OS Tested: Google Android
CPU: Intel Atom 1.66GHz
Dimensions: 258.5 x 25.4 x 184mm
Pros: Fast-booting, fast running Android netbook
Cons: Not for HD or games; lacks NVIDIA ION
Well-established as one of the leading netbooks on the market, the Acer Aspire One paved the way – along with Asus and Dell models – for the other mini-notebooks that run at 1.66GHz on the Intel Atom N280 processor. Now reaching end of life, with a new Atom processor on the horizon, the N280 has just enough oomph to run a browser and a few light apps, especially when coupled with just 1GB of RAM. Netbooks have since found a niche, and most newer models use the Nvidia Ion chipset to improve graphics performance, especially for playing high-def movies.
The AOD250 is a second-generation netbook with first-generation specs. It uses the N280 CPU and is missing the Ion chipset. In fact, it is exactly the same as the original Aspire One, except for one major upgrade: this netbook can boot into Google Android. (Gluttons for punishment can switch easily to Windows XP.) Android was originally designed for smartphones, or at least first appeared on devices such as the T-Mobile G1, but Google has stated that it views the OS as highly flexible. Built on a Linux core, but with an entirely unique file system and system settings, Android actually works extremely well as a netbook platform, mostly for the speed boost.
In tests, the Aspire One with Android suddenly became a useful notebook. The included Google browser (which likely uses some of the same code as Chrome) ran a second or two faster for loading websites than XP with Internet Explorer 6. Other apps – including ones for managing photos and playing music – also ran extremely fast, as though the netbook found new life and lived up to its name as a thin client that is designed mostly for running web apps. Long-time Linux users will find that the speed boost is helpful, but Android does not allow you to install packages as you normally would and is limited to Android apps. For running Linux, we recommend using a light OS such as Jolicloud, Moblin, or Ubuntu Remix for Netbooks.
Apart from the new OS, the Aspire One with Android runs almost exactly the same as the previous model that ran on Windows XP only. The unit we tested has a bright and clear 10.1-inch screen that benefits from a special screen coating that adds extra clarity – compared to a Lenovo S12 side-by-side, the Acer Aspire One was noticeably clearer and brighter. The Aspire One has a 160GB 5400RPM hard drive and 1GB of RAM. Android doesn’t need much more RAM than that and the disk space is adequate for using the system primarily for web, photos and media playback.
Other specs on this model are decidedly first-gen, however. The Aspire One with Android does not support 802.11n for faster Wi-Fi networking – important if you use the machine as a secondary web terminal or for sharing files over a home network. The unit has a digital card reader that worked well with Android for copying files to the hard drive off a digital camera. The Aspire has two built-in speakers, three USB ports, and runs on a six-cell battery for about four hours.
In many ways, the chief complaint about this netbook is that, while it benefits greatly from Android, it has slipped behind the field by not supporting Ion. In tests compared with a Lenovo S12 using Ion, graphics performance in Android was still poor, especially when it came to testing out a downloaded movie. Ion adds processing power for high-def files (such as the MPEG movie, The Cove, we tested) to stream pixels faster to the screen and increase bandwidth to make sure there are no stalls or awkward pauses during playback (typical on a netbook). The Aspire One just could not play high-def files smoothly. That said, the system is ideal for other tasks – especially browsing – and is a good back-up or thin terminal.
Lacks processing power for more complex tasks and can’t play high-def movies smoothly, but Android makes it fast for web browsing.
This article originally appeared in issue 84 of Linux User & Developer.
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