With super-affordable laptops like the Dell Inspiron M101z and cut-throat competition putting ever more pressure on the netbook segment, manufacturers are increasingly trying to differentiate their offerings from the crowd. Some, such as the Samsung NF210, incorporate dual core processors, while others, like the N230, aim for long battery life. Toshiba daringly went away from X86-compatible hardware to produce the stunningly slim AC100, which also offered excellent battery life - but regrettably, its Android OS was just a little too limiting. However, with its newest Aspire D255 netbook, Acer gives you the choice to switch between both Android 2.1 and Windows 7.
You also get a dual-core N550 Atom processor running at 1.5GHz, though that's where the D255's differentiation from most other netbooks ends. So it's back to the overly familiar 1GB of RAM, which is plenty for Android but barely adequate for Windows 7 Starter - this limitation really should be lifted by now. You also get a reasonably capacious 250GB hard drive and Intel's rather underpowered GMA 3150 graphics. Thanks to the N550 CPU, multi-threaded applications will run considerably faster than on most netbooks and 720p video is no problem. However, only the most undemanding Full HD (1080p) video can be played and single-threaded programs (the vast majority still) won't see a performance improvement.
Connectivity is also standard: three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA video output, SDHC/MMC card reader plus 3.5mm microphone and headphone jacks join a non-Gigabit Ethernet port in providing the basics, with Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth catering for wireless. Other bits include the webcam and microphone integrated in the 10.1in screen's bezel.
Though it doesn't exactly stand out, we're cautiously impressed with the design. Our sample sports a fetching blue pastel colour set against white, but we're afraid this will only be available in the US (where the D255-equivalent will be known as the Happy). On this side of the Atlantic, we have to settle for more traditional variations of black, white, red, blue and brown against a black body: so the majority of the netbook will be black regardless, but the lid and palm rest area will sport the colour of your choice.
It's an attractive mix, but the lid's glossy nature means fingerprints will need to be wiped off frequently, and scratches will be more noticable. Thankfully, barring its reflective screen, the rest of the D255 sports a smooth, matt finish that's feels pleasant and not so easy to mark.
Its lines are simple and well-defined, eschewing some of the more aggressive designs such as that of the NF210. It makes a very slim impression, helped by the same relatively low-capacity battery found in the D260, which also keeps weight at a light 1.25kg. Build quality is generally excellent, with some keyboard flex as the only minor niggle.