The New Netbook

Here it is:

If it looks familiar, there’s  a reason: it’s another Acer Aspire One, the brand of netbook I had before. Why? It’s cheap, it’s functional for what I want a netbook to do, and I liked my old one until I inadvertently killed it the other night. I did think about splurging and getting an iPad, but the fact of the matter is at the end of day I need an actual keyboard and a computer that can do more than one thing at a time more than I need shiny and pretty. Damn my practical nature!

54 Comments on “The New Netbook”

  1. Morning John,

    I went through the same process this last week albeit with phones instead of computer.
    I’m up for renewal of my contract and so I could get a big discount on a Blackberry, the one I’ve been lusting after in my heart for sometime.

    I realized that then I’d have to get a data package, ($30.00 a month minimum)and I’d still want to travel with my notebook since I really like a full size keyboard to type on.

    So I got the cheaper Samsung which has a nice screen, qwerty keypad for texting, and Bluetooth for my hands free headphone. Which ended up essentially free after all of the renewal discounts and such. Kept the same level of plan at the same cost which made the Chief Financial Officer of the household corporation happy, and I have all the functionality I really need.

    That’s the key isn’t it. All the functionality I really need…

  2. But, but ipads are so shiny & pretty & new. No, don’t have one. Yes, I covet but I’m even more practical than you are.


  3. I have an Acer Aspire because I liked what you said about the first one you got. I love it and I’m not surprised you got another one.

  4. How do you like that Acer for the marathon typing? (Assuming that’s what you use the Acer for.) I’m in the market for a netbook, and I’ve been eyeballing the Dell Mini 10, the one with the Ubuntu, but I haven’t ruled anyone out.

  5. New shininess FTW. I love my Asus 1000HE. Netbooks fill the ultra-portable niche for me far better than any tablet. Tablets are too consumption-oriented…they’re made for buying and looking at stuff. Netbooks can be used in the same way, but can also be used to create and work on stuff. Sure, sure, you can hook up a keyboard and mouse to an iPad and get similar functionality, but isn’t that defeating the whole design philosophy of a tablet?

  6. And you also escaped from the attempted Apple lock-in (you WILL only use the apps we allow written ONLY with programming tools we allow). Achtung!!

    Enjoy your new toy, uh, tool!!

  7. Does Acer still make any laptops with the curved keyboards they used to have on most models? My laptop is getting senile, but I don’t want to give up it’s lovely keyboard.

  8. #6,

    I have the Dell Mini 10 and do a lot of writing on it. I chose it over the other netbooks because of the larger keyboard size, and I have no problem switching between this and a full size.

  9. And you needed to prove to your wife that you didn’t kill the thing on purpose to get an iPad, right?

  10. This edition is slightly larger than the previous version I had — this is a 10 inch screen where the other one was 9 inch — and the keyboard is large enough on this one that I can use it without feeling cramped at all. It does also help that I don’t have immensely large hands, I suppose.

  11. You REALLY REALLY REALLY need a netbook that’s able to multitask? That’s a bit hard to swallow.

    disclosure: iMac and Macbook owner.

    – no snark intended, would really like to know what you could possibly do that would require that level of functionality on a system as minimal as a netbook.


  12. What died on your old Acer? I’m on my 3rd year on my Eee PC 901. Some days I’d like a bigger screen and a little more storage, but I’m holding out for The Perfect Small Tablet Computer.

    Which is not an iPad, IMHO.

  13. @Dave:

    I may be missing something here, but what do you mean by “that level of functionality”? Doing more than one thing at a time isn’t exactly cutting-edge tech, as far as I’m aware.

  14. Have you had any difficulty with typing at speed on the Acer, and if so how did you correct it (I’m assuming that you wouldn’t have been happy with it if it had been on-going problem)? I tried an Aspire One when I started back to school, and was really happy with it in every way except that I could type faster than it could – it was always a line or two behind me if I was typing at speed.

    That was a year and a half ago, and I’m coming onto the market again (I’ll be traveling a lot, and the small size and low weight are really appealing), so I’d love to try it again, but….

  15. Dave S:

    Yes, in fact, I really do need to multitask. Also, inasmuch as the netbook is as in the same neighborhood, power and processor-wise, as the desktop Mac I owned a few years ago, it’s not all that surprising that it is capable of such things. Also, philosophically, I think the person who should be one to dictate whether or not I run more than one program at a time should be me, not the hardware manufacturer.


