I wrote most of this sitting on the train into London, whilst zooming across the country to spend the afternoon celebrating my brother’s birthday with a BBQ. Yes, we British are trying a BBQ on a May weekend – you wondered why the weather had taken a turn for the worse?
How am I writing a post if I am on a train? One of the multitude of notebooks I own? The PocketCalculator hauled out for a trip? Neither. I am typing this (with a few typos!) on my teeny-tiny new netbook, an Acer Aspire One with a 9” screen, 16GB solid state HD and running Ubuntu Linux.
I LOVE my MiniMe! It is just so, so… Dinky, to nick someone elses term. Plus it does all I need it to. Before I start my review properly, I should outline what prompted my decision to get a netbook/ultra-portable.
I have taken to doing writing during my lunch break at work, as I just never seem to get around to it in the evening. For a while I was taking in the PocketCalculator, but I never felt comfortable- it was heavy to lug around, and I was acutely aware that, if it broke or got nicked, I would need to shell out near one and a half grand to replace it. I just can’t afford that. So I started to think about netbooks. Really, really light and portable machines I could just use for writing. I wanted to avoid Windows if at all possible and all that lugging around made the thought of a solid-state hard drive appealing.
So after looking at lots of reviews online, I was leaning towards the Dell Mini 9, if only because people have successfully made them into Hackintoshes (i.e., running OSX), but they were pricy…
Which is where a recent trip back to Somerset came in very handy indeeed. Taunton is blessed with a Comet, a Curry’s, a Staples and a PCWorld all in a row. All four the main suppliers of computing technology offline. Result. I wandered around, played, asked questions, pondered, and at the end of an hour, the Acer Aspire One was the only (and best) choice.
It ran Linux. Check.
It had a solid state option. Check.
The keyboard didn’t feel too bendy when typed on. Check.
The screen was crystal clear, far more clear in fact than my PocketCalculator. Check.
It came in a colour other than black (blue). Check.
It had WiFI and a good smattering of ports (3x USB, screen, headphone, mic, sd/microsd/etc). Check.
It was light and had an approximately 3 hour battery life. Check.
The trackpad was really, really responsive. Check.
It was the cheapest of the lot. Result!
169.99 GBP (In Comet. The Windows/larger spinning hd options cost more)
So does it do all I want it to? How has the first few weeks with the MiniMe gone?
I love it. I adore it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I should point out, I have ONLY been using it for writing. I have yet to connect it to the Net, but it has done everything else so well I can only imagine that it would do that perfectly too – after all, that is what it was designed for.
You boot it up and are greeted with a customized homescreen divided into CONNECT (Mail, Firefox, address book, Messenger, RSS reader and more), WORK (the OpenOffice suite, of which the Word-clone behaves almost identically to a stripped down Microsoft Word), FUN (lots of games, but the demo versions are all crippled so tend to stop after a certain number of moves. Annoying. You can upgrade to the full versions, but they cost and I am trying to keep the distraction down) and FILES (self explanatory).
You then navigate to what you want to do et voila.
It’s not as speedy as modern PCs, but then what can you expect from a stripped down processor and Flash storage? It is perfectly fast enough if you get over the desire for instantanteous programme opening.
The screen works well in bright environments (e.g., on a train with the sun streaming through the window), but I’ve yet to try it outside on a bright, sunny day. I’ll update when I have had the joy of writing in the park.
The keyboard is perfectly responsive, if a little ‘clicky’. The spacebar doesn’t always trigger, but that is more down to getting used to the much smaller footprint of the keyboard. Your early typing WILL look like a brain-injured spider has tap danced on the keyboard, but I adapted pretty rapidly.
Here’s a tip if you are in OpenOffice and it is refusing the UK localisation of your keyboard, despite what the global settings might be: go to TOOLS > OPTIONS > LANGUAGE SETTINGS > LANGUAGE, and in the LOCAL option, choose English (UK). Your keys will behave as they should do once more. It’s amazing what you pick up whilst BBQing a cows-worth of steak at your brother’s 30th party.
Yes, my brother is now 30. Holy crap, that means I am 27 this year. That’s “late twenties” territory… Eeek.
The trackpad is hyper sensitive, and it is very easy to accidentally brush it with your thumb and *bam* you’re suddenly typing in the middle of the paragraph above. Another foible is the page up/page down keys, right next to the arrow keys and under the right hand shift. It is very, VERY easy to trigger these by mistake and again, *bam* your cursor plays a game of “where’s wally?” I’m not the only AspireOne user to note this either, but it’s just a case of getting used to it, and being careful where you place your fingers.
What else? I got a LapJack sticker to cover the lid and give it some protection – the lid shows fingermarks just as soon as you look at it. The Acer is a common enough machine that most sticker websites have a template for it. There are also several different cases on the market if you want to give your baby a little more protection when you hurl it in your bag.
I will admit, at a price less than a new iPod, I am treating it in a remarkably cavallier fashion, slinging it in my handbag with narry a thought. But that is what I brought it for at the end of the day! The same person who taught me the trick of the language settings whilst grilling a cow, also taught me the trick to get into the command prompt (notoriously tricky on the Acer) but I’ll be damned if I can remember it. I blame large amounts of Somerset Cider…
But in the end, what is my verdict on the machine? That’s easy – I love it, I adore it, it is my writing soulmate! So there are a few niggles, but they are tiny, teeny niggles. It does exactly what I want it to do, no more, no less, and I didn’t have to read a 500 page manual before I could set it up. What else can you ask from a piece of technology in this day and age?