Saturday, October 29, 2011

Acer Aspire One D255E

What's the opposite of an "impulse purchase"? Whatever the phrase is, that's what the buying process for this device was for me. Took me months! Earlier in the year there was an article in PC Pro comparing many Netbooks and this one won. That was just the start.

I then set about looking for alternatives at a better price, but - cutting to the chase - nothing seemed as good. I stood for ages in PC World and Currys playing with netbooks various, and was somewhat underwhelmed. If you get the chance, walk up to a netbook and try running four or five applications at once. Chances are it will fall flat on its face.

Most of them are single core processors, and nearly all have but 1gig of memory. A few years ago their specification would have been thought fabulous, but now they struggle to cope with just the operating system, let alone running a program. (There's an article elsewhere in the blog extolling the virtues of MS-DOS for those who can remember it.)

So, the D255E has a dual core processor. I very nearly bought a single core example once, before the nuances of Acer's name scheme became apparent to me, a mistake I suspect many could have made. It has  1gig of memory and a 250gig hard disk. It has 3 USB ports, N class wifi and a 10.1 inch display. It nominally costs 250 quid, but I decided that 200 was my top limit. Much hard work went into tracking down such a thing, weeks passed but eventually I fluked it - Okobe had red ones for 200 pounds. I'm inclined to think they made a mistake on their web site, because if anything red ones are more than the usual black.

There's no denying, it is a bit slow. It's a 1.5 ghz processor, and the dual core does allow it to multi-task quite happily, but it's no greyhound, Patience is required. Once things are running, they run well, but start up times seem slow.

Having removed all the crapware from the machine, installed Chrome and Firefox and banished IE whence it came, surfing is a totally pleasant experience. And as that's pretty much all I wanted it for, that's fine. But having said that, I have no complaints about how it runs Office, or indeed any of the other apps I've subsequently installed. I can't see it doing video editing, but Picassa works fine for example, as does Google Earth.

The display is very bright and clear as a bell, and it's glossy finish has not caused me problems at all. And once the battery was trained it is genuinely giving me hours of use on a charge. The claim is 8 hours plus, but that must be for doing not-a-lot, I'm getting over 6 hours of normal use, whatever that is...

The wifi range is good, the keyboard is nice to use, the touchpad is responsive, it's light to carry, and looks cute as a button. It gets a little warm on the lap, but nothing to mention, and the fan is quiet. It's great for watching the BBC iPlayer in bed. Speakers aren't that great, well they sound okay but there's little volume, but that's easily fixed with headphones.

If I was to find fault... there's just 1gig of ram, but to install more you have to get your screwdriver out and remove the base... I'm not sure my nerves would take this. Surely a little hatch isn't too much to ask? Or that it should come with 2gig? Because just running a browser the ram usage goes into the red sometimes.

The machine is configured to boot into Android. This is easily bypassed, but I've left it doing this, as the start up time is phenomenal. It feels like just a few seconds from pressing "on" to being able to surf. Catch is, the version of Firefox used in the Android partition is well old, and I can't fathom how (or indeed if) you can update it. And oddly it seems to run very slowly, use it for gmail for example, and it keeps "sticking" as you type your message. There's something not quite right with it all. And there's a small app store to access, but so far I've failed to download anything from it, it just hangs when I try.

But ignoring these minor gripes, I cannot but heartily recommend the D255. I've been using it for a few weeks now and it's performed faultlessly. I attended a long meeting recently, other participants had laptops that they kept having to 'sleep' all the time - me, I just left the Acer on - that battery rocks! As I said before, beware the identical looking single core version, which can be the same price too, confusingly. You may not be as a lucky as me to find one for 200 quid, 240 seems generally to be going rate, but as the opposition catches up with dual cores I expect its price will drop.

