Friday, October 23, 2009

General: Initial Impressions of the Acer Aspire D250 with Windows 7

Yesterday I purchased an Acer Aspire One D250. I have been in the market for a netbook for a few weeks now, but have been holding out for one of two things, the Android D250 or the Windows 7 D250. since the Android version got such scathing reviews, I went with the Windows 7 version. While I really wanted an Android device, I will just wait for the Verizon Droid to come out to replace my beloved but aging HTC Vogue XV6900.

So, I’ve been messing with this for about a day now, and decided to write up my initial thoughts. What am I going to say about Windows 7 that hasn’t been said already? Not much. If your looking for a discussion about the technical merits of Windows 7, look elsewhere. There are better qualified people who have spent more time with it than I who can paint a better picture. This is more about my trials trying to accomplish some simple tasks with the D250 with Windows 7 and my impressions.

So the first thing to address is “why did I choose the Aspire One D250 over the other netbook models out there”? I did quite a bit of shopping and comparing. What I found is the majority of netbooks have the same exact configuration, the Intel Atom N280 running at 1.6Ghz, 1 Gig of ram, 10 inch screens, and 160 Gb hard disk. They come in all shapes and sizes, varying battery life, wireless and 3g networking options, but for the most part, the above core specs are the most common, give or take a few models that had much smaller SSD, or Celeron processors, or whatever. Basically, your average run of the mill netbook is similar to the laptop I just gave up due to lease expiring, except they are single core instead of dual core, half the ram, and a much larger hard disk. Besides, the ram for these things can be bought for 40-80 bucks online, so I can easily bump it up to 2 gigs if I choose.

What I found funny is that with most netbooks having an almost identical configuration, reviewers claims of one netbook being “blazing” vs “average” vs “slow” over another didn’t quite equate. Tech reviewers are typically idiots. How is one netbook with a 1.6 Ghz processor, 1 Gig of ram any faster or slower than another, give or take a few cycles based on bus architecture? Im not sure, and considering my low opinion of tech reviewers, I figured they didn’t either. If there is a difference, its so negligible that price became my determining factor, and the D250 won out in that area. AT&T had a few models that they subsidized for prices ranging from free to 50 bucks with a 2 year subscription plan, but I wouldn’t subject myself to AT&T’s horrible service, so paying full price was my forced route.

Unboxing it was like opening Christmas presents because I’ve wanted to get a netbook so that I wouldn’t need to carry around my rather unwieldy Vostro 1720. The first thing I noticed when starting up and doing the registration is that by default it throws McAfee Security Center with a 90 day trial. I personally don’t use McAfee, and haven’t since the days when they offered it as shareware on BBS systems alongside Commander Keen. Once the 90 day trial is over, I will ditch it.

Outside of that, the first startup took about 10 minutes to do all the filling in of user information. I skipped the networking setup as a later task, which I will cover later.

What follows below are my first impressions and my experiences trying to set up my network, looking around applications, and just playing around with it netbook.

First Impressions

My first glimpse of Windows 7 didn’t blow me away. It is more polished than Windows XP, and by polished I mean I have found that certain tasks are easier to do, and user interface is a little more intuitive once I get past my old dogmas.

For example, I’ve grown accustomed over the years to the Start Bar. I mean, me and the ‘ole Start Menu have been working in cohesion for almost 15 years. I know how to go to Start/Programs/Foo and click on the Bar icon. Second nature. So when I got into the new Start Menu in Windows 7 I was in for a bit of a shock. XP had a similar interface, but I always just set it back to classic mode. Vista might have forced the new interface on users, but I wouldn’t know because I skipped Vista entirely. So imagine my surprise when I couldn’t switch my Start Menu to classic mode. I’m stuck with this scrollbars within menus thing, and this bizarre shortcut thing on the right. That means change for me, and change scares me. Although, I do like the search bar, but Ill get to that later.

The taskbar is a direct rip-off of the OSX dock. I wont complain about it though, because I like the dock, and its not that far of a cry from the taskbar of old. It looks cleaner somehow, at least to me.

The resolution is a little off. I am too used to the 4:3 aspect ratio, even after using 16:9. 1024*600 just seems weird.

