Netbooks appeal to a variety of users, from the youthful, highly mobile social networking crowd to business people needing a small, light computer that can perform multiple undemanding tasks and provide swift access to the Net. And it’s their very popularity that causes maunfacturers a problem: it’s getting harder to find unique selling points that make one model stand out from the crowd.
Acer’s Aspire One series has already garnished a good reputation for portability, reliability and affordability. The latest version, the D255, attempts to get itself noticed by including two operating systems – Windows 7 Starter and Android 2.1. We’ll shortly see whether this strategy has obvious attractions for the target audience.
Visually the D255 is quite striking, appearing in five shades that Acer have grandly named Aquamarine, Diamond Black, Sandstone Brown, Ruby Red and Seashell White, with the key colour on the lid matched by the palm rest area. The keyboard and the rather thick bezel remain resolutely black whichever hue you opt for. Although it’s thin (less than one inch) and light (around 1kg), the netbook doesn’t feel flimsy.
In most other respects, the exterior is no different from many of rival 10.1-inch netbooks. It has three USB ports plus VGA, Ethernet, the usual sound jacks and an SDHC/MMC card reader, as well as the centrally positioned 1.3M webcam. The LED-backlit display has the standard native resolution of 1024×600 and provides generally well defined images and bright colours.
One exceptional asset is the extremely light MiniGo AC power supply, which comes with interchangeable plug adapters – very useful when you’re travelling around Europe. The keyboard is the familiar chiclet style 93% standard-size which feels comfortable and smooth to operate. Acer makes the most of the space by spreading it to the edges of the base. The touchpad is reasonably responsive and, happily, incorporates multi-touch functions – though we’d have preferred the mouse buttons to have been separated rather than incorporated into a single bar.
Under the bonnet you’ll find a dual-core Intel Atom N550 CPU clocked at 1.5GHz, which packs a fair bit of power. Unfortunately there’s only 1GB of RAM – 2GB ought to be standard by now, especially as the D255 has to cope with two operating systems. The built-in Intel GMA 3150 graphics chipset can just about manage BBC iPlayer HD videos as long as they’re not too demanding. Shame there’s no HDMI output, though.
Which brings us back to the big selling point – the dual OS. If you have an Android-based phone, you might appreciate having the same system on your netbook. But apart from being able to get you online quicker than Windows 7 Starter, and thus giving you quicker access to your e-mails, it’s unlikely you’ll be spending much time with the handful of apps here.
As for battery life – we found with continuous video usage at full-screen resolution and Wi-Fi turned on, we could only manage four hours before it all went dark, although Acer claims double that (presumably in sleep mode). Seems like you might be very glad of that lightweight power adapter…
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