New toy or new best friend?

So I'm sitting on a train bound for New York City to see Shrek the Musical with my kids, typing on an Aspire One netbook that Acer sent me yesterday to evaluate (I introduced the little laptop here; this is the first real world impressions post, posted after, but written before, the introduction, just to keep readers on their toes).

So I'm sitting on a train bound for New York City to see Shrek the Musical with my kids, typing on an Aspire One netbook that Acer sent me yesterday to evaluate (I introduced the little laptop here; this is the first real world impressions post, posted after, but written before, the introduction, just to keep readers on their toes). I'll let it cycle through the kids and several students over the next month, but for now I figured I'd bring it with me on this day trip to see just how useful it really is on the anytime, anywhere basis for which I'd actually buy one.

First impressions? The keyboard is small, but both my wife and I adapted to it very quickly. I'm not typing as fast as I do on my Mac, but most folks recognize the MacBook keyboards as particularly speedy for touch typists. My hands are also pretty small, so I'll be curious to see how big high school football players handle the keyboard.

It also isn't a speed demon, but so far with web browsing and using OpenOffice, I haven't found myself waiting for anything. One thing to note is that I requested a Linux version of the netbook. It runs “Linpus Lite Linux”, a customized version of Fedora with a very useful dashboard for everyday applications.

Acer will also be sending me one of their nettops, a desktop version of the Aspire One; that will be running Windows XP and I'll give performance details when that arrives.

The two pounds saved and the inches all around really do make a difference in terms of portability. It slips easily into my small messenger bag that currently is also holding gloves and hats for a few kids, a camera, an umbrella, tickets, and other assorted items with no problem. My MacBook, on the other hand, takes up a much bigger chunk of space and weighs on the shoulder a bit over time.

Sitting on the train, I passed it to my oldest son. He's 16 with very long piano fingers. Here's what he typed: Well, as you kno I'm goi8ng to see shrek today, My favorite actress sutton foster is in it. I'm just so afraid that she might have an understudy. Please send your best wishes that she doesn't. Thank you.

I told him not to correct any mistakes and just give me his first impression of the keyboard. I won't repeat exactly what he said, but suffice to say, he didn't like it. Of course, his HP laptop has a full-sized keyboard with a numeric keypad, so this is quite an adjustment. I obtained grudging agreement that he would use it more extensively over the next month to see if he could adapt to the keyboard and touchpad (which is nice and wide with easy tap and drag and integrated scroll areas, but buttons mounted on either side; fortunately, having become accustomed to my Mac, I rarely use the mouse buttons and just tap and slide, but other PC users may struggle with it).

As another aside, my son asked me to let everyone know that Sutton Foster was indeed in the musical and that no understudies filled in for any of the actors. Ms. Foster really was brilliant, so it was a good day in New York.

Speaking of good days in New York, the Aspire One came out of my bag a couple of times while we were in the city (I had a PDF of the train schedule and jotted down a few notes for blog ideas while we were at the Apple Store since a visit to midtown is really incomplete without a stop by that wonderful place). It really is incredibly light and unobtrusive.

The real question, though, is what did it do that I couldn't just do on my BlackBerry? The Aspire One, after all, is dependent on WiFi, while my BlackBerry has data everywhere. For one, as I saw during our power outage, really writing on a BlackBerry is a monstrous pain. PDF files can render on a BlackBerry, but the full tabular format of the New Haven Line Metro North train schedule wouldn't be very usable on a smartphone screen. On the other hand, my BlackBerry came through with easy walking directions courtesy of Google Maps.

The verdict is still very much out on this; I'm thrilled to have a whole month with this little computer. However, even after a day with it, I'm already starting to think that it could become at least as much of a constant companion as my BlackBerry. Which will win the battle to become my BFF? I'll get back to you.

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