Having talked about the unique styling and its standout features, it’s probably best to discuss the rest of the Acer Aspire One in light of the competition, especially the one that started it all; Asus’ Eee PC. Apart from different specifications, its screen size puts the Acer firmly into the same bracket as the HP 2133 Mini Note and Asus Eee PC 901. It shares the 1,024 x 600 resolution of the Eee PC, giving it enough pixels to display most web-pages without vertical scrolling while keeping text and icons large enough to be clear and legible. Other qualities such as brightness and colours are pretty standard for this class of netbook, meaning it’s perfectly usable without any glaring flaws.
The keyboard, meanwhile, is rather good. Let me put that into context: while it doesn’t come close to matching the HP Mini-Note’s, which sports a keyboard superior to every other netbook out there, it is rather better than the Eee PC 901’s. All the keys are larger and though the alphabetic keys are practically the same width, they are taller, and so easier to press. There is a right Ctrl key (not present on the Eee) and a full-size right-Shift, with the arrow keys below it. It’s even superior to that of the 10in Wind if you prefer your Ctrl key on the outside of Fn.
The one advantage the Eee 901 has here is that its shape and more generous chassis space below the keyboard make it slightly more comfortable to rest your palms on while typing, but this is easily offset by the discomfort caused by the smaller keys (Of course keyboards are personal, and I have no problem typing on the Eee 901 – ed.). So the One’s keyboard does everything right, except for one surprising niggle: bizarrely, with the screen brightness shortcut keys you press ‘full sun’ to make brightness go down, and ’empty sun’ to put it up – very odd.
In all fairness to the Eee, the One is about 25mm larger to accommodate its better keyboard, but it still gives a lighter, more streamlined impression because it’s quite a bit thinner. Of course, this is mostly due to the 901 having a six-cell battery rather than its competitor’s three-cell. There is a six-cell battery version of the Aspire One scheduled, but though it seems to be available in the US, it’s not (yet) on this side of the pond. With the screen at full brightness and wireless turned on, we managed to get a fairly average two hours and twenty minutes out of the One. This is obviously far inferior to the Eee 901 and it’s a pity we couldn’t get the Acer six-cell battery and test like for like.
A compromise the Aspire One has in common with HP’s netbook is that it sacrifices the touchpad’s usability for its roomier keyboard. In fact, the touchpad is virtually identical in shape, size and button placement, which means that while it’s wide to nicely match the screen, the two buttons are on either side, instead of below. Personally, I’d much rather have the better keyboard, but it really depends on your intended usage. Many users will not necessarily need to right-click that often, taking the most awkwardly-placed button somewhat out of the equation. Left-clicking doesn’t even require a button, as long as you’re happy tapping on the eminently sensitive pad and for scrolling you can use the dedicated zones. It’s never quite as easy as having the buttons below the touchpad, but it’s not a deal-breaker either.