    I don’t have any problems with typing speed with the Acer. The keyboard on the new one is the oh-so-fashionable “chicklet” style, and it’s easy to use and keeps up with me. I’m not a monstrously fast typist, however.

  16. Practical I am not, cash poor I am. There could be a relationship……i.e. enjoy the fruits of your discretion.

  17. @17 Christy,

    If your netbook can’t keep up with your typing then slow and bloated software is the problem – try typing in some other program. Or, is something else that is running on your netbook using too much CPU (e.g. Anti-Virus software, or a virus ;-). Does your netbook have enough RAM?

  18. For the record, we own an iPad. It’s a terrific device, my wife, for whom I primarily bought it, loves it. She is, as far as I’m concerned, the perfect candidate for it–email, light surfing, using it as an e-book reader, to listen to NPR, to read magazines (great mag reader app), Time magazine site. The kids love the Marvel app.

    I think it’s a fantastic multimedia device. I don’t think it’s a good work device. If you’re going to write and/or edit while traveling, I think a netbook is the way to go (although I’ll stick with my 15-inch MacBook, thanks). If you want to view and use media–excellent; want to create it–meh.

  19. Have had my Dell Mini 10 for close to a year now. I use it to write — with the word processor (two files, one for for manuscript and one for notes) and the web browser open because I will check facts/ideas as I go, and my dictionary/thesaurus program open because it’s better than the one that comes in the word processor, and the spread sheet I use for tracking various writing related things because at least one story I’m working on needs a calendar so I don’t do magical time things…yeah, I need more than one program open at a time. I am very fond of the Mini (and the signed Ruth Thompson graphic wrap just pleases me more). It’s nice and light, and I can still surf the web, watch video, and do the other computer things I like to do.

    As so many have said above, it’s all in the functionality you require. That’s why there is so much variety. Someone else’s choice in “perfect tech” does not invalidate my choice.

  20. Extremism in the defense of … What? Oh, Sorry.

    Yes, anyway. I tend to go to extremes. I have a 17″ laptop, and a Samsung SCH-i760 smartphone with a tiny screen and keyboard. I’ve periodically looked at the both the iPad and the various netbooks, and never really managed to convince myself that a third thing added any real functionality.

    I just want a new toy! Wahhh! Oh, sorry.

    Jack Tingle

  21. I love my netbook, in a sick, dependent kind of way. If I inadvertently killed mine, there might have to be some kind of ceremony to go along with the tears.

  22. I have an iPad and an Asus Aspire 1. I use my Asus probably 4 times as often as my iPad. The iPad is shiny but it’s all consumption and no creation.

  23. I have to agree with Mark Terry @ 21 about the usability of the iPad.

    But I would like to correct your impression that you can’t use a real keyboard with it. You *can*, any Bluetooth keyboard will work and Apple will even sell you one!

    Also, multitasking for the iPad is coming in the Fall.

  24. Jimi@25: “The iPad is shiny but it’s all consumption and no creation.”

    Preach it! Well, except for the symphony pianist who played one in concert a few nights ago … and the DJ who used two of them to mix beats last week … and the illustrator who is sketching New Yorker covers on it … and the tech columnist who composes articles and blog posts on it … and …

  25. Jeff@27: Yes, and I read “War and Peace” on an old Palm III.

    Just because you *can* do it doesn’t mean that it actually makes sense to do it that way.

  26. I’m practical too. Netbook is the way to go right now. Eventually you’ll get an iPad. Wait until they come down in price. Ten years sound about right? Just kidding. I can type quite fast on my netbook.

  27. Steve@28: In your specific example, that may very well be. On the other hand, I read Seth Godin’s Unleashing the Ideavirus on a Handspring Visor and found it to be a perfectly cromulent experience. Also, this is a method of consumption, not creation. Once upon a time it didn’t make sense for my siblings and me to watch a double feature of Dean Jones movies from the back seat of a station wagon, but we had fun doing it.

    I was responding to a declarative, definitive statement: “The iPad is … all consumption and no creation.” My examples @27 are real outbursts of real this-is-what-makes-my-heart-happy-and-it-might-even-make-me-a-buck creation — done on iPhones and iPads.

    The iPad has been in creators’ hands less than a month. Pronouncing it inert at this point is simply a failure of imagination.

