The practically perfect Acer Aspire V5-131

Posted by Jim Klein On Saturday, March 23, 2013 10 comments


With their latest thin-and-light laptop, Acer has put together one of the best combinations of design, performance, and price available for the upcoming year in the Aspire V5-131. The V5 is the same basic design as Acer's C7 Chromebook, which as you will recall I liked quite a bit. The biggest difference with the V5 is that it brings all of the design with none of the limitations of the ChromeOS-based C7. And then Acer takes it to the next level by actually improving the device further, with a better screen and larger battery.

The V5 has similar specifications to both the C7 and recently reviewed Asus X201E, including:

Intel Celeron 847 processor running at 1.1GHz
Integrated Intel HD graphics
11.6 inch 1366x768 display
4 gigabytes of RAM
802.11b/g/n wireless, which supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands
Bluetooth 4.0
1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0 ports
Full-sized HDMI and VGA ports
1x SD card slot

Where it differs is that it also includes a larger hard drive (500 gigabytes as opposed to 320 gigabytes) and it has a 5000mAh 6-cell battery, which should bring roughly 9 hours of battery life.

Beyond feeds and speeds, Acer's attention to detail demonstrates that they have been listening to their end-users. For example, unlike nearly every other device being released, Acer put a matte screen on the V5,  improving visual quality and flexibility by reducing reflections. This is particularly helpful in schools, which tend to have a great deal of fluorescent lighting. And the battery is a relatively standard, removable part, which will be easy to replace when it eventually wears out. It's even easy to get inside, with a single screw holding the bottom access panel on. Popping the panel off reveals easy access to the hard drive and other components.

Nothing is perfect, of course, and the V5 does have a few, minor flaws. Chief among them is the touchpad, which, while it works well (that is, as well as can be expected from a touchpad), is somewhat small compared to the spacious touchpad on the Asus X201E. It's smaller size makes it a little more sensitive, which can take a some getting used to.

Another quibble for some will be the physical dimensions of the 6-cell battery, which must naturally be larger than the small 4-cell in the C7 Chromebook. Acer chose to increase the size vertically, which means the battery props the back end of the device up when in use. This makes the device feel bigger and offers something for the device to hang up on when inserted into a bag or case. It also angles the keyboard towards the user, which some don't find as comfortable as a flat keyboard.

Personally, I find the "bump-up" actually makes the device nicer to use in the lap, as keyboard angles generally suck when a laptop is in full lap-mode and the extra prop makes it easier to type on. It also brings the screen up a bit higher on the desk, which some might find more ergonomically correct. In addition, I find that the extra bump offers something better to grab when carrying a device around, bringing a firmer grip and reducing the likelihood of a drop.

And last, they didn't label the 1 USB 3.0 port in any way (which is why I missed it in the video review). The usual "SS" logo is not on any of the ports, nor is the tell-tale blue plastic that typically identifies a USB 3 port. I honestly still don't know which one it is, but figure it will be easy to determine in the rare circumstance that I might need to plug in an actual USB 3.0 device.

Obviously these are all very minor issues in an otherwise stellar device.

Of all the devices I have considered over the years, this is the one that I find to be closest to ideal, and have no problem recommending it for ubermix deployments of any size, far and wide. You should be able to get one for about $330 on the street, and I have heard that pricing gets under $300 in quantity and with enough lead time for Acer. If you are evaluating devices for an upcoming project, I encourage you to take a hard look at the V5. It is the most likely candidate to be the next ubermix device for my district.
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Asus X201E - A solid contender

Posted by Jim Klein On Sunday, March 10, 2013 3 comments


With the X201E, Asus has further solidified their position at the top of low-cost laptop design. This 11.6 inch device is the natural successor to the (now defunct) EeePC netbook series, bringing with it an impressive list of specifications, all without a significant increase in price. For just $299 (or less), you get:

Intel Celeron 847 processor running at 1.1GHz
Integrated Intel HD graphics
11.6 inch 1366x768 display
HD Webcam
4 gigabytes of RAM
320 gigabytes of storage
Atheros 802.11b/g/n wireless, which supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands
1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0 ports
Full-sized HDMI and VGA ports
1x SD card slot

Impressive specs, indeed, however even these are overshadowed by the excellent design elements. The body is extremely thin at just .83 inches and light at just 2.86 pounds, yet it feels quite sturdy in hand. The matte, textured outer shell opens to a striking silver interior, with an excellent full-sized chiclet keyboard and a wonderfully spacious touchpad that is one of the best I've used on a small laptop. All-in-all the machine looks and feels great.

On the software front, this device ships stock with Ubuntu 12.04 (Precise Pangolin), which means there's no Windows tax. It also means that the hardware and chipset choices were made with an eye towards the best choices for Linux, so expect everything to work extremely well. ubermix 1.07 (impending) includes optimizations that make this device sing.

But there are a few niggles that prevent this device from scoring a perfect "10" on the awesome scale. The display panel, for example, is unfortunately glossy, with tons of reflection to go around. But this is minor compared to the battery - an internal, not-easily-removable, proprietary affair at just 38 Watt-hours (roughly 5:20 of battery life). While it's slightly larger and an hour longer than the default 4-cell battery in the similarly spec'ed Acer V5 (or Aspire 756), there is no option for a larger battery (as there is with the Acer) and its non-standard nature means it's far less likely that you'll be able to purchase a replacement from anyone but Asus when it fails. If past experience is any indicator, it's unlikely that Asus will gouge end-users on a replacement part, however it's also difficult to say for how long Asus might make one available. On the plus-side, this is the easiest-to-open Asus ever - just 9 screws in the base and the bottom pops right off, revealing the hard disk, removable RAM, and that big, flat battery.

So would I recommend it for ubermix? If you are OK with the (arguably minor) battery issue, I'd say absolutely. The price/quality/performance of this device is tough to beat - so tough that it's at the top of my consideration list for next year's deployments. And did I mention it has a two-year warranty? Yet another reason why Asus is at the top of my list.
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