We don't expect every new gadget to completely change the face of technology, but we do like to see at least some progress when we unwrap the latest parcel from the postman. Progress in the world of netbooks seems sluggish these days, so the Acer Aspire One 522 is very welcome. This 10.1-inch machine offers a better-than-usual screen, an HDMI port and a dual-core AMD processor -- all for £250 or thereabouts.
Reach for the sky
The 522's design is very pleasant, if unremarkable. Except for a blue LED that surrounds the power switch, the netbook looks charmingly understated. It comes in either black or green. Our green version looked rather classy, thanks to the glossy finish on the lid and the metallic effect on the wrist rest.
The screen is surrounded by a glossy black plastic bezel, and the keyboard stretches right up to the edges of the chassis.
We were impressed by how light this netbook is. Our model tipped the scales at a modest 1.2kg, including its three-cell lithium-ion battery. A version with a six-cell battery is also available, weighing 1.3kg.
You won't have any trouble squeezing this netbook into a satchel, backpack or handbag, thanks to its slender dimensions. It measures 259 by 26 by 185mm. Peering at it from the side, the 522 indeed looks quite slim.
User not abused
A netbook lives and dies by its keyboard. After all, what's the point in buying a netbook if you're going to end up making so many typing mistakes that you'll feel like snapping it over your knee?
Happily, the 522's keyboard is rather good. We didn't notice the keyboard wobbling as we rattled off sentences, and indeed the whole chassis feels reassuringly solid.
There are a few issues, though. The enter and delete keys are really small, and that's bound to get irritating. There's also a small gap between each key, so you'll need to take care not to scatter crumbs over the keyboard, or they may vanish inside the 522 forever.
The trackpad is better than that of most netbooks. While it's fairly small, the click buttons are comfortable to use and not too stiff.
The display is really good. This 10.1-inch screen has a resolution of 1,280x720 pixels, which is higher than that of most netbook displays. It means everything looks slightly spanglier on the screen, and this is a really vivid panel to boot, so colours are retina-searingly intense. It's one of the best netbook displays we've ever seen.
The netbook offers a decent amount of storage space. Our review unit had a 250GB hard drive, although a 160GB version is also available. We suspect the 160GB hard drive will suffice for most people, as this isn't a media machine, so the kind of files you'll store on it probably won't take up too much room. The 32-bit edition of Windows 7 Starter comes pre-loaded.
Around the sides, there's a wealth of connectivity options, including three USB ports, an Ethernet jack, a multi-format card reader, two 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic, and VGA and HDMI outputs. The HDMI port technically means you could connect the 522 up to a high-definition telly, and output video and audio from the netbook with minimum hassle.
But, if you're harbouring dreams of pumping HD video into your telly via this netbook, we've some sour news -- the 522 isn't powerful enough to handle HD video. The 522 threw a hissy fit when we tried to run our usual benchmark tests, but it simply couldn't handle our 1080p test footage. You'll have better luck streaming video from sites such as iPlayer or YouTube, although, again, you may have to dial the quality down to stop your video looking like a photo slide show.
Sadly, despite packing a dual-core, 1GHz AMD C-50 CPU, the 522, which packs only 1GB of RAM, just isn't powerful enough for intensive computing tasks. That said, for day-to-day tasks, like Web browsing, editing documents and sending emails, it'll be fine, even if it's not as snappy as a full-sized laptop.
The netbook's battery life is disappointing. When we ran the 522's CPU at a constant 100 per cent in Battery Eater's gruelling Classic test, the battery only held out for 1 hour and 36 minutes. You'll squeeze much more battery life out of the 522 with more cautious use, but we've seen netbooks last for nearly ten hours in the same test. If you want a machine that lasts for ages away from the mains, keep looking.
The Acer Aspire One 522 is a good netbook, thanks to its excellent build quality and brilliant screen. It's not powerful enough to handle HD video and its battery life leaves much to be desired, but, if you're looking for something small, light and simple, the 522 is definitely worth considering.
Edited by Charles Kloet