Changing the Background

The biggest shock to me is that I couldn’t change my background. This isn’t a groundbreaker to me since I never use wallpapers anyway. The first thing I always think when I see a picture of someones family on their desktop is “what a dork” or “soccer mom”, even when it’s a guys computer. This is a holdover from the days when having a wallpaper would be a killer on performance back in Windows 3.1. The habbit just stuck with me. But not having the option is bugging me. Granted its only in Windows 7 Starter that this limitation exists, but it still bugs me. Seriously. A feature available for almost 20 years in GUI’s is now crippled in Windows 7 Starter. But I can go to my default of a black background.

So how do I do this? I tried right clicking on the desktop and going into properties. Being a PC user since the time of the dinosaurs, I expected there to be a properties menu, but guess what? No properties.

My next instinct, go to control panel/display and change from there. So I go to the Start menu, and in that scarry right hand side is the control panel. I recognize that from XP, and I hated it then. I want my classic mode. But I digress. So I go into Control Panel.

And damnit, what do I get. 8 icons with a bunch of hyperlinks. Here is that damned philosophy of the OS developer trying to protect the user from themselves. I don’t want this stuff grouped into categories, I want it all layed out for me. Again, a habbit from as far back as Windows 3.1. Fortunately, to get what I want isn’t nearly as complicated as it was in older versions of Windows, having to switch to Classic view in Control Panel. Here I can just change the View By from Category to Large/Small icons. And look, there is Display.

The Display dialog is also different from what I’m used to. I want to change the color scheme, so I click on the “Change color scheme” link on the left hand side. No more tabs, apparently the new user experience are hyperlinks on the left.

The Window color and Appearance dialog looks like the old versions. Its good that Microsoft stuck with a consistent user interface in between dialogs, otherwise I’d get confused. (Your sarcasm detector should be going off). No, what’s interesting is I can set this to Windows Class, click on Advanced, and change my desktop color. Great. The Start Menu is still this bizarre new thing, but it looks familiar now, with the old fashion square button. And my black desktop. But if I try to do the same thing in Windows 7 Basic, no matter what I choose as my color, it defaults back to that stupid wallpaper. Argh. Oh well, mission accomplished, I have my black background.

What Applications Are Available?

So I navigated around to see what’s available.

I was greeted with a little pop-up from the Acer eRecovery console to create my system restore DVD’s. That’s when I noticed, there was no software in the box. Acer cheaped out on that and passed the buck on to the consumer to be responsible for creating recovery media. Apparently there is a hidden disk partition that boots a small version Windows in order to do a factory restore, but you have the option of creating external discs. Since my DVD burner was 1200 miles away at my office, I would just have to wait until I got home to do this. Sad, because it advises you that this should be the first thing you should do before using your computer. I guess they never considered that people buy things on business trips or when visiting family and leave their USB peripherals at home. Regardless, I will need to skip this step for now, but I will need to revisit it since I plan to wipe the drive clean and try Ubuntu Netbook Remix and Moblin, and would like to keep that option of going back to Windows 7.

So looking through the software selection, I have the much hated Microsoft Works. What’s sad is that this is probably going to be my productivity suite. Ironic because I have thought of as a joke since even my earliest computing experiences), but now that I own my own personal computer, I’m too cheap to pay for Office myself. A 90 day trial of Office 2007 is there, but I refuse to use that god awful Ribbon interface. I foresee OpenOffice making a home on this little guy at some point, which is fine because I have been using OO more and more for my home finance spreadsheets. I don’t have Exchange to anchor me to Outlook anymore, so Ubuntu is starting to look pretty good at this point. Ah Ubuntu, how I miss thee.

Anyway, the next thing I checked out was the Acer default software. Excluding the eRecovery tool, there is the Acer Updater, Welcome Center, Acer VCM, Games, and the Crystal Eye Cam. Acer Updater, I imagine, does what its name implies. I didn’t bother to run it. Welcome Center is just a tacky web page advertising the various programs installed on the machine, such as McAfee and Office. I didn’t want to do the Office trial when I started Office, why am I going to do it through the Welcome Center. VCM didn’t appear to do anything when I ran it. Identity Card shows you the information about your machine, such as Serial Number, Part Number and date of purchase. Useful during the registration process.

So the two fun things come next. I checked out the Crystal Eye Cam, which works surprisingly well. I have an external webcam that I picked up cheap for my Vostro, so having a webcam in the machine just like my wife’s Mac is nice. I think video chatting is in my future. One less device to carry in my backpack. It had a good picture for a low light area that I was testing it in, so I was pleased with that.

