Netbooks are popping up everywhere. Every day brings another ad or article about using netbooks in education. Let's face it: They are the right size for students, and the price is right. The Acer Aspire One is one such system that's receiving quite a bit of attention lately.
Overall, the Acer Aspire One netbook is a sleek unit with very attractive features. It has a very nice fit and finish, and certainly does not feel like a $300 computer. The unit sports a 1.6-gigahertz Intel Atom N270 processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, as well as three USB 2.0 ports, a memory card reader and a screen-mounted webcam. There are connectors for video output, microphone, headphone and Ethernet. My demo unit was finished in ruby red and had a very attractive brushed-metal look to the keyboard bezel.
The back of the netbook has no connectors, which makes it easy to store in a notebook cart. The netbook weighs less than 3 pounds and is hardly noticeable when carried in a backpack, making it a great size for students to carry to class and use for note-taking.
The absence of a full-featured office productivity suite is common on Windows-based computers. However, this unit came with a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, as well as Microsoft Works SE. I found the version of Works SE especially frustrating to work with because it is an ad-supported product. When launching the product, a note popped up that the screen resolution was not set high enough (it's 1024x600 by default). For normal tasks I found the resolution very acceptable – except when using Works, which displays advertisements that eat up nearly 2 inches of valuable screen space. I recommend that users try a full version of Microsoft Office or Open Office, rather than Works SE.
Why It Works for IT
This particular model ships with Windows XP Home and already had Service Pack 3 applied. I found the unit to be current on patches, missing only Internet Explorer 8 and the monthly Malicious Software Removal Tool. There were a few pieces of software pre-installed – games and trial versions of programs – but not much that I found useful for an educational environment. Schools participating in a Microsoft Campus/School Agreement will appreciate that Windows XP Home can be upgraded to Windows Vista Business or Windows XP Professional. Windows XP Home does not let the netbook join a domain or be managed by Active Directory policies, but it helps keep costs down. Properly managed and maintained, this could be a very powerful tool in the classroom.
I was somewhat disappointed with the office productivity suites that were loaded and feel that Open Office would have been a better choice than an ad-supported version of Works. I also found vertical scrolling difficult on the touchpad. To do vertical scrolling, you have to use a circular motion that Acer calls ChiralMotion. I found it very difficult to get my fingers in just the right spot to perform the scrolling.
The unit ships with a three-cell battery, which provided a dismal two hours of battery life under my normal usage. However, Acer does sell models with six-cell batteries, and I would highly recommend spending a few dollars more to get the larger battery. I also noticed the absence of an external LED indicating the netbook's power status. There is an LED on the keyboard, but it is not visible when the lid is closed. None of these should be considered major flaws, however. They are almost all software issues that can be customized to your liking.
Overall, this is a smart little unit for students. With the upcoming release of Windows 7 and a full office suite, it has great potential.