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iMac Sales Plunge, Apple Slashes Refurb Macbook Air to $1,149

It’s been a week that Apple fans will want to forget.  NPD reported that Apple sales for November were flat year on year whilst Windows PCs gained 7%, iMac sales collapsed by 38% whilst Windows desktops fell only 15% and Apple announced that the company will stop attending Macworld after the 2009 show.  Apple laptop sales rose 22% compared to 15% for Windows laptops.

mb-air

What does this mean for Apple?  Most likely something needs to be done…and pretty fast.  Apple has responded by slashing prices of its refurbished models, a move likely aimed at removing the carrying costs of old inventory.  Macbook Airs are available for $1,149 on Apple’s US website at the time of writing.  Deep reductions are offered across other lines as well and online stores are offering serious discounts on new models.  After a while this discounting could erode the premium perception of the brand and hurt Apple retail store sales, which are typically made at full price.

Netbooks captured the the public's imagination in 2008

Netbooks captured the the public's imagination in 2008

This may be a short term band-aid to improve working capital, but Apple needs to look deeper at its product line and offer models at prices which relate to the current economy.  The company has been too late in coming to the Netbook market, which exploded with colossal growth this year following the arrival of the Asus EEE in late 2007.  Apple needs a Netbook quickly, and it will need to compete with the quality of the MSI Wind, Acer Aspire One and Asus EEE range, which all sell for around $300-400.

Steve Jobs said that “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.”  Well Apple might have to learn how.  Five hundred dollars is now premium Netbook territory as prices have been falling throughout 2008.

I expect that if Apple enters the market they would choose the $600-800 range with a couple of configurations.  They need this because Macbooks are no longer the coolest laptops to pull out of your bag…Netbooks are.  A glance at the Amazon bestseller list shows Netbooks occupying slots which Macbooks used to live in. 

The MSI Wind Netbook was one of the most hotly anticipated products of 2008. Can Apple introduce its own competitor to stop the rising Windows sales?

The MSI Wind Netbook was one of the most hotly anticipated products of 2008. Can Apple introduce its own competitor to stop the rising Windows sales?

Whilst Macbooks used to be the laptop of choice for Manhattan coffee shop outings, Netbooks now get the curious admiring looks.  In an America looking to downsize cars, energy usage and spending, Netbooks are the Prius of today’s laptop showroom.

Clearly the slowdown in the economy has affected Apple as a seller of premium products.  It also seems that Apple’s negative advertising campaign throughout 2008 against PCs may have not had the positive sales effect Apple was hoping for.  In fact the plunging iMac sales figures indicate that Apple might have done better through a positive campaign promoting the benefits of the iMac compared to Windows desktops.  It may be that consumers simply were unable to identify a positive value of spending the extra bucks on an iMac, which is a classic outcome of a negative advertising campaign, unless the competing product is seen as truly worthless.  Clearly not the case in this instance as iMac sales plunged 23% more than Windows desktop sales.

Whilst I think Apple will pull through, it needs to revitalize its line-up to be attractive in today’s economy.  And hopefully that revitalization effort will give us reasons to buy Macs, instead of reasons not to buy PCs.  I want to want Macs for good reasons, not because I’m told the competition is bad.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

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Dec 18, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaking Of Glossy Screens…

Here’s one that got it right:

This, for all you daywalkers, is a MSI Wind in full-on sunlight.  And here is how it compares with a glossy-screened Acer Aspire One (which is switched on, honestly):

…and with some general non-sunny window reflections:

…and compared directly to the Wind below with non-sunny reflections.  It’s worth noting that the Aspire One actually has a really nice LED backlit screen, it’s just that the Wind has the best screen I’ve ever seen on a notebook.

The Wind works if you’re a daywalker – and it’s also a little cheaper than one particular newly-announced-glossy-screened laptop.  Ye pays yer money…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Oct 15, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MSI Wind / Advent 4211 Review

After a gust of initial promise, the MSI Wind blew into the US market in a flurry of overpricing, stock delays and battery shortages. Whilst the pricing still remains questionable, the stock situation has slowly improved. I managed to spend some time with the Advent 4211 clone in London this week to see if it was a full force tornado or just hot air.

Acer Aspire One on top of MSI Wind

Acer Aspire One on top of MSI Wind

Appearance of the MSI Wind

The Wind is one of the larger netbooks, not quite as ‘notebook looking’ as the Asus EEE 1000 but sizeable nonetheless. Sitting under the Acer Aspire One the MSI Wind shows a centimeter of clearance all round, which is not bad considering it boasts a full inch of extra screen space due to the Wind’s narrower bezel.

As for overall appearance, the MSI Wind looks OK. In Advent 4211 silver plastic guise it misses out on the eye catching looks of the EEE 1000 and Aspire One which are definitely a step ahead in the fashion stakes with their design details.

