I recently bought a new 11.6 inch screen netbook – the Acer Aspire One AO722. It’s not a brand new model but prices have dropped in the last few months to make it more of a bargain.
As I noted yesterday, netbook sales dropped 34% in the last year, primarily due to a lack of innovation in the netbook market and stubbornly high prices – so many netbooks have been hamstrung by the same weaknesses: a poor Windows 7 Starter Edition, insufficient RAM and a restrictive 10.1 inch screen.
However, there is still a market for a good quality netbook which overcomes those problems – if you’re interested in whether a netbook can still be an excellent buy and, most importantly, provide the usability and features expected, read on.
Price: The Acer Aspire One AO722 costs around $320 in the US for the 4GB model (or £250 in UK for the 2GB version). This is an average price for a netbook but, unlike the average, it has a far better 11.6″ screen (not 10.1″), 4GB of RAM (not 1GB) and W7 Home Premium 64bit (not W7 Starter 32bit).
These features make it very good value compared to most standard netbooks.
Screen: The screen is a good quality 11.6″ display with a resolution of 1366×768 (the same as a standard laptop). This is much higher than the 1024×600 resolution of most 10.1″ netbooks and makes Windows less ‘cramped’ and therefore more usable.
The display is true 16:9 widescreen, LED backlit with exceptionally good viewing angles – it’s also very thin which helps reduce the overall netbook size to just 1 inch thick. 11.6″ screens are more commonly seen on ultrabooks costing 3-4 times the price.
Design: Looks good and well finished. The battery fits flush into the chassis so there are no bulging bits – the Acer AO722 is very slim and lightweight (about 3 pounds) yet feels solid enough.
Undo just one screw and you can slide off the entire bottom panel to reveal the (single) memory slot and hard drive – this makes upgrading very simple. The glossy lid features a unique “water ripples” pattern which looks stylish although, like all glossy covers, it’s a fingerprint magnet:
Operating System: Crucially it comes with the proper Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit edition – the same as found on consumer PCs and laptops.
Most rivals are still stuck with the poor W7 Starter Edition – no Aero Glass, no Media Center, no multi-monitor support, no remote media streaming and no easy way to change desktop wallpaper, themes or visual styles…
Processor (CPU) and Graphics: CPU – AMD Dual Core C-60 1Ghz and Graphics – Radeon HD 6290 with 256MB dedicated system memory.
The CPU in a netbook is always going to be low powered compared to a PC/laptop. However, the combination of the new C-60 with high RAM and more powerful graphics means that the AO722 has been super smooth at everything I have tried to date.
[Geek Corner – this new dual core AMD C-60 scores 565 at CPUBenchmark.net – faster than popular Intel Atoms like the N455 (scores 320) but slower than the 723 score of the Atom N2800]
Video quality and playback is spot on – full HD, YouTube HD video and Skype video etc are all very responsive with no lag. Windows 7 Experience Index (WEI) figures are 3.3 for the CPU, 4.1 for Graphics and 4.3 for Gaming Graphics which are very respectable.
Note that a netbook is not designed as a gaming powerhouse and the AO722 is no exception, however it can play online games like Cut The Rope very smoothly (much better than my test Vista laptop with 1GB RAM which grinds to a halt).
Memory (RAM): The AO722 comes with 4GB (or 2GB in some models) of DDR3 RAM, a big improvement on the 1GB common in netbooks. WEI score is a creditable 5.2
Note that there is only 1 RAM slot (and it is already used) which can take a maximum of
4GB 8GB (thanks to our reader Greggory for the update). 4GB should be enough for most people and is a fair compromise between price, performance and hassle but 8GB could be handy if you are upgrading to an SSD and plan to run serious apps – or just feel the need for speed ;-)
If you have a 2GB version you could upgrade by replacing the existing 2GB stick with a new 4GB or 8GB stick – you can’t just add a second stick.
[For RAM upgrades – you can install either a DDR3 1333 MHz or a DDR3 1066 MHz stick but the memory controller limits the speed to 1066 MHz anyway – so you may as well just buy whichever speed is the cheaper.]
I tested startup times using BootRacer to accurately test whether having 2 or 4GB would make any difference. Both from new and after optimizing, the total startup times were basically the same for 2GB or 4GB of RAM regardless – just under a minute from new and about 35 seconds once fully optimized.
However, the 4GB (or 8GB) of RAM would certainly be of more benefit during demanding use with multiple programs open or if playing online games.
Hard Drive: Standard 320GB hard drive. WEI score is good at 5.5
Although this is typical for netbooks, it’s a missed opportunity. Standard hard drive prices are still very high – so much so that a 120GB SSD (Solid State Drive) is a similar retail price and would be so much quicker – even with a relatively slow processor an SSD could help it outperform most laptops costing twice as much. But then Acer might not sell as many laptops…
Connectivity: Ticks all the right boxes:
1 x HDMI, 1 x Multi Media Card Reader, 3 x USB ports, 1 x VGA, 1 x Ethernet, 1 x headphone, 1 x mic, 1 x Kensington lock.
The HDMI socket lets you quickly connect to an HDTV allowing pictures and HD video to be displayed on a large screen – this works very well and you could use the netbook as a temporary media center computer.
Battery: 6 cell Li-ion battery – claimed up to 7 hours. In the real world it’s good enough to last about 4 to 6 hours depending on your usage.
Camera: 0.3 Megapixel, integrated into top bezel.
Won’t win awards but the quality is good enough for Skype and produces a clear picture with decent tracking of movement – best with good lighting.
Keyboard: The keyboard is 100% full size with large flat keys ideal for typing – the only slight let down is that nearby keys on the keyboard ‘flex’ as you type.
This may be because a full size keyboard has less support overall but the effect is a little disconcerting at first – after a while you get used to it and the key action itself is good – typing is certainly easier than on most netbooks where you need smaller fingers.
Size and Weight: 3.21 pounds (1.46 Kg). Dimensions are: H 1″ x W 11.2″ x D 8.0″
Good size and weight for an 11.6 inch netbook.
11.6″ screen with high resolution
W7 Home Premium 64bit
4GB (or 2GB) of RAM
Good processor and graphics (for a netbook)
Full sized keyboard for easier typing
Good battery life
Solid build quality
Some keyboard flex when typing
Glossy lid looks good – when clean…
Speakers ok but, as usual, lacking in bass
No integrated 3G or Bluetooth
No SSD hard drive although, to be fair, other netbooks don’t offer this yet either
The Acer Aspire AO722 netbook is a competitively priced netbook that offers far more than traditional rivals stuck with 10.1″ screens, low RAM and W7 Starter. It has very few bad points and these are more a reflection of price than quality.
The only major thing lacking is a small but fast SSD drive instead of the standard (larger capacity) hard drive – sadly this is also true of other netbooks. Switching to an SSD could give those thinking of buying an expensive 11.6″ ultrabook a lot to think about…
The AO722 seems to have covered most of the bases – if all netbooks offered the same features I don’t believe their sales would have decreased so quickly in the last couple of years.