Acer Aspire One D250 Android notebook review

The Acer Aspire One D250 takes a standard netbook spec machine and adds the Android operating system into the mix. You get an Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz processor, 1GB RAM and a 250GB hard drive, and Android deployed in the same way that Asus and Sony (to name two) have used Linux kernels in the past.

Connectivity comes in the form of an Ethernet socket and Wi-Fi b/g, with 3x USB 2.0 connections, VGA, headphone and mic sockets. A card reader sits in the edge so you can slot in an SD card, which will sit flush with the edge so you can leave it in all the time if that's what you want to do.

The D250 itself measures 257 x 185 x 24mm and is lightweight at just over 1kg including the battery. The construction is predominantly plastic and whilst the base of the D250 feels solid enough, the screen feels decidedly flimsy, not helped by the elevated hinges.

The internal finish is reasonable enough when you lift the lid, with a brushed effect around the keyboard and trackpad that keeps things relatively clear of fingerprints. The glossy plastic bezel surrounding the 10.1-inch LED backlit display and housing the webcam unfortunately doesn't get the same treatment.

That 10.1-inch display comes in with a resolution of 1024 x 600, which isn't the highest resolution you'll find on a small format notebook, but is pretty common. The finish is glossy, which makes content appear nice and sharp, but isn't the most practical for when you are out and about, as it suffers from reflections.

The keyboard itself is good however, and crams a fair amount into a small space. It doesn't quite reach edge-to-edge on the chassis, so there was potential to squeeze a little more space out of the thing, be we were impressed by the action of the keys and it doesn’t suffer from the same degree of flex that many keyboards do.

The trackpad is small and purports to offer a degree of multi-touch functionality, but this is hit and miss at best, and doesn't rival the sort of experience you'll get from a MacBook touchpad and the experience can be bettered using a mouse when possible.

Now that Windows 7 has launched, it's a pleasure to find the D250 running Windows 7 Starter edition, which runs along at a reasonable pace giving you a full operating system. There isn't really the power for a high degree of multitasking, but it will handle most office programs. It isn't designed for gaming or playing HD content and in our tests it struggled to deliver 720p content at a watchable frame rate.

For basic online work and light office tasks, however, the D250 should be fine for your needs. However, the unique proposition here is the inclusion of the Android operating system, designed to give you quick and easy access online, by providing a quick start option so you don't have to wait for Windows to boot.

It works too, launching in around 16 seconds and presenting you with an Android homepage reminiscent of that which you'll find on a phone. Booting Windows 7 by contrast takes about 1 minute, but this is with a fairly clean install. Even better, shutdown of Android takes 2 seconds.

You are invited to enter your Google account details, which the netbook can then use to synchronise with your account, which then means you have quick access to your email, calendar and contacts. It's not quite as glorious as it might seem, as all you need is a browser window and logging into your Google account will give you access to these items anyway.

The browser comes courtesy of Mozilla and gives you the functions you'd expect, so you can browse full websites and play back Flash video and so on. The browser isn't the best performer and we found it would often stop navigating and need refreshing to get it to land on the site we asked it.

The performance of online video wasn't as good under Android as it was under Windows 7 either. Both BBC iPlayer content and some DemandFive content on YouTube struggled to play smoothly, especially in full screen modes, so if you are planning on starting up to watch an episode of Eastenders, it is worth loading Windows 7 to do so.

There is also a second Android browser that doesn't know you are using a netbook, so renders pages a mobile pages and won't read the keyboard properly either (picking up alternate characters rather than the letters). Stumbling on things like this do make you think that something hasn't been fully thought through here.

You can head into email and setup your email address as normal to use the mail client rather than just using webmail. If you set-up your Google account you will get all of your Google Contacts, which is good for reference, but doesn't seem to realise that you aren't using a phone.

Navigation of Android is rather crude, with no provision for moving around the OS on the D250 itself and no included instructions. Android would normally use a back and menu button for operation, here replicated by Esc (for back) and a right click for the menus. You can customise the homepage, adding basic widgets, but little else.

With no sign of Android Marketplace, you really are just left with email and whenever you can do through a browser (which admittedly is pretty much anything these days). A Google Talk app is provided, but you'd be better using an online cross-platform messenger service like Nimbuzz, for example.

The battery life comes in at a fairly average 3 hours under general usage, which is now starting to look a little low compared to some of the much more generous batteries that are starting to appear on netbooks.

Verdict

Overall Android is an interesting addition, but not one that is very compelling. With the browser not returning a solid performance, we'd be tempted just to let Windows 7 boot, in which case you can ignore this edition of the netbook altogether.

What you are left with is a netbook that works well enough, but without the Android OS as a valid differentiator, there are plenty of other netbooks out there to consider. Android fans might be tempted, but as a mainstream netbook this has limited appeal.