Now that I’ve used my Acer Aspire One (named Sibyl, from an ancient Greek word meaning prophetess) for a couple of months, I can look back on my original thoughts on how I planned to use it and see what worked and what didn’t.
Portable Internet Device
There’s no question that Sibyl has worked out wonderfully as a lightweight device to take to coffee shops, libraries, and other venues that offer wireless services. It’s better than a pocket device, such as iPhone or iPod Touch, because it offers a bigger screen and a real keyboard. My Aspire One is a Windows XP model with 160GB HD, six-cell battery, two SD slots, and three USB ports, among other interfaces, so I’m able to browse the Web with the same Firefox browser I use on my home machines and the FoxMarks add-on keep my bookmarks sync’d.
For a full-service netbook, Sibyl has a small form factor and light weight. It slips easily into a small backpack, and even with a book or two in the pack, the weight is easy to bear. My usual gear lately is Sibyl in my backpack, at least one book I’m reading, a notebook for longhand notes, a collection of pens, some fountain, some gel, and a small digital camera. I feel like a journalistic road warrior.
As an aid to writing, Sibyl gets high marks, but not full marks. The small keyboard took me some time to adjust to, and I still can’t type as fast on it as I can on my AlphaSmart Neo or Palm BT folding keyboard. I have to watch what I’m typing because the keyboard still causes me to make typos I don’t normally make on larger keyboards. It is usable though, and I get by with it well enough.
I find Sibyl excellent for blog writing and magazine writing, both of which require Internet-based research or verification. When I’m on a magazine assignment, I add a USB wireless mouse to my kit because Sibyl’s touchpad is awkward to use for copying, cutting, and pasting references or text. The same is true for my larger Dell portable. It’s a generic issue for touchpads, not an Aspire One issue.
One great advantage to Sibyl being an XP netbook is that I can run WhizFolders on it — my favourite writing/organizing software for complex writing that requires research or interviews. I don’t much like WhizFolders’ busy, garish toolbars, but in full-screen mode, I have enough editor visible to make writing practical.
There’s a downside to being connected to the Net when writing an essay or thought piece. If the writing is difficult or demanding, it’s too easy to switch over to email and check out forum discussions instead of concentrating on the writing. What has helped with this is the marvellously simple Q10 text editor, that masks out the distractions.
For other kinds of writing, such as journalling, non-blog essays, and occasional forays into fiction, I prefer using the Neo with its superb keyboard, or the ultra-portable Palm TX with BT folding keyboard. I write faster and with fewer distractions on them.
One of the uses I intended for Sibyl was to be my computer for Dragon Naturally Speaking 10, a voice-recognition package that allows you to speak into a mic and translate your words into text. It hasn’t happened. I tend to use Sibyl in noisy environments where dictation is impractical, and when at home, I prefer my larger notebook. The Aspire One also has a weak mic input which I discovered when I ran some Skype tests on it. The weak signal makes DNS work too hard to be trained. I’m going to remove DNS from Sibyl and put it on my Dell laptop instead.
Music and Podcasts
I originally envisioned Sibyl as an alternative iPod Classic, with enough HD to hold most of my music and podcast library. I loaded gigabytes of MP3 files on it, and have never listened to a one. It’s an idea that sounded good but didn’t work out. I realize now how much I prefer my little iPod Nano to being tethered to a computer, no matter how small. I’ll be removing all the music, which occupies an enormous amount of my HD storage.
Once I take off the MP3’s and DNS binaries, I’ll have a lot of free space left on Sibyl’s HD. Whenever I see a HD with free space, I think Linux, and I might investigate installing Ubuntu Linux if there are enough drivers around to support the built-in devices. I’ve been a Linux user for years and like working in an open-source environment. If I install Linux, I might even be tempted to study the Python programming language.
There are accounts of folk installing Mac OS on the Aspire One, and it would be fun to turn Sibyl into a Mac-alike, but the complex installation procedures give me the fantods. I could do it, but I’m not as technically inclined as I was prior to retirement. I’d rather spend my time writing than trying to wrap my head around the challenges of Mac OS on a non-Apple computer.
Overall I can say I have no regrets about my purchase. For an inexpensive, tiny laptop with an amazing set of features, it’s been a bargain, and, even better, fun to use. Netbooks, no matter the brand, make good travel companions, and I know netbooks will continue to get better. There are already models with slightly larger screens and slightly larger keyboards that raise the weight only slightly. I’d love to see a Mac netbook, but so far there’s no sign of one — only rumours.
With six-hours of battery life, Sibyl is about as good as it gets with the current generation of netbooks. A few cautions aside, I say ‘no complaints.’