Since the debut of the diminutive Asus Eee PC, netbooks have grown tremendously in popularity, and somewhat in size as well. From the original Eee's 7-inch screen came a flood of 9-inch models from the likes of Acer, Dell, and HP. They were followed by 10-inch models, which have become the most popular of all.
A 10-inch screen can generally handle the full Windows interface for most applications, and retains the portability for which netbooks have become known.
But what about going higher? Acer has been among the companies to break past the 10-inch barrier -- where companies like Intel and Microsoft would rather see netbooks stay so they do not impede sales of more expensive PCs.
'Ultrathins' Provide 'Full PC' Experience
In fact, Intel has unveiled a new line of PCs called "ultrathins" that offer more powerful processors than netbooks. The argument is that these new PCs really provide a "full PC" experience whereas netbooks don't.
But the line is blurry. The Acer Aspire One 11.6-inch ($300 to $330 online) represents a major improvement over the stocky design that characterized Acer's first netbooks. It weighs less than 3 lbs. and is less than an inch thick. Its profile is so slim that the bulky Ethernet and video ports have been moved to the rear corners of the machine.
Its full-sized keyboard is roomy and comfortable, and while its trackpad is much smaller than that of, say the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it is up to its task and can take advantage of multi-touch gestures such as "pinching" to zoom out on a photo.
And yet, while the enlarged Aspire One's size may be too large for some netbook carrying cases, the low profile of the display makes it a convenient fit for an airline tray. In fact, the dipping extended battery (which Acer rates at 8.5 hours of battery life) lets it lie flat on some trays.
A Computer Road Warriors Will Relish
What will you give up? The answer is performance, particularly on high-quality high-definition video and 3D. To make up for these gaps, more companies are pairing the Atom processor in most notebooks with a new graphics chipset called Ion, but the new Aspire doesn't have it.
Another change coming to netbooks is Windows 7, the latest version of Microsoft's operating system. Many netbooks, particularly the least expensive ones, ship with Windows 7 Starter Edition, which lacks many of the features of the Home Premium edition, but still offers advantages over Windows XP.
Overall, the Acer Aspire One 11.6-inch is a great fit for road warriors who are primarily interested in the productivity of a larger screen and full-sized keyboard and long battery life in a stylish package. It's slim enough to fit through the gap between the value of netbooks and the higher prices of new, more powerful ultra-thin PCs.