For e-mail and messaging on the go, the typical laptop computer is too big and the typical "Smart" cell phone is too small.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

Acer mini-laptop has everything -- except size

March 15, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   For e-mail and messaging on the go, the typical laptop computer is too big and the typical "Smart" cell phone is too small. Isn't there a happy medium?
   Maybe. I've been using a new kind of laptop computer that's much smaller than a standard laptop, and it's been a revelation.
   But there's a catch. I'll get to that in a minute.
   The laptop is an Aspire One model from Acer, one of many "netbook" laptops from various manufacturers. It comes with Windows XP and has a 1.6 MHz processor, 1 GB of memory and a 120 GB hard drive.
   It's almost impossible to believe the size of this laptop unless you can see it for yourself. With the lid closed, it's the size of a hardcover book. When the lid is open, the Aspire has a keyboard that's smallish without being too cramped -- I got used to it in a few minutes -- and it's got a screen that's wide but not very tall, close to the size of a standard sheet of paper folded in half.
   I was concerned about the small screen's limitations, but it turned out to be fine for reading and writing e-mail and for browsing Web sites.
   Word processing didn't suffer much as long as I turned off the toolbars in Microsoft Word, and other office-related tasks went well. Photo editing using Photoshop and Photoshop Elements was a problem -- the small, 1024-pixel by 600-pixel screen couldn't show entire images very well -- but Picasa, Google's free image manager, did better with the small screen.
   This is all well and good. But how about the catch? You knew there would be something, right?
   Brace yourself. You've probably heard that some laptops are selling for as little as $600. But you won't be able to buy an Aspire One for that amount. You'll have to settle for TWO of them.
   That's correct. The Acer laptop sells for $299. As far as I could tell, nothing important is left out at this rock-bottom price. You get a built-in webcam with a microphone, wireless networking, audio inputs and outputs, a VGA connector for a projector and an external power supply. The battery lasted a little less than 3 hours in my tests, but you can order a battery with twice the capacity if you need it (and if you don't need the $100 it costs).
   Many Internet discounters such as Amazon sell the Aspire One. But one deal you should be cautious about comes from Radio Shack, which will sell you an Aspire One for $99 if you sign up for AT&T wireless Internet access at $60 a month for two years. That's $1,560 for a $300 laptop -- a very bad deal indeed.