A few months ago we were given a couple of old laptops by some relatives. I cleaned both of them up, gave one a fresh install of XP Home and the other Ubuntu. The former has now become the family PC and the latter is sitting on top of some draws in my room unused because the power supply connector is nearly unusable.
Being the lazy person I am, wanting to be able to watch TV and surf from the comfort of my bed, I decided I needed a laptop that actually works. When someone on the UKHA mailing list pointed to an offer on Amazon for an Acer Aspire One L150 (white) for £199, I decided I had to go for it. I wasn’t too keen on the white netbook though, so I paid a little more for a lovely blue number.
It came well packaged in a nice compact box. I was at work when it arrived, and didn’t have much time to play with it, but I powered it on and filled in the details it requested on first boot. After that I had a brief play with the interface.
The specially designed RedHat linux-based UI is very friendly for a novice user, categorising everything into 4 groups. I used it for a few hours at home, eventually realising that while the interface is perfect for a normal person, power users who want to do more than just web surfing, checking emails, writing documents or playing solitair are stuck. There is no option to install extra software and no (easy) way to get a console window up.
Ubuntu to the rescue! I got out my USB DVD-RW drive and installed the only version I had at the time (8.04), with mixed results. Hardware support on that version was very flakey, and when I tried to upgrade to 8.10 through the Update Manager it died completely. On my second attempt I downloaded the ISO for 8.10 and installed again. After some tweaks it was working nicely, or at least the important stuff was (screen, keyboard, touchpad, wireless, ethernet). The webcam also works, thanks to V4L. I’ve not bothered testing the microphone, but I know the SD card readers don’t work. I don’t plan on using them anyway, and if I do need to then I can just boot into the original OS which is still stored in a (shrunken) partition.
The performance is surprisingly good. It’s just fast enough to run a MythTV frontend, meaning I can watch recordings or live TV without turning my TV & attached MythTV box on. The onboard graphics card even copes with the special window manager effects included in Ubuntu. Web browsing is reasonably smooth.
I have ended up buying a wireless mouse because the touchpad is very fiddly when browsing. The keyboard is just smaller than a normal laptop keyboard, which takes a little getting used to but it’s still quite quick to type.
Battery time is nowhere near the 3 hours claimed on Amazon. Ubuntu estimates it at 1 hr 55 mins from a full charge, although it seems a little less than that when I’ve tried running it completely disconnected. Wireless probably zaps a good bit of power, but if you don’t have a power supply to hand then it’s unlikely you’re going to have an ethernet cable to hand either, so most of the time wireless needs to be on while on battery power. An extended life battery can be purchased for about £50, which I’m guessing would give a real world runtime of about 3 hours. If I find myself using this netbook a lot then I might buy one.
All in all it’s a nice little computer. Build quality is very good, as is the performance. I would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a light-weight netbook to do light tasks (i.e. don’t plan on playing Left 4 Dead on it).