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Safari 3 restores faith in Apple software releases

I was impressed by the Acer Aspire One’s surfing speed. It blew away other mobile devices I’d tried and it easily matched Firefox on my Macbook…Until Dan told me to try Safari 3. Yeesh does that browser fly! It feels a good 20% quicker than Firefox on the same Macbook, so Apple sure have done a good turbo retrofit. It’s good to see the company putting out a good product following in the tradition of MobileMe, iPhone 3G, OSX updates.

Neil Berman

Aug 24, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Software | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Acer Aspire One Review

Following a false start worthy of the Olympics, Acer’s repair shop just delivered me a new Aspire One.  My first Aspire One must have been so fried that it was not worth repairing, so take two begins…

Initial reactions to the Acer Aspire One

First impressions of the Acer Aspire One are just as before: great ultralight design, perfect keyboard, boots in under twenty seconds…but this time continue beyond five minutes as the WiFi connects swiftly and I’m off surfing in no time. I upgraded to Firefox 3 with this handy guide.

And that’s when it hit me: the Aspire One is loading pages faster than anything I own. I’m unable to pin it down to any one system element, but the combination of the Intel Atom, the SSD and Firefox running on Linpus Lite makes the internet scream on this baby. Way faster than my EEE 2G was, no comparison. Firefox’s full screen option makes the experience even better, taking advantage of all 8.9 LED backlit screen inches.

Using applications on the Acer Aspire One

I installed Skype and tried a video call. I told Skype to start video automatically and the webcam worked perfectly. My friend at the other end of the line in Tokyo could hear and see me clearly and I could hear him fine too. Again, the quality of the experience hit my old EEE for a home run…where I tended to reach for my Nokia N810 for Skype due to the 2G’s choppy chatter, the One was clear as a bell and it was handling the video well too.

The One also ships with several installed applications, such as OpenOffice, a media player and photo maanger, which together with the web browser may take care of most owners’ needs. Again, OpenOffice opened much faster than on my Asus EEE 2G and saved documents almost instantly.  This Linux version running Linpus Lite ships with an 8GB SSD.  If you need more storage there are two SD card slots, of which one allows an inserted card to show as a hard drive extension in the file manager.  The second slot shows up as removable storage.

Typing on the Acer Aspire One

Unlike my EEE experience, I have been able to touch type naturally on the One. The keyboard is very usable with everything in the right place. I’ve also found the trackpad to be big enough, as long as you’re a tap-to-click type and not a button pusher. I would like Acer to have implemented a MacBook style double finger right-click tap, as right clicking requires moving off the trackpad to find the button. There is a dedicated button on the keyboard for opening context sensitive menus however, which makes this omission easier to forgive.

The keyboard and wrist rest also remain at a reasonable temperature during use, as does the underside of the One. This is probably due to the low power consumption of the Intel Atom processor. A small fan kicks in now and again but it is unobtrusive.

Screen quality and battery life of the Acer Aspire One

Given its size and weight I expect my Aspire One to get plenty of outdoor use. The screen is bright enough to use outside in the shade, but becomes unreadable when hit by direct sunlight. As a guide it’s a lot brighter and sharper than the Asus EEE 2G, but is outshone by an Apple MacBook. The Aspire One does ship with a slip cover, which offers useful (non-waterproof) protection in transit. Regular travelers might prefer a closed protective case, but it’s a great free addition as a basic cover. Nice One Acer.

Battery life is quoted at three hours for this three cell Linux version and I achieved close to that with sensible moderation of the screen brightness to fit my environment. On full brightness with constant WiFi usage I’d expect that to go down to around two hours. Acer quotes the Windows XP version at 2.5 hours, probably due to the SSD being replaced by a regular hard drive. After boot-up I hardly ever see my SSD light illuminated, but the XP model is likely to be busier. So taking more frequent disk accessing together with the effort required to spin the platters would definitely reduce overall battery life.

