Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We've come a long way, baby.
After 15 years, I bought a second baby laptop

Back in 1994 I needed a portable PC that I could take to my customers' offices to program their phone systems. I bought a Compaq Contura Aero, touted as "the least expensive, fully featured subnotebook PC" available.

For the "low" price of $1399, I got a PC with an 8-inch monochrome display that weighed 3.5 pounds and provided up to six hours of battery life. There was a model with a color screen and faster chip, but I could not justify spending $2,199 or more. The Aeros were "driven by powerful Intel 486 processors" and came with hard drives providing as much as 250 megabytes (not gigabytes) of storage.

The Aero was approximately 45 percent lighter and 33 percent smaller than most notebook PCs and with a rechargeable Duracell battery option it could run almost twice as long as the average notebook PC.

The standard RAM was 4 megabytes (again, not gigabytes) expandable to 12 megabytes. The standard hard drive was 84 megabytes (like many corporate desktop machines of that time). The unit had a built-in trackball pointing device and a PCMCIA Type II slot for a modem (that could even work with a cellphone) or storage card. Networking was not even mentioned. An external floppy drive could be plugged in.

My Aero came preinstalled with DOS 6, Windows 3.1, TabWorks, Lotus Organizer -- an integrated package with a calendar and planner -- WinLink File Transfer software and a serial cable.

I used the Aero for about three years, even after the screen was damaged, rendering about 20% of the display useless, and then moved on to a succession of full-size and widescreen laptops.

In January I went to Florida to visit my parents for a few days. Normally I would have schlepped my wide-screen Toshiba Laptop, which usually travels in its own case with a bunch of accessories. I wanted to be able to avoid checking luggage, and my carry-on bag just could not accommodate my clothing and other personal needs as well as the Toshiba, so it stayed home. I figured I could manage to live without the Web and email for the weekend, and in an emergency I could use my father's iMac.

I turned out that his newly installed AT&T DSL service did not work, and I missed my PC. It was time to consider one of the new netbooks that could easily fit in my carry-on luggage.

Two weeks ago my new baby arrived. I had been aware of the category for a while, and tapped on a few of the mini-size keyboards at Staples and Costo, but was really not in the market.

A bargain pushed me to buy.

The super-cool Acer Aspire One sells for as much as $500 at RatShack (or just $100 with a two-year AT&T wireless contract.) Staples sells it for $300, or less with a rebate when you buy a printer, too. I got an apparently perfect reconditioned unit for $250 from TigerDirect.com.

Acer Aspire One was introduced in July 2008. It is based on the 1.6GHz Intel Atom platform, and is available in several shell colors: seashell white, sapphire blue, golden brown, onyx black, and coral pink. I got the blue, which ironically matches my much bigger Toshiba lappy.

Although some Aspires are sold with Linux, I was pleased to get one running Windows XP. It has built-in 802.11b/g WiFi for easy access to wireless networks, a bright and crisp 8.9-inch backlit display with a resolution of 1024x600 pixels, and "CrystalEye" webcam for live video streaming, video chats and conferences. Other features include 1GB DDR2 533MHz memory, a 120GB hard drive, SD Card reader, multi-format media card reader, three USB 2.0 ports (more than my big Toshiba), and a bunch of pre-loaded software. It weighs about a pound and a quarter less than my old Aero.

After two weeks I am pleased to recommend it. It has worked just fine, and what's more -- it's FUN. Sometimes I use it on my desk at the same time I'm using my monster desktop machine. I found I was able to grab WiFi signals from neighbors at home and at work, and I sometimes take the baby in the car. I can frequently go online while in a parking lot, waiting for my wife to finish shopping.

Amazon has a different version of this baby selling for just $259 (new) and you can pay it off over six months with no interest. CLICK.

I'm a container collector -- actually "addict" is a better term. To me, one of the best things about getting a new lappy is to shop for a new case for it. I thought I might snag a bargain at a local Circuit City's final-gasp sale, but they had nothing. I also struck out at Staples, but found something perfect at ebags.com. It's made by CaseLogic, one of my favored case makers. It's designed and manufactured just right, and has space for the AC adapter, mouse, and other vital trinkets.

No comments: