Acer Aspire One 532h notebook review

4 out of 5
£299

For

Long battery life, good keyboard, newly designed lightweight powerpack

Against

Design not very exciting, 1GB RAM could be improved on

The Acer Aspire One 532h represents an incremental step-up over the company's Aspire One 531 netbook launched in the middle of last year. As such it doesn't make any substantial changes to the netbook line - this isn't a netbook that brings with it a great boost in graphics processing like those sporting the Nvidia ION chipset, but it does come with a promise of a long battery life and runs Windows 7 Starter edition.

The design is reasonably conservative, coming in a range of colours and assembled in plastics. The dark red review model we tested had a fetching lid matched with the trackpad button bar, giving it a modern look. The bezel and palm rests are glossy, with the trackpad featuring a knobbly texture, designed to aid its use and a scrolling bar ribbed and sitting to the right. It's a clean solution, giving simple definition between the trackpad and the rest of the palm rest, although in use, adding a mouse will be needed if you are doing anything over basic operation. The coloured button bar worked well enough too, offering just the right amount of travel.

The 532 measures 258 x 180 x 22mm at the fattest point, excluding the protruding battery underneath. As on previous models from Acer, the battery fits into the space between the screen hinges, and the bump on the bottom lifts the rear of the netbook nicely, setting the keyboard at an angle when sitting on a desk. The netbook runs fairly quietly, but does get noticeably hot on the left-hand edge where the limited ventilation is. 

The keyboard fills the entire width of the device something we are always pleased to see. The keyboard is free from any critical levels of flex, which is often a problem with smaller notebooks. The key travel is good, but the flat nature of the keys does make it slightly trickier to type on than those with tapered edges, which tend to be a little more forgiving on a small format notebook like this.

The main character keys are of a good size, with the Fn keys on the top row shrinking to a size that makes them tricky to use in a hurry. You'll find the keys you use most often where you'd expect to find them, such as control, shift and delete. If moving over from a full-sized keyboard, you should be up to speed in no time at all.

Keyboard shortcuts cover the usual volume and brightness changes, with a redundant Bluetooth key offering to toggle hardware not installed in this version of the netbook. Wi-Fi (b/g/n) gets its own Fn key too, so if you want to kill your wireless connection on the road it's only a button press away.

The screen is 10.1 inches, backlit with LEDs to eke a little more out of the battery and offering up a strictly average resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. It has a glossy finish to it, so suffers from reflections when out and about, but everything does look nice and sharp.

Under the hood is Intel's new N450 Atom processor, running at 1.66GHz, which you'll find in the latest rung of netbooks, and offers significantly improved power efficiency over previous editions. This is backed by a rather disappointing 1GB of RAM, so the 532 has the potential to be better - a cheap user upgrade to 2GB would improve application launching speeds and generally give everything a boost.

Graphics are handed by an integrated solution, so this isn't a netbook to pick if you want to be playing back video content from your Full HD camcorder. The 532 will just about handle 720p content from the 250GB hard drive or a memory card, accepting the occasional dropped frame. Full HD content requires more oomph than is on offer here and online HD content, such as you'd find on YouTube HD, didn't play nicely either. 

In terms of connections the 532 offers up a VGA port, 3x USB 2.0, Ethernet, and 3.5mm headphone and mic jacks. A multi-card reader accepting SD, SDHC, Memory Stick and xD-Picture Card is also present. A 0.3-megapixel webcam lies in the screen bezel, with a mic rounding out the package to keep you connected with loved ones via your favourite video chat application. Stereo speakers sit under the leading edge, giving average netbook performance, meaning they are fine for basic tasks, but if you want to watch a movie in your hotel, you'll be better served with a decent set of headphones.

Acer has also made a welcome change to the powerpack that will really benefit those who like to travel light. Previous netbooks would see you carrying round several meters of cable and a brick of a powerpack. Now there is a compact wall unit with a couple of metres of lighter cable, so you'll be able to stuff it in your bag with ease. The pins are changeable on the wall unit too, so you could potentially (if Acer will supply them) snap on a Euro or US set depending on where you are travelling, although it's a shame that they aren't all bundled in the box.

So does it deliver those claims of a long battery life? It certainly does. With general browsing and light office tasks, we were getting the cited 8 hours from the battery, which is an impressive and welcomed performance, making this a good choice for those who want to keep working on those long trans-Atlantic flights.

 

Verdict

The Acer Aspire One 532h is a capable netbook, offering the sort of battery life to make it a practical all-day device. Recent models have seen a step forward in endurance and this basic spec device delivers that, suggesting a bright year for the latest crop of netbooks. 

In design terms it won't set the world alight, lacking the svelte lines that some rivals will offer. There are more powerful devices out there, with the latest wave of Nvidia ION notebooks and models carrying double the RAM, bringing with them greater performance overall, if that's an important consideration for you.

However, at £299, the Acer Aspire One 532h hits an average price point for average specs for those looking for a netbook with a battery life worth having.

Thank you to www.saveonlaptops.co.uk for the loan of this review model.