The games were something interesting that I hadn’t seen since the days of Packard Bells. You get this awful WildTangent interface, and these little “tokens” when you start the Acer Games application. There is a limited selection of games you can play, such as World of Goo, Zuma, Scrabble, and a few others, all set up as trial versions. I tried World of Goo. I was expecting the actual game, not some stupid picture of an arcade coin slot telling me I had a freebie and giving me the option to buy the full version. Oh Packard bell, I knew your involvement in the Acer Group would somehow manifest its ugly head. You bastards, I hated you when you were sold by Radio Shack, and I hate you now. I thought you had died and burned a long time ago. How wrong I am. This must be in partnership with WildTangent. Outside of Xbox Live, I have very little experience with these online gaming companies, such as Wildtangent or Gametap, so I was a little peeved. Piss off, its crap like this that makes people pirate. Since I own most of these games on other media (Scrabble on my iPod touch, World of Goo on the Wii), these will get removed very quickly to make space for more useful stuff. I remember a day when games came installed on machines as part of the package. I must be getting old.

I went to the old trusty rusty games like Solitaire. Microsoft absolutely butchered it. Just butchered it. Why the hell do I keep getting prompted to restart the game when there are no more moves. And what’s with these stupid animations? There is something to be said for the quite simplicity of the original versions of Solitaire. Where is my winking Jack? And that’s not a euphemism. Minesweeper wasn’t that bad.

So, speaking of the old staples, I went into Wordpad and Paint. What the hell is with the Ribbon. Seriously. Why is Microsoft pushing this down our throats? Piss off Ribbon, your hated, and noone likes you. So, we now have a mix of user interfaces littered throughout Windows. The old fashion menu bar, and the ribbon. That’s intuitive; I can’t imagine how Aunt Tessie will react to that. “Where’s the File menu I’ve been using since the Great Depression?” I don’t know Auntie, I just don’t know…

I didn’t play with Windows Live. I will when I make that backup disc and am sure that I can connect to the Internet and if this thing gets littered with virii in less than 5 minutes, I can restore from a clean image.

Connecting to the Network

So, out of curiosity, I decided to check out how hard it is be to set up the network on my Craddlepoint Personal Hot Spot. Right-mouse click, choose wireless hotspot, and click connect. Seems easy enough. But in my case, I have a MAC address filter set up, so I need to find the machines MAC address. So, my next quest was to find my MAC address for the wireless adaptor.

The Run menu that I had grown so accustomed to is hiding in a tree of menus in this new and fancy Start Menu. But I did have this nice little Search menu at the bottom of my start menu. So I typed in cmd to see if it was the same as Run. Not exactly, a list of options came up, and cmd was in there. So I click on it, and sure enough, my old favorite, the DOS prompt, greeted me, and I got my MAC address through IPCONFIG.

So I wanted to try this search box out. I don’t think it was in XP since I used classic interface, and I wasn’t one of the three people who actually used Vista, so I have no idea if it was there. I figured, “Hey, lets go find the MAC address through the Control Panel”. So I typed Control Panel, and got a few options. I selected All Control Panel Items. Nice, there is my Control Panel with all my options.

Then I realized, I could probably type anything and skip having to go through the Control Panel to get to my network settings. So I typed in Network. Sure enough, I got my Networking options. Change… it scares me. But this is pretty cool. I’m slowly learning.

Next I typed in Mac Address. OK, so it’s not THAT smart. Let’s try Network Adaptor Settings then. I get the Devices and printers. Isn’t a printer a device? Perhaps it’s now a special category of devices. But I’m not here to split hairs over semantics. Anyway, I right click on the icon showing my computer, and choose network settings. Under the Network and Internet Window, I click on Change Adaptor settings. I then right click on my Wireless Network Connection and choose properties. If I hover over the “Connect Using” text box, my Mac address shows.

That was kind of convoluted. There has to be an easier way. I mean, I know to how use the command line and ipconfig to get it, I’ve only been doing it since Windows 95 OSR 2. But remembering my days as a PC tech and having to do over the phone tech support, I couldn’t help but think how is your everyday average user going to know. So I go into Windows Help and type in MAC address. First item is “Using command line tools for networking information”… right. I should have guessed. The more things change the more they stay the same. At least if I was guiding grandma to the command prompt, its easy enough to say click the Start Menu, and type cmd, then Start Menu, then click, then type cmd. Besides, grandma isn’t going to have a MAC based whitelist on her wireless router.

