Review: 4 'large' netbooks -- are they better or just bigger?

Netbooks have been the small wonders of the mobile world. But are the latest models getting too big to deserve the name?

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Acer Aspire One 751h

While some netbooks are too small, with cramped keyboards and screens, and others are too big and heavy for easy travel, Acer's Aspire One 751h is just right. This Goldilocks of a netbook squeezes a lot of computer into a very mobile case.

At 2.8 lb. with its three-cell battery and measuring 1.0 by 11.0 by 8.5 in., the Aspire is the smallest in this group and is only slightly bigger than early netbooks. The model I looked at came with the six-cell high-capacity battery; as a result, it weighs 3 lb. and goes up to 3.6 lb. when you include its AC adapter. It easily slips into and out of a briefcase and leaves plenty of room for a drink on an airline tray table.

For the fashion-conscious among us, the Aspire is available in blue, black, white and red, and it comes equipped with 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive.

Large netbooks
Acer Aspire One 751h

Its 1.3-GHz Intel Atom Z520 processor is the slowest of the bunch, and its 11.6-in. display, while bigger than the 10-in. displays that were until recently considered the largest allowable for a netbook, is the smallest of this gang of four large netbooks. However, it offers 1366-by-768 resolution, the same as the MSI X340. It also has the brightest screen among the group.

While the Samsung NC20 and MSI X340 have keyboards that are too small or too mushy, the Aspire's 19.4mm flat keys are as good as or better than those on larger notebooks. Plus, its touch pad recognizes two-finger gestures for flipping pages and zooming. Above the screen is a webcam that worked better in low light situations than the others reviewed here.

It includes three USB ports, an external display port, and wired and Wi-Fi networking, as well as jacks for a microphone and headphone. There's a flash card reader, but the system lacks Bluetooth and an ExpressCard slot.

While it was the fastest of the four to boot up and opened my PowerPoint presentation in 18.1 seconds, the Aspire scored only a 162.2 on the Passmark PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark. That's about half the performance potential of the MSI. In on-the-road use, it never froze or lagged, and for typical mobile tasks it had just enough power.

With the 5,200 milliamp-hour (mAh) six-cell battery pack, the 751h powered the system for 6 hours and 20 minutes on a charge, three times longer than the MSI, making it the longest-lasting netbook of the group; you can probably expect about 3.5 hours out of the three-cell battery. The Samsung NC20 came closest with its test result of 5 hours and 7 minutes, but only when its adjustable performance was on its slowest setting. The Aspire's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi had a range of 110 feet, just short of the MSI's 120 feet (which was the farthest range of the group).

The Aspire includes Windows XP Home, Microsoft Works, Acer's Carbonite online backup, a trial version of McAfee Security Center (with 60 days of updates) and a bunch of games. Its two-year warranty is halfway between Samsung's and Lenovo's one year of coverage and the three years of coverage that come with the MSI.

At $380, the Aspire has a price tag that matches its svelte size and weight and undercuts the others by at least $100; it costs less than half as much as the MSI X340. If the essence of a netbook is a machine that is inexpensive, small, light and capable enough to be a constant companion, then the Acer Aspire One 751h is a small wonder.

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