Update 2017

Yes, after many years, the Acer is still going, admittedly with only infrequent use these days. It has soldiered on well, and still looks quite new. The battery still gives a reasonable life, and everything still works fine. Software wise, it did start to go slower and slower, until it really got unusable, at which point a complete re-install of Windows sorted it out. Along the way I did try running it using Linux, but this didn't really give me the tools I needed, but it did work okay-ish (see here). I did lose the Android alternative system that the machine came with, no great loss. And then came Windows 10. I took the chance of the free upgrade, which I was surprised I got given that the original system was 7 Starter. BUT, after the upgrade things were not great, it had become very slow, despite the hype that 10 did not need more power than 7.
So... I gritted my teeth and did what I should have done from the very start, upgrade the memory. It came with just 1gig. I had read what was required to upgrade, and when the notebook was new I didn't fancy taking it apart to get the new RAM in, but of course now I wasn't so bothered. And it turned out to be a ten minute job, no problem at all. The worrying bit is prizing the keyboard off and then undoing several key screws, but there's a YouTube video that shows you how to do it. A doddle, and the memory was very cheap. A very worthwhile upgrade and means the machine will run Windows 10 happily. In fact I'm using it this very minute to write this.
So, during it's life Notebooks were in and then out of fashion, but I notice that recently there's been a resurgence in interest in these smaller laptops, this time around as a sort of tablet/laptop hybrid. They are very useful to have around, the number of time I've needed the quick use of a portable device I don't really care about, it's perfect. I now use it mostly to plug in to my car diagnostics, it happily sits on the engine telling me where the latest problem is!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nokia C3-00

However. It may be that my opinion of this phone is somewhat biased because I got it so cheaply. I bought it using Tesco tokens during one of their half price promotions, and ended up paying about 35 quid for it. I think it goes for about 90 quid in 'real life'. £35 - bargain, not sure how I'd feel about the full price...

Anyway, it's been excellent. Its keyboard does not have the quality feel of the Blackberry, nor is its screen so bright and inviting. But as a day-to-day phone it does everything well enough for me.
It copes with my various Gmail accounts very well, though it did take me a while to get to grips with how it works, insert usual moan here about poor documentation. (Aside... many years ago I was involved in rolling out Microsoft Office to a company nearby. Each CD of Office came with a pile - no really, a pile - of books about the various applications. I remember lugging these things about, and in the end there was almost a room full of books. I guess that wasn't very green, but at least you knew where to go to find out how the bloomin' programs worked. Now... well you might get a CD, but probably not. I recently bought a netbook, - it had critical info about how to maximise battery life on its hard disk. Trouble was, it turned out, you had to break one of the rules to get to see that instruction, i.e. switch it on in the first place! Ahem.)

Yes, so, email fine, browsing is okay too, it comes with Opera but runs the Nokia browser well too as you would expect. It handles Facebook and Twitter well, if you like that sort of thing. The screen is clear and bright, but annoyingly goes off too quickly when you're using it, and I can't find a setting to slow it down. However (not unrelated I suspect) battery life is good, I charge once a week on average. It picks up my wifi with ease, though it is a bit slow - but to be fair I personally cannot compare it with any other phone in this respect.

The biggest disappointment is the camera... it's a 2 mega-pixel job, which I assumed would be the same as the 2 mega-pixel camera I had in my old phone, a Nokia 2700. But no, it is much worse - not what I expected for a more expensive phone. It's okay in bright light and not too close to the subject, but anything else, awful.

The MP3 player is perfectly good, and easy to use. I confess I haven't really used the video function, but it works okay, I guess you can't expect too much at this level. There are a few okay games (currently addicted to Block'd) and you can download more free from the OVI app store, like Chess and Reversi.

I've had it 6 months and it's crashed maybe 5 times, recovering with a reboot no trouble. It's not put a foot wrong really, I have no major complaints. Well... just one, you have to hold the phone in just the right place next to your ear or the sound is distant, I've not really noticed this with other phones, the positioning of the speaker and ear seem to critical.