Competitors to the Acer Aspire One

On balance, the One represents the best balanced experience of any of the small (< 9 inch) netbooks I’ve tried so far.  Its keyboard beats the EEE 901, its size is more practical than the seven inch models and its processor runs more efficiently than the VIA C7 powered HP Mini-Note or Everex Cloudbook.  In six cell guise with XP, it would be compelling but I have also appreciated the fast boot-up time and low resource usage of Linux.

Is the Acer Aspire One a good one?

The market is about to get more crowded with the imminent arrival of Dell’s mini Inspiron and future VIA Nano based machines. The ten inch Lenovo, Asus and MSI netbooks are also worth considering if you want to move up on screen size. For now though, the Acer Aspire One is a solid contender amongst the midsize netbooks.

Update: Acer has now lowered the retail price of the 3-cell Linux version to $329. The 3-cell XP version is now down to $349 and the 6-cell XP version is set to retail at $399.

Neil Berman

Aug 17, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , | 5 Comments

Netbook market grows further, has Aspiring winners and falling Stars

A glance at Amazon’s top 25 bestsellers gives a window into today’s netbook market.

The recent $100 price drop of the Asus EEE 1000H has it selling strongly, Acer’s Aspire One Linux is sitting at number 11 and the pre-order XP version is at 14. Various other EEEs make up much of the middle groung and Micro Star International’s Wind is caught up in turbulence at 24.

Given its $399 price tag I expect the 3 cell XP Aspire One to climb that chart, although hopefully they won’t suffer from the quality control issues which sent my Linux One back for repair only days after its unboxing.

Lenovo announced its entries, the S9 and S10, a few days ago. Only the S10 will be coming to the US and will bring a ten inch screen, Atom processor and XP starting from $399 in October…and it looks great.

An unfortunate characteristic of the Wind since its missed launch date of mid-June has been rumored, and now official, price hikes. The 3 cell XP model is now at $499, which looks forgettable compared to the pricing of the One and S10. This Wind is blowing in the wrong direction.

We’re still waiting to see what Dell’s E is going to throw at us, shouldn’t be too long now. Their rumored $299 entry price will ruffle a few feathers and their marketing might will ensure a sale or two.

Then there are still more models expected to launch in Q4 with VIA’s celebrated Nano CPU, just to make buying decisions that little bit harder.

If I was a betting man I’d say that Acer’s Aspire One and Lenovo’s S10 are set to be strong sellers in XP guise. Dell won’t take any prisoners either when they launch. So within a year I expect the Wind and Mini-Note to be shaken out of the market or forced into price cutting. Perhaps the savior of the Mini-Note will be if HP can swap in the Nano for the C7.

For the Wind, price cutting alone may be too late for mainstream buyers. If broad stock fails to arrive soon then how will they break onto retail shelves which already have Acers, Dells and EEE on display? It may end up being too little too late for this great product.

Neil Berman

Aug 9, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opera 9.5 Beta for Windows Mobile Review

The best mobile surfing experience out there?
Back in Feb Opera demo’d their latest Windows Mobile browser to oohs & ahhs from all corners championing it over the iPhone. Sporting a slick fullscreen mode, copy & paste, downloads and image saving, WM users couldn’t wait to get their mitts on it. It’s been a long wait but the beta recently went public. So is it really that much better than the iPhone? Let’s see…

After a straightforward installation and launch Opera 9.5 was happily loading pages over both WiFi and T-Mobile’s EDGE service. The browser fitted rendered pages to fill the whole screen perfectly and from there the finger pointing begins. Swipe up, down, left or right to scroll, double tap any area to zoom and again to zoom back out. The motion as the page moves is beautifully fluid and the zoom renders quickly.

Page loading was slower than my Nokia N810, which also runs Opera, but this is a pre-production version so it’s unfair to make a performance judgement just yet. As a guide over WiFi the NY Times website was half rendered in about 8 seconds and I was able to start swiping/zooming after 25 seconds while the pictures finished loading in the background. When I went to the site a second time, I could start swiping/zooming after about 15 seconds due to caching. Times were about twice as long with EDGE.

