This vs. That II

After downsizing my travel camera kit from a backpack filled with a DSLR body and its many accessories to a pocket camera and a palm sized “tripod”, I’ve done the same to my computer, well, more or less.

Much smaller than a 13" MacBook Pro

While I’d love to hit the road with nothing but my pocket computer aka an iPhone, it’s nowhere near capable enough. Sure it will allow me to check emails, update social media and access the web to investigate everything from flight times to local phone numbers at the same time as guiding me through the streets of strange cities, I still need to be able to write articles and load content.

Another option is my 13” MacBook Pro but despite being both reasonably compact and quite rugged, it’s a little too bulky for a long trip. An iPad would be nice but not ideal from a typing perspective, while a Macbook Air would be perfect if it weren’t for the price, so instead I’ve picked up a small, light and inexpensive netbook.

Dick Smith has an Acer Aspire One on sale for $399 at the moment, which is a pretty decent deal. The Acer is an entry level machine with the basic spec – a 10.1” screen with the usual Intel Atom CPU and 1Gb of RAM. The battery is only a three cell type (good for low weight, bad for runtime although I reckon I can live with that). The hard drive on the other hand is a 250Gb unit, which is handy for travel because that’s a fair stack of space to store media. The drive is set up with a dual boot of Windows 7 Starter and Android but the Android installation uses a version that dates back to the days before time itself, which makes it only marginally useful and a borderline waste of space.

The netbook is a well built unit, which looks nicer than the admittedly more fully featured $499 HP Mini that I briefly considered and it seems to work well enough given its humble spec. It’s noticeably more responsive with a USB flash drive set up in ReadyBoost mode though; 1Gb of RAM seems to be barely enough to make Win7 acknowledge its own existence, so I’ll probably upgrade the RAM to 2Gb.

As a final nice touch, the Acer comes with a soft neoprene sleeve, not the high end branded kind but it will suffice to keep the scratch prone exterior pristine for a little longer. Who decided that gloss black was an appropriate finish for a computer? It’s fingerprint city around here and the more you polish out the fingerprints, the more you’re going to scratch the finish.

So all up, not a bad deal then? Not a bad deal at all but in December last year, while I was in Australia, my father bought an eMachines netbook (i.e. Acer’s own budget brand) with a similar spec to my unit for around AU$232. The same units were on sale here for a short while in the New Year for just under $300 if I remember correctly but since that limited run, the local bargains have been scarce.

I almost bought one of these bargain units back then but decided to wait for netbooks to get cheaper. Hah! Good thing I didn’t hold my breath. If this Acer hadn’t caught my eye, I’d likely have been up for five hundred dollars or more when all I want is something cheap and cheerful, not a flash machine. I’ve reviewed netbooks ranging from $799 to $1,799 and I still like the more prosaic units in this role. Where are the ultra basic netbooks when you need them?

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