Gateway and Acer Netbooks: Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!by Vivek Gowri on April 28, 2010 2:22 AM EST
Design and Build
The Aspire One has made huge strides in build quality and design since its original iteration back in 2008. What was once a small, awkward, and cheap feeling system has become a respectable netbook that can be mentioned in the same breath as competing systems from ASUS and MSI. Many of my complaints in the first two major chassis revs of the Aspire One have been solved here, including the touchpad, keyboard, and overall styling and build quality of the machine.
In the past, the Aspire One has been offered in a variety of vibrant colors, and in this regard the 532h does not disappoint. Our review unit was rendered in an elegant “Garnet Red” hue, with a glossy finish both inside and out. With the red colored lid, there isn’t much of a problem with fingerprinting, but the piano black interior and LCD bezel are fingerprint magnets. Why manufacturers insist on this type of finish is absolutely baffling, but so be it.
Other than the color, the design of the Aspire One is fairly nondescript, without much standing out as either good or bad. It has a lot of soft and organic curves, reminiscent of the “Gemstone” design used in some Aspire notebooks. This makes it a very inoffensive design, which puts it a few steps ahead of previous Aspire Ones, but it would have been nice to see a few more risks in the design.
I personally preferred the Gateway, which has a more angular design to go along with a handsome white/silver color scheme. The lid is glossy white with a light silver pattern and a chrome Gateway tag, while the interior is matte silver (praise the heavens for whoever decided to go with matte surfaces). The keyboard is white. I honestly think the Gateway has a more interesting design than the Acer, but I also have a tendency to go for white notebooks, so it’s really a personal choice. Your tastes may be different.
From here on out, the two are much the same, so I’ll review them together and note any differences as such.
Build quality is reasonable, with solid plastics used for the interior surfaces and palm rests, but the keyboard does exhibit some flex. Interesting to note here is that the Gateway didn’t have nearly as much keyboard flex as the Aspire One. This is probably just a difference in two specific units rather than a general problem with the design, but YMMV. Also, the LCD lid isn’t all that rigid and will show rippling on the display when stressed. But they’re on a similar level to the MSI Wind and most other netbooks, and not far behind our benchmark, the ASUS 1001P.
The keyboard is a scaled down version of the keyboard used in the Acer AS1410 and Timeline 1810T and is quite usable. The keys do feel a bit small, but with a bit of extra care it’s not hard to adjust to it. It’s somewhat like a chiclet keyboard, but there are holes between keys instead of the keyboard tray like on most other chiclet keyboards. This means it’s easy for things to get stuck under the keys, which over time may be a concern. The touchpad is great, with a large surface and multitouch gestures enabled. The single button has both right and left click sensors, a la ASUS, and gives good feedback.
The ports are another case of “same old, same old”: three USB, VGA, headphone out, line in, Ethernet, Kensington lock, 1.3MP webcam, and a mic. It's similar to the competition and very standardized stuff. The webcam works fairly well and gives clear video, and the mic works without complaint. For video chatting, both of these systems work fairly well.
The speakers are located just under the front edge of the system, which is becoming a popular area to place speakers—my last four test systems have had speakers on the bottom. This makes no sense to me, since it seems like the best way to muffle all audio. I think manufacturers do this for packaging reasons, but I feel there are better places to put speakers. The speakers in these two netbooks work fine, but are nothing to write home about.