  28. As with all things, the needs of the user determines the functionality of the device. I have the ipad and it’s great for my travel, the netflix app for movies, my ebooks, tv shows, carrying movies, responding ot school emails. Never in my mind did I consider it a replacement for my notebooks.

  29. It’s actually a miss-perception that that the iPad can’t do more then one thing at a time. Apple Applications can multitask, non-Apple apps cannot. So for example you can run iWorks and iTunes on the iPad at the same time. The multitasking issue will be fixed for non-Apple apps in iPhone OS v4 after a minor rewrite and recompilation.

  30. iPad multitasking is mostly about allowing audio (music, Skype voice calls, …) to run in the background while you read.

    For me the biggest drawback of iPad is the iTunes bottleneck which already makes iPhone sync a geologically-slow process. To put a new photo on my iPhone requires
    * waiting 40 seconds or so for iTunes to load (on a quad-processor desktop or my 64bit laptop)
    * making sure the folder with the photo is set for synching
    * waiting long enough to kill the backup process so that sync can begin, otherwise I add another 2-4 hours
    * 5 minutes minimum for the sync process to run and have the net effect of transfering a photo (even if the last sync was done 10 minutes ago)

    When I’ve got control over file transfer, the ability to run media formats of my choice, an optional stylus for writing/drawing/markup, and no puritanical restrictions on applications, then I’ll run for an iPad or its equivalent. For now I can do all that on my 7 year old M1300 slate tablet.

  31. Sorry to ruin your day but I work in an IT bussines and my working bench is literally piled with Acer Aspire broken netbooks. Usually is the SSD that failed so remember the magic word: BACKUP.
    Next time buy an HP Mini. Worth every penny.

  32. Mike@33: I was also concerned about the sync speed of the iPad, because I have similar sync-time issues with my 3G. Fortunately, they don’t seem to be in the same league. The iPad is so disproportionately faster than the iPhone 3G that it’s almost a little sad. In terms of both sync and operating speed, it blows the iPhone out of the water. For what it’s worth…

    Also, one note about the iPhone sync: As the iPhone firmware or iTunes has been upgraded, the sync time has decreased for me. I think Apple has finally figured out how to compare your current iPhone status to the backup reliably, so once you have a completed backup on your computer, future syncs shouldn’t take nearly as long.

  33. I’m waiting for iPad v2, which is rumored to include full DWIM functionality.

    Seriously though, I will almost certainly be getting one, but not until the price drop (and system update) in fall or the next version of the hardware in 2011.

    And as far as it being a device for consumption rather than creation, well, maybe so. That’s the market — people who want a very portable and flexible digital media consumption device. (Which is not to say it can’t or won’t also be used to create stuff — that’s already happening.) But the ratio of creators to consumers is pretty obviously one-sided these days. You might just as well talk haughtily about books, CDs, and DVDs being mere methods of consumption.

    Hell, look at blogs. What’s the ratio of writers to readers? Even if you count commenting on blogs to be a rough sort of creativity, the ratio is still pretty damn lopsided.

  34. And in an odd twist of fate, the 10″ Acer netbook is up at Woot! today*. They’re refurbished, but if you want to be like your favorite author, knock yourself out.

    Although, I think the Coke Zero habit is still much cheaper, and in the long run, more delicious.

    *And if you’re not sure what Woot! is, go google it. I’m not their flunky, and this isn’t a pimp post. Just a mildly interesting coincident post.

  35. BearPaw @36: ” people who want a very portable and flexible digital media consumption device”

    That’s still one of the big problems. It’s only flexible enough to support the formats that Apple blesses. With DivX/Xvid/AVI and Flash being completely in the cold here, I wouldn’t be watched any of my video library on an iPad.

  36. I wrote this message on an actual apple that I bought at the produce store for $0.29. How’s that for practical.

    I lied: I wrote it on a banana.

    This seemed funnier in my head.

  37. So jealous! I still haven’t been able to justify ditching my old laptop (Aug 2006, so not that old) for a nice shiny netbook. Even if the laptop weighs 10kg and the netbook only 1kg… the laptop is sunk cost that I have already paid for, and so continued used of it is free, and a netbook is… not free. I compromised on the “want shiny” impulse by buying a nice little stick-on cover that does jazz the old laptop up a significant amount.

  38. Mike @ 38:

    If you want to, you can choose to convert those videos to a format that Apple does “bless”. If you don’t want to do that, [shrug] don’t. It doesn’t look like Apple is going to miss having your business.

