Joining in the race to get a slice of the rapidly-growing mini PC pie, is Acer, with their Aspire One. But will this offer you something the Asus Eee PC, HP Mini-Note or MSI Wind will not? We got our hands on the new Aspire One at the press launch in London, for a First Look.

Acer launched the Aspire One into what they see as the "nettop" or "netbook" category; they were insistent, nay passionate, about the fact that this is not a notebook/laptop computer.

We know that Pocket-lint readers are well endowed with grey matter and we will allow you draw your own conclusions on this matter, especially when we reveal further down this review, that you can get a version running Windows XP, with an 80GB hard drive and 1.5GB RAM, and it takes the regular notebook form factor with a hinged screen on a keyboard base.

The Aspire One measures 24 x 17cm, into which a full QWERTY keyboard and 8.9in LCD screen have been placed. The screen takes a respectable widescreen aspect (1024 x 600) and has a matt finish which fits the purpose for this type of device. We found the screen to be bright and colourful, something that doesn’t come across in the photos we took because of the "mood" lighting at the event.

Powering the Aspire One is the new Intel Atom chipset (1.6GHz), which you’ll also find in the MSI Wind, using much less power than previous models, sp fits perfectly into the ultraportable laptop, sorry internet device, concept.

The keyboard, obviously sized down for the task, is actually very easy to use. Of course, this type of keyboard does take some getting used to, but as the layout is pretty much standard, we found that within a few minutes we could type at a respectable speed. You’ll also find a range of standard Function shortcuts as you would on a notebook, and these mirror the offerings from further up the Aspire range.

Built-in to the lid of the One you’ll find the 0.3MP webcam and the built-in mic, although we weren’t able to test these. Likewise, the One features stereo speakers that we couldn’t test. Around the body you’ll find down the left a VGA connection, Ethernet port, USB and an SD card slot. The right features a multicard reader supporting SD, MMC, RS-MMC, MS, MS PRO and xD-Picture card, two further USB slots and a headphone and external mic jack.

The single SD card slot is an expansion slot for the memory, so if you have opted for the 8GB flash memory, the SD slot could take you much higher. An Acer spokesperson at the event informed us that this expansion would add to the overall memory, rather than appear as a separate drive, but couldn't confirm whether it supported SDHC.

The model that we had, the first model to be launched, was the Linux version. Acer have customised the interface to make it a happy place for Linus newbies. Startup and shutdown are fast - we timed startup to be 16 seconds. The homepage is split into four areas, Connect, Works, Fun and Files. Each area provides shortcuts to those options you are most likely to use, such as Firefox in the Connect section, but opening up each tab reveals a wider range of applications, see the images for an example.

The Works segment features the basic sort of office software you’d expect, in this case from OpenOffice, which works well enough, whilst the Fun tab is not just games: it hosts a basic photo package, for example. Files is as you'd expect

The Connect area is obviously key to this type of device. Coming with Wi-Fi and the option of HSDPA or WiMAX, the One is all about being connected on the move. Besides Firefox as the default browser, you'll get Messenger, a combined IM protocol, allowing you to access a number of different messaging accounts. You'll also get an email application in which you can collate up to six accounts, but again, we didn't get to test this in action.

You’ll also, further down the line, get to choose a Windows XP version, as well a the choice between the 8GB NAND flash module, or 80GB HDD along with your 3G or WiMAX option. Prices and exact model specs were not available at the time of writing.

If we had one obvious complaint, it was with the trackpad, which is tiny and has the buttons to the sides – we found that in normal keyboard usage we hit the trackpad too often. It can be disabled, however, and a simple notebook mouse will overcome that problem fairly easily.

Overall the build quality felt good, even though the One is less than 1kg in weight; the lid felt pretty solid and the keyboard had good spring to the keys.

First Impressions

As Acer is known for delivering good value for money, you’ll not be surprised to hear that this goodness all comes in at £199, but again, price will vary on the specs you choose. However, this does represent serious value for money when lined up against the competition.

An impressive entry into an increasingly crowded market for Acer. On first look, the Aspire One look like a great little computer. In the race to the the UMPC of choice, as Highlander would say, there can be only One.