There are various display options, including full vs mobile view and screen font size. Images can be blocked to speed up page delivery.
Multiple tabs are also available, although your device’s capabilities will determine how many you can open before running low on memory. Opera 9.5 Mobile is a 8.9MB install which needs to go into main memory for this beta release. However the cache can be put onto a storage card, I allocated 50MB which speeds things up if you visit the same sites regularly.

So from this fully rendered CNet home page, you can zoom into something like this in a second or two…

…and then jump into a story…
…turn on text selection like this…
…and copy the text you want into an email or document just like a normal computer web browser. You can send it directly to someone via SMS as well as the page link, which is even better. You can also send links and images directly via MMS or email. Images and files can be downloaded to main memory or to the storage card for easy portability. Whole pages can be downloaded for offline viewing, for example when in the subway. Hmm, this is sounding like the daddy of convergent mobile internet…
Various other config optionsare included, including the ability to set a cache size. Here’s my 50MB cache in action, if you’re a heavy user you may want to go for more. I’m unaware of any cache limit, my TyTN has a 2GB memory card in it…that kind of cache size might be overkill but you get the idea!
Security options include proper password management.

With the current beta version there are a couple of missing bits, such as ActiveX and Flash so if you want these you might prefer to wait until the full production release. Also bear in mind that this is a beta version so if you do install it on your phone there may be compatibility issues or other freaky things happening – best to backup beforehand just in case!
Overall there’s no smartphone browser I’m aware of which offers such a sweet all round browsing experience. The initial impressions in February were right: where the iPhone’s Safari once led the pack, it’s now in second place. Can’t wait to try the production version…

Neil Berman

Aug 3, 2008 Posted by | Mobile, Reviews, Software | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aspire One still sick

…after three recoveries and two support calls, my One is definitely screwed. Anytime I turn on the wifi it goes nuts, nukes the screen and crawls into a corner until you force it to power off.

It’s going back to Acer on Monday, my fourth laptop to have problems in the last couple of years. Here’s the honor role in ascending order of annoyance:

4. eMachines AMD Sempron WinXP: f, g, h and j keys failed unless pressed really hard, went back for a new mobo, now happy.

3. Everex Intel Core Duo Vista: Resume failed sporadiacally, got annoying and went back for a new mobo, now happy.

2. Apple Macbook Intel Core 2 Duo OSX Tiger: Fails to switch on if warm, need to wait for it to cool down (known in Mac support circles as ‘The Oven‘). Basically I can only switch it on once per day. Crashes if you plug a USB device into the ‘wrong’ USB port (discovered in a M-Audio support call after getting multiple OSX crashes). Never sent it back cos I was lazy and now out of warranty.

1. Acer Aspire One…sick and about to be medicated.

Neil Berman

Aug 2, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Acer Aspire One on the internet for three seconds, dies, now alive again

1. Unboxing…pretty

2. Inspection…very very pretty

3. Boot-up Linux…fast, about 15 seconds

4. Launch network center, configure wifi

5. Connects immediately, after three seconds message appears saying update is ready – click to install. Click…

6. Fade to black, computer says no

7. Hangs

8. Still hanging

9. Several lights on but no one at home

10. Forced to turn off

11. Boot-up Linux…fast…but then self-reboots

12. Boots, OS looks normal

13. Click network center, no response, no network connectivity at all through wired or wireless

14. Reboot…same story

15. Check forums, it’s an epidemic. Gazillions of posts from owners whose network connectivity has failed

16. Sent support email to Acer, told me to call…

17. Acer said there are two OS distros out there and the updates are mixed up, which has created the problem. Advised to restore from recovery disc and avoid updates for now.

18. Recovery took 20 mins

19. Boot-up…fast…network center opens properly

20. :-)

Update one day later:

21. Still sick

Update several days later:

22. Acer sent me replacement, read the full Acer Aspire One review.

Neil Berman

Aug 1, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile | | 4 Comments


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