    I have our entire music library on my iPod Touch. I bought none of it through Apple. Getting it on there was somewhat tedious but totally straightforward (and legal). If and when I get an iPad, transferring that collection will be dead simple.

  39. Unfortunately converting videos is a far-less satisfactory and a much longer process than converting audio. Why most every $40 DVD player in the world can handle AVI variants and Apple hardware at 10-20 times the price doesn’t … (well it’s not so much the hardware, as the format-blocking firmware sigh).

    Potential customers in countries who stream TV or allow timed downloads (UK, Australia etc) over the internet in non-blessed formats are lost to Apple through this.

  40. Another vote here for the Asus 1000HE, but if I couldn’t have that, I’d have gone for the Acer or the Samsung.
    I’ve been in the USA for 3 weeks now (I’m British) and I really need both the multifunction (IM and email, for example) and the keyboard. Also the USB ports. I have a passport hard drive, and I keep my personal information on that, so I can carry it with me and lock the netbook in the hotel safe. The ipad doesn’t even have an SD card slot.
    I spent a week in Chicago in the hotel next to the Apple store on Michigan Avenue so I had plenty of time to look at it and play with the demo version. Pretty and shiny, that’s what it is. Not essential.
    I love my netbook so much that I treated it to Windows 7. Now it’s even better. Oh yes, and I forgot my mouse, but the touchpad on this thing is better than a lot of laptops.

  41. Let me understand…You killed the old one by putting it away without a complete shutdown?

    Hmm…If that worked, my present Dell and earlier IBM laptops would have died a thousand deaths.

    Sure you didn’t rationalize a new toy vs a new battery?? ( not that that’s wrong or anything…)

  42. @Mike:

    The main issue is that .avi isn’t an actual video format, it’s a wrapper than can contain many different formats including a few Microsoft native codecs. They didn’t want to have multiple codecs native in their hardware, so they just picked one that they had access to and wouldn’t have to pay another company to use (MPEG-4).

    As far as viewing the video on a computer, just get VLC. If you want to be able to do a conversion so you can get .avi video into another device, get Quicktime Pro (for $20-30) and open and save it in an iTunes “blessed” format.

    I agree with you about the bottleneck, and I don’t have anything more complicated than an iPod nano.

    As far as Flash support (which may have been someone else in the thread), the stated reason is that they don’t want people to have a gateway for malware on their shiny new iPad. This is true, but the whole reason involves strategic reasons as allowing Flash would allow people to design apps on a single platform and have it work on many different devices, including those from competitors. Apple is trying to lock people into developing for iPad first (and in many cases only), so they can lock down this market like they have for the iPod. They’ll probably open it up more once they’ve got the competition hobbled, which isn’t much consolation for most developers.

  43. Myname @45: You’re basically telling me

    I understand what avi is, which is why I specified divx/xvid first and mentioned “avi variants” without giving a primer on codecs. Indeed since the DSP chip in most hardware will handle a lot of stuff natively, it’s just the Apple firmware blocking formats that Apple doesn’t want (add WMA/WMV here). $$$ royalties is not an issue for a company with Apple’s profit margin and market cap.

    “As far as viewing the video on a computer, just get VLC. ”

    That’s irrelevant to the iPad issue, except for pointing out how easy it is to work with multiple formats on other platforms.

    “If you want to be able to do a conversion so you can get .avi video into another device”

    Apart from not wishing to convert a few thousand hours of video which work on every other device in the house, the results are usually horrible.

    It’s all about market control, not technical or small royalty issues.

  44. I’ve yet to buy anything by Apple. And so far, my decision has been purely based on economics and functionality. I’ve been able to do everything I need to do with something cheaper that wasn’t made by apple.

    At the moment, I’ve vaguely starting to feel a tug towards an iPhone, but that’s not because the iPhone hardware can do something other phones can’t, it’s because apple is becoming the new Microsoft as far as monopolizing the way things work. They’re monpolizign the software.

    I remember back in the day (feeling old now, thanks) when Microsoft got in hot water PR wise for having their windows system detect whether the computer ran MS-DOS or DR-DOS (the competitino) and print a warning message if it was DR-DOS. Calls into Microsoft support at the time would not explain why the error message was generated or what real problem it was reporting, but phone support folks from Microsoft would consistently say “teh error message will go away if you install MS-DOS”.

