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Acer Aspire One: the new sub-laptop to beat?

A quick play with it and we're hooked

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Early reviews of Acer's £220 Aspire One were none too complementary about the Small, Cheap Computer's build quality, but have spent a brief time with a unit that's not a pre-production model, we'd say Eee PC creator Asus has a real challenge on its hands.

We've not had time to conduct a full review - our unit's on the way, Acer says - but after a quick preview, we're very impressed already.

You can see from the pictures that the One's a nice-looking laptop, and for many buyers that price is all the persuasion they need. That appeals to us, but a number of things attracted us.

Acer Aspire One

Acer's Aspire One: object of desire

First, there's the keyboard. The 901 has the best Eee keyboard yet, but it's still some way off a true laptop keyboard. There's not much travel, and the action requires a firm press. The One's keyboard is much more fluid - it's something we feel we could really type for long periods on, and type quickly. And each key feels larger too.

Without the two machines side by side, it's impossible to say for certain which is the biggest of the two, but we've no doubt the One's keyboard is the better of the two.

The One's Linpus Lite incarnation of Linux is less well known than the Eee PC's Xandros, but it's a good alternative to it. Asus has the better UI, but the One has a Windows XP-like skin which should help it win over users coming over from the Microsoft OS.

The One has a very neat trick: one of the machine's two SD card slots has been included specifically to expand the built-in storage. To that end, Linpus' File Manager allows you to extend the main file system over the SD card.

That's handy because the base One only has 8GB of solid-state storage, a lot less than the 20GB Eee 901 has. Mind you, the 120GB HDD-equipped One is only down as £30 more and comes with 1GB of memory rather than 512MB, though that's plenty for Linux and do you really want a hard drive in a machine that's going to be chucked around a lot? Well, at least you have the choice.

Acer Aspire One

Stylish... and cheap

The One only has 802.11g Wi-Fi - the Eee 901 has 802.11n - but we can live with that given the price. Both machines have a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, three USB 2.0 ports, VGA out, an Ethernet port. The One's other memory card slot can take not only MMC and SDHC but also Memory Stick and xD.

We're not expecting much from the battery - it'll be a lot less than the 901 with its 6600mAh power pack. Again, that's a trade off we personally don't mind making for the price. The One's probably not going to be much worse than the original Eee, and we'd be happy with a laptop that has the same battery life as a full-size model but is a fraction of the size and weight.

The build quality feels good and solid. Cheap it may be, but the One doesn't feel flimsy or unable to take the rigours of life on the road.

Anything we don't like? Only the trackpad, really. It's small and the two buttons are place at each end rather than underneath. That leaves you forever pausing to ponder what to press. The 901's trackpad is a big improvement over previous models' versions, and is definitely superior to the One's. The Acer is a machine that really needs a mouse.

We're looking forward to trying out the One fully, but on the basis of a quick look, this is the machine the Eee and other SCCs have to beat. Watch out for Register Hardware's full write-up soon.

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