Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Acer Aspire One ZG5 (Linux)
Is the One the one?
- Solid-state drive, SD storage expansion slot, relatively good battery life from standard 3-cell battery, under 1kg
- Only 512MB of RAM, small storage capacity, Linpus operating system doesn't allow a local area network to be browsed by default, touchpad is awkward
This Linux version of the Aspire One is easy to use and has a solid-state drive, but the Windows XP version has better memory and storage capacity for only $100 more. Furthermore, Acer will also release versions with built-in 3G modules. It's really a case of waiting for the new versions to arrive, unless the portability and ease of use of this unit catch your fancy.
Price$ 599.00 (AUD)
The Aspire One is the most similar to the ASUS Eee PC 901 of all the sub-$1000 ultraportables we've seen so far; it's only slightly bigger, but it has a solid-state drive (SSD) and an 8.9in screen with a native resolution of 1024x600. Two flavours of the One will be available – one with Linux, and, eventually, a Windows XP-based version – and you can also choose from one of five colours.
We looked at the Linux (Linpus) version for this review, which has an 8GB SSD and 512MB of DDR2 RAM accompanying its 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU. Straight out of the box, the Linpus interface boots up in around 20sec. It's easy to use and its desktop contains shortcuts to all of the unit's essential applications. Firefox and OpenOffice are installed, as is an instant messaging client that allows you to sign in to MSN, Yahoo, AIM and Google Talk accounts. The desktop is split up into four sections: Connect, Work, Fun and Files, so it's easy to navigate, but it doesn't allow for much advanced functionality. Unlike the Eee PC, it doesn't have any educational tools installed.
It's also a very limited operating system. To be able to install new programs, you'll have to change a few settings, and the forums at www.aspireoneuser.com are a great source of information on this. In saying that, Acer has designed this laptop primarily for the consumption of Internet media, social networking and word processing while you're on the go. Indeed, a 3G version of the One will be released in the near future, which will truly make the One an ideal device for staying connected while on the road.
The unit has an 802.11b/g wireless network adapter installed, and we had no problems using it to connect to Linksys and Dynalink wireless routers. It also supports WPA and WPA2 encryption keys. However, the limited functionality of the operating system means that you aren't able to browse a local area network by default. You'll have to get your hands on some guides that show you how this can be overcome, or be content to transfer files to the device by using USB keys.
With an 8GB solid-state drive, you won't be able to install many huge applications, nor store stacks of media files; however, one of the niftiest features of the Aspire One is its dedicated SD storage expansion slot, which can increase the size of your internal storage depending on the size of the card you install. We tested it with a 4GB Sandisk Extreme SDHC card. Upon inserting the card, its capacity was recognised, and Linpus, using its Smart File Management system, combined it with the installed 8GB drive to give us a total storage capacity of 12GB. Acer has tested this slot with cards up to 16GB. For accessing photos off your camera, a second SD slot is located on the right-hand side of the laptop.
The lack of a typical, spinning hard drive helps keep the unit's overall weight down, as well as allowing it to run cooler. Best of all, if you drop the unit there is less chance of losing your data due to a damaged drive. Without its power supply, the Aspire One weighs just 900 grams, and with it the total weight is 1.25kg. It's perfect for travellers, although its keyboard might take some getting used to. It's cramped, but the keys are a good size and there aren't any irregularly slim or oddly placed keys to be bothered by. Overall, it's a relatively comfortable keyboard to type on.
However, you might be bothered by the design of the touchpad. It's wide, and its buttons are located either side of it, rather than below it. This makes it difficult to perform left- and right-click functions while moving the pointer around the screen and it'll take some time to learn to use it if you're already used to a conventional touchpad. It's similar to the design of HP's 2133 Mini-Note PC (FH441PA) in this respect, but the Mini-Note's buttons are softer, and therefore easier to press, making the HP's pad easier to use overall. A TrackPoint-style pointing device might have been a better option here.
As for the unit's performance, don't expect it to be fast. Its Intel Atom CPU is Hyper-Threaded, so you can run two applications simultaneously, but it only comes with 512MB of RAM. It was sluggish at times, for example when loading an obscenely long MSN contact list, and it occasionally felt slow while switching windows. However, for most basic tasks, such as browsing the Web, typing up documents, viewing photos, or listening to music, it was more than adequate. There is an empty slot if you wish to upgrade the RAM.
The battery the unit ships with is not a large one. It only has a rating of 2400mAh (milliamp hours) and it has three cells. However, with the wireless networking switched on, and if you just run a word processor and a Web browser, it will last you around 2hr 20min. There is an option for a larger, 6-cell battery, which brings the total weight of the unit up to around 1.2kg, but which gives it much more juice while away from an outlet.
Connectivity is taken care of by three USB 2.0 ports, the aforementioned SD slots, a D-Sub port, as well as a 10/100 Ethernet port and audio ports. The unit has a built-in webcam, which is convenient, as well as speakers, and there is physical switch for the wireless adapter, too. The glossy design of the unit looks good, but not everyone who saw the One in our Test Centre was impressed with its looks. Look at the pics and judge for yourself.
It might be worth waiting for the Windows XP version of the Aspire One, which will cost only $100 more than the Linux version but will have 1.5GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. Furthermore, you might also want to wait until the 3G versions are released, which will make this the perfect tool for journalists' on-the-scene reporting and for users who have to put up with long public transport rides. As it stands, the Linux version has a solid-state drive in its favour, as well as the seamless integration of the storage expansion slot. Another few gigs of built in storage wouldn't go astray, nor would an extra 512MB of RAM.
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