    I’m starting to feel like Apple is getting into that sort of territory.

    If Microsoft prevented people from developing third party applications, everyone would howl with rage at their attempts at monopolizing their software. Anyone remember how much grief they got just for bundling their own browser and making it a pain to install a different one?

    Apple does all that and a bag of chips and their followers calmly explain with a koolaid smile that it is to maintain a minimum level of software quality or this or that.

    Uh, no. It’s a monopoly and sucks for all the reasons that a monopoly sucks.

    And people who say the thing about Apple is that the software is easy to use? Bullocks.

    I used to use an iShuffle and the damn iTunes software still tries to take control of my PC every once in a while when I’m uploading music. And when I first loaded iTunes, it wanted to mind-meld and then brainwash my entire music library into the magic “iTunes” format. My system was directories for artists and subdirectoreis for albums and MP3’s for the actual music, and it works just fricken fine, thanks. Trying to get the iShuffle to stop the power grab for pushing all my music into the “apple library” finally got me to stop using the iShuffle.

    It’s easy to use so long as you use it exacty the way Apple demands you to use it.

    And all of that power struggle between me and the iTunes software wasn’t about ease of use, it was about monopolizing the way you use the software and the way you use the application. It just becomes a hassle to not succumb. If I had spent more money on my iShuffle, I probably would have had a harder time just chucking it. But I feel sorry for the poor slob who spends a big bucket of money on the iPod or iPhone, and happens to already know how to do things, and then has to deal with the fricken software always trying to take over and revamp your library.

    Microsoft got busted for monopolization by the European Union just for bundling its browser with its operating system. Apple does that and a whole lot more.

    And the reason I’ve been pondering an iPhone is because the iPhone has gotten to such a monopolization of the market that its starting to become the only way to do certain things. Basic features used to be in every phone, but now its all about the apps. And the app store for the iPhone shows the benefits of monopolizing the market.

    Back when Microsoft was the great evil, Apple was a small fish in the ocean, and the fact that they’re business practices were monopolizing the market wasn’t a big deal, because they didn’t have a big share of teh market. The iPhone changed that and now they’re the hardware platform to beat, which means they are the big fish who is monopolizing the pond.

    I find the whole thing aggravating as hell.

  45. Stop with the things I dont understand stuff. People are gonna think youre a dumb guinea. We got enough of them in my neighborhood.

  46. (Um, comment 51 should not be read as an effort to imply that Scalzi is an “iPad hater.” Speaking of the vast faceless internet hordes.)

  47. @Mike:

    This will probably be buried on the interwebs, but whatever. You are right that it isn’t just about technical issues, but from a business standpoint, give me one good reason why Apple should give any other company any royalty money from their device if they don’t have to? It may be inconvenient for a small percentage of their customers who have a large library of digital video invested in AVI, but what you’re basically saying is that Apple should pay MS, or whoever, a nickel from every iPad or iPhone just so you can play .avi files on their device, and it’s not really smart for them to do that since the majority of their users don’t have a large library (yet).

    Right now, Apple makes their money off the 80-90% of the people who don’t already have an MP3 player, or a cool phone and want something that’s easy to use. They’re not geared towards the 10-20% who judge an OS by how quickly it is to get to a command prompt and gets pissed off when they have to go through a bunch of stupid kiosk BS just to install a piece of software to play music.

  48. @Myname: I would say that ignoring AVI is the video equivalent of Apple not supporting MP3, a format for which they presumably pay their royalties. It’s not about money, but about suffocating the alternatives.

    Apple can do as they wish, but bear in mind that few people who defend their actions stood up to defend Microsoft’s attempts to protect its own platform integrity.

    NB I will chase or defend both Microsoft and Apple on matters of principle, but not as a member of a tribe.

    Apple is uniquely walling its kiosk and platforms for arbitrary and usually hypocritical reasons of politics and sexual standards (well-documented in main-stream press). Furthermore its relationships with US network owners and application writers creates a lowest common denominator effect which ripples across the globe where more liberal standards apply.

    Consider social networking applications whose existence in the Apple store is precarious given Apple’s Big Brother policies. For those applications which also exist on other platforms (Windows, Android, Nokia, even MacOS), users uploading content which is visible on the iPad/iPhone applications contravenes Apple’s conditions. That ideology makes me very nervous, so I hope market forces or regulators normalise matters.

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