Keyboard and trackpad of  the MSI Wind

Opening the lid reveals a good size keyboard with a smallish trackpad. The keys themselves sit up high and seem initially stodgy to press. Due to their angled sides they actually have a smaller contact area than the Acer Aspire One, which sit almost flat giving a sleeker look and for me a more reliable typing experience. The Wind’s keyboard is perfectly functional however and would be easy to adapt to. I wasn’t a fan of the right Shift key’s position and there is some empty space where MSI haven’t fully utilized all the available real estate.

The trackpad is responsive enough, but might ideally have been wider. It’s reminiscent of the first EEE PC, which had an even smaller square. The EEE 1000 definitely leads the netbooks in this regard with its lurvely multitouch pad.

Performance of the MSI Wind

The MSI Wind and Advent 4211 ship with Intel’s Atom N270, 1GB RAM, an 80GB hard drive and Windows XP Home, which took just under sixty seconds to boot and turn the egg timer into a full arrow. That’s passable, but this is a bare machine. I expect that once you install a firewall, antivirus, Skype and other apps which load at boot-up you’re probably looking at nearer ninety seconds plus another ten to lock on to a wireless router. By contrast the Linux Aspire One boots in eighteen seconds plus wireless lock-on time.

Once the MSI Wnd is up and running the Atom hustles along speedily enough for general uses with applications loading in acceptable if not lightning time. Again performance on the Aspire One Linux feels snappier with faster application load times. Music sounds reasonable through the built in speakers and the webcam puts in a good performance compared to some of the other current netbooks.

The screen is also nice enough too. I was expecting to be dazzled given early claims about its quality but it’s actually very similar to the Aspire One and EEE 1000 in terms of brightness and clarity, which is still a good thing. I was unable to test DVD playback as I did not have an external drive to hand.

The MSI Wind is well connected with three USB ports, ethernet, VGA, audio in/out and an SD card slot, although it lacks the Acer Aspire One’s second SD slot.

Did the MSI Wind blow me away?

So was I blown off my feet? Not quite. The MSI Wind is a nice netbook, it does everything well but just looks and feels a bit ordinary at $499 for the 3-cell version or a whopping $599 for the 6-cell. By contrast the Acer Aspire One XP is $349 and $449 for the 3 & 6-cell versions respectively and the longer lasting EEE 1000 is yours for $549. Last time I looked the Wind had fallen out of Amazon’s top 100 computing bestsellers, whilst the Acer Aspire One and Asus EEE 1000 were both in the top 5. Until MSI revises its pricing I have a feeling it might stay that way.

Neil Berman

www.thonbutton.com

Gallery:

Sep 6, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | 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

www.theonbutton.com

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

www.neilberman.com

Aug 9, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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
www.neilberman.com

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

www.theonbutton.com

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

It was love at first sight but Eee’s not the One.

A few months with an Eee 701 have taught me one thing. It’s not the one. It was one heck of a first breed of ultralight laptop and it was fun while it lasted. But three days on since Acer’s announcement and my One is in the mail. That’s the Acer Aspire One.

It’s fair to say that it would have been the Wind if anyone was actually selling them…The Wind forums are full of people saying they’ve just ordered a different machine out of sheer frustration.

In only nine months the Netbook market has moved so far, there’s no room for supply chain slip-ups. I’m looking forward to seeing how the One performs: Atom processor, near full size keyboard, webcam, 8.9″ LED backlit screen and as light at my 701. It sure does sound promising.

Best of all it’s real and is in a UPS truck right now heading for chez moi. Full review to follow…

Neil Berman

www.neilberman.com

Jul 26, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mini laptops = mini prices?

Don’t you just love market forces? Only a week after it’s launch at $649 and the Asus EEE PC 1000 is already down to $549 at NewEgg.

Part of the greatness of the original EEE was its price tag, and sales figures were through the roof. As everyone else caught up with models from HP, Acer, Dell and MSI all announced or launched, Asus’ pricing seemed off the pulse. So it’s good to see this correction, but more is still needed especially for the EEE 901 given Acer’s 8.9 inch Atom powered Aspire One is retailing for $379. By comparison the 901 is over $200 more expensive!

Now spare a thought for MSI’s Wind. The Wind is a great product ‘almost’ competing with the EEE 1000. I say ‘almost’ because although the Wind was due to rock the market over a month ago, the only model released was a low capacity battery version which had reviewers telling everyone to wait until September.

I expect by then the 10 inch early adopters will have bought the reduced price EEE 1000 and the Wind will be scrapping in the trenches for leftovers in a price-cutting market.

Did I mention the Dell E will be launching around then starting in the region of $299…?

Neil Berman

www.neilberman.com

Jul 21, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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