight unless I were sitting in first class.)
Accompanying me (and the MacBook Pro) on this trip is the Acer Aspire One, which
features what the Taiwan-based computer maker calls a "HD" screen, measuring
11.6 inches diagonally. The color LCD is quite nice, and the computer itself runs on
an Intel Corp. Atom processor, has built-in Wi-Fi, and a Webcam which, the firm
claims, adjusts to low-light situations.
The unit boasts a 160 Gigabyte hard disc drive, and are my eyes trustworthy?
1 GB of RAM. I'm guessing the weight is about 3 pounds. Overall, this isn't a
machine on which you'd want to edit video for public television, but it certainly is
a functional computer for many purposes.
I mentioned the "road warrior," and that's the first category of user who might
find the Aspire One a useful product. The keyboard on the Aspire One is meant for
touch-typing, and it's fairly comfortable, even within the confines (and I do mean
confines) of an economy airplane seat. Although the passenger next to me is probably
experiencing more of my left elbow than desired, I'm still able to type well, and in
a more normal situation, such as a Starbucks or a hotel, this should work quite
well. (And, indeed, on the ground I was proved correct.)
The screen is legible, and in the soft light of the late-night plane, increasing the
font size to around 18 points makes word processing easier. Again, in more usual
surroundings, this shouldn't be an issue.
The Aspire One comes with Microsoft Windows XP as the basic operating system, and a
variety of programs and features some less charitable souls might term some of
these "bloatware" that might make a user able to start working quickly.
Among these are Microsoft Works, a scaled-back productivity suite, and a trial
version of Microsoft Office 2007. Before leaving Washington, I loaded the latest
version of OpenOffice.org's software, discussed here last Monday. I think I'm good
While typing on an airplane requires compromises, on the ground the Aspire One
should function nicely as a basic work and play computer. Indeed, students in high
school and college who are not in need of vast processing power or the kind of
memory needed to edit video or do computer-assisted design work, There's a card slot
on the right-hand side of the machine which should make transferring photos easy.
Notable are both the Webcam and the built-in Wi-Fi. There's no Internet connectivity
on this flight, so testing these aloft has been a challenge. But on the ground, the
Wi-Fi worked well. With such connectivity, of course, the Aspire One can become an
extension of the Internet, hence the name "netbook."
Battery life clocks in at almost seven hours, more than enough to cross the ocean,
and enough perhaps for a day of college lectures and labs. The built-in touchpad has
just about every mouse feature you might ask for, including tap-to-mouse-click,
which is quite nice.
You can probably pick up this machine for under $375, which is an impressive price
for what you get. But as mentioned, there are many firms in the netbook scrum, and
Hewlett-Packard has sent over one of its latest entries. More on that system another
time it's at home, awaiting my return.
For now, the Acer Aspire One is proving a good traveling companion, and you might
say the same.
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2009, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com