Finger Gestures

One thing I noticed is how unresponsive the touchpad is. That’s when I realized like a big dummy I left a sticker on there. Slap forehead dummy. When I look at the sticker, I noticed it had a bunch of pictures of two fingers making gestures. So I tried one, then I realized that these were finger gestures just like on my iPod Touch. Now, I’m sure this is old hat to a lot of folks, but seriously, I’ve never had a machine that I could do finger gestures on except the iPod Touch and the iPhones I’ve played with. So, all my familiars are there, the pinch to zoom in and out, two fingers swiping up for scroll, and two fingers going left or right to go back or forward in a browser. I like this.

Desktop Gadgets.

Noticing that my desktop context menus properties menu was missing, I did notice a thing called Desktop Objects. I decided to look into this thing. What I got was the exact same thing as the KDE 4 Widgets. And by KDE 4 Widgets, I mean that’s where I was first introduced to them. At first I was shocked by this in KDE 4, but I’ve grown accustomed to them, and they are a welcomed addition in Windows. These might have been in Vista, but again, I wouldn’t know.


I do like Powershell. I will have to play around with the Powershell ISE a little more to see what I can do with it. The concept of Powershell was interesting when it was first released, and the idea of interacting directly with .Net objects in script is compelling. I do wonder just how bad this is crippled due to security concerns. I only played with it for a little bit, and despite the help file saying there was colored syntax highlighting, nothing was highlighting for me.

Doing a search for Pictures in the search bar brings back all folders and images. I can imagine this providing situations that are… embarrassing. Same with videos.

I like how light this thing is. While I can easily move my Vostro around on the fly with one hand if I am zipping from one side of a cubicle to another, its not even a though with the Aspire. I mean, it weighs 2 pounds. Im afraid I might accidently throw the thing when I lift it. Say goodbye sore shoulders from lugging the Vostro around in my backpack.

The button under the touchpad is a pain. It’s a single button, but click on the left hand side for left click, right hand side for right click. I saw a single button and assumed they were trying for the Mac type touchpad. I kept wondering why it was so hard to push the button before I realized that the center of the button is a pivot.


So far I like this thing. It will be a welcome relief to carry around such a lighter system for engagements where I don’t need to use the beefy power of the Vostro. For instance, I’ve been on an assignment the past three months where the client provided me with a desktop system. I only needed my laptop to browse the web and check emails. I could use my smartphone for that, but seriously, a PC is much nicer. That’s where the netbook fits in. It will also be nice for presenting at conferences since I’m typically just going through PowerPoint slides and taking notes during other peoples presentations. I don’t need a 17 inch screen and a dual core machine with 4 gigs of ram for that.

While this is just superficial, initial impressions of the device, I have a feeling its going to grow on me more. Once I get my usual tools installed, such as Eclipse, I will have more day to day interacting with it. While it wont be a replacement for the workhorse I have now, given that it has the capability to do multiple monitor setups, it will be nice for those cases where I don’t need all the computing power strapped to my back. If your considering a netbook, you should consider the D250.


Anonymous said...

To get syntax highlighting in PowerShell you need to run PowerShell_ISE.exe

Experiment! Enjoy! Engage!

Jeffrey Snover [MSFT]
Distinguished Engineer
Visit the Windows PowerShell Team blog at:
Visit the Windows PowerShell ScriptCenter at:

Anonymous said...

Gee, I was hoping for some reactions to the machine, but aside from a very few words, you reviewed the MS software.

No, no! Not going back there. I had open office 3 and firefox on min before the disk fully spun up (well, almost). And i've been running Ubuntu very happily from hour one.

For me, the D250 is OK. I love the weight and size, compared to my old HP dv2416. I always seem to have a dozen browser tabs open and 8-10 apps running in 3-4 screens. It's a bit slow with all this going on, but i can get my work done.

After using it a while, i'd say my ideal screen size is probably 12 in, not 10.1, with the slightly larger keyboard.

I'd like 768 vertical. A couple of programs won't show me the bottom of message windows with only 600!

I haven't added RAM yet, but I will (~USD 40).

Anyway, thanks for your review. I'd still like to know more about the hardware now that you've been using it awhile.

mark said...

i have purchased the same product and the crystal eye webcam isn't working. Whenever i try opening it, nothing appears.

Please help.

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