There’s a slightly odd trend emerging in the netbook market. The tiny laptops are getting bigger. ASUS has already announced its intention to drop the 7-inch Eee (the one that started the whole netbook trend in the first place) and the more recent 8.9-inch standard is steadily giving way to newer 10-inch models.
While this might seem as though it’s going against everything that netbook stands for, that’s not the case. In fact, netbooks are now challenging traditional notebooks more effectively than ever, while their low cost and light weights remain a steady feature.
The new Acer Aspire One 531 is a perfect example. While the screen has received a much needed size increase, the chassis has been slimmed down considerably, with excess fat being shaved off at almost every turn. The result is a lappie that offers both a larger, more practical screen than its 8.9-inch predecessor, and a weight that’s pretty much the same. The new slim design looks better than ever too.
The new Aspire One has taken on board almost all the shortcomings of its predecessor, the Acer Aspire One – which was a drool-worthy little gadget already – and improved them considerably. Apart from the size boost, the screen is brighter and has a rather nice glossy sheen that makes watching movies on the go even more enjoyable.
The new processor – an Intel Atom N280 – offers only a marginal GHz increase, but it generates less heat, and thus less fan noise, and its basic operation is noticeably faster too. You still won’t be editing HD videos on it, of course, but for day-to-day email, web browsing, editing Word docs or listening to music, it’s easily up to the kind of tasks you’ll be asking of it. And this time you can actually run multiple programs at the same time without reducing speeds to a frustrating crawl.
These aren’t the only improvements either: the ghastly trackpad with the peculiarly aligned mouse buttons, which were the bane of the original Aspire One, has been replaced with a proper trackpad. It’s fast, precise and it has the mouse buttons finally in the right place.
Not much has changed on the keyboard front, but that’s no bad thing. The Aspire One’s keyboard was already one of the strongest around – at 89% of full size, it’s a doddle to get your fingers used to and you can expect to be up to full typing speeds in no time.
How would you like one of these dancing into your lap?
- Click now for a look at these portable computing beauties
It isn’t completely perfect though – the arrow keys are still a little too cramped for comfort and this time Acer, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to cut the top off the Enter key to slip in a ‘’ key, which really should have been positioned elsewhere. The result is that it becomes all too easy to hit Enter and when you’re searching the web. It’s a real shame, because on a system that offers improvements in so many other places, it seems like a staggering oversight.
The new Aspire One provides the same healthy range of connectors and connections as before, with the addition of 3G data connectivity. You’ve got three USB ports (two on the right, one on the left), a VGA output, Ethernet and, uniquely, a pair of card slots. One of them will read multiple card memory types, while the other is for SD only and designed to enhance the system’s storage space. Although with over 140GB on board as standard, you’re not in much danger of running short.
Our final niggle is that the standard battery is still a very limited 3-cell version. There’s a larger version available as an optional extra, but that will in turn add to the weight and bulk. We’d like to see more manufacturers pushing for full day computing at the same time as keeping the size down, but that clearly wasn’t a consideration for Acer this time.
The Aspire One is a truly covetable device. As an upgrade to the original it has ticked all of our boxes and it has brought a much-needed increase in build quality and the slim chassis with its matte finish gives its aesthetic design an edge too. The next generation of netbook wars is destined to be harder fought than ever, but it’s going to take some considerable innovation for a rival to best Acer’s latest effort.