This cute little critter, pictured between my standard Microsoft keyboard and Hyundai 22″ monitor for scale, is the tiny answer to a photographer’s dream.
It’s an Acer Aspire One netbook, model #522-BZ897. Selling on Amazon for $329.99, it rocks an AMD C50 dual-core processor at 1 GHz (for an effective speed in excess of 2 GHz due to better data handling), 2 GB of RAM, integrated Nvidia graphics, a 250 GB hard drive, and a 10.1″ LED/LCD display for improved brightness and battery life. The keyboard is 93% standard size, with the same layout as most notebooks and small laptops (Fn key). There’s an all-in-one card reader, WiFi, fire-wire port, 3 USB ports*, and a six-cell battery good for about 6 hours of average use. Oh yeah, a 1.3 MP webcam, too, if you’re into that, with Skype pre-installed.
The netbood (I haven’t named it yet) came with 1 GB of RAM and Windows 7 starter edition (32-bit). I added a wireless mouse, a gig of memory (not for the fainthearted; be careful of the fragile little tabs on the bottom door), and upgraded the OS to Windows 7 Home Premium, bringing the total cost to about $380.00. With a nice Case Logic bag big enough for the Acer, charger and mouse, the total was close enough to $400 as not to matter. I was going to load Ubuntu, but I like Win7 fine, and it works well with most of the stuff I use. The speaker (mono) sucks, but it sounds great with decent earphones.
“So,” you’re thinking, “it’s a netbook. Duh! What’s the big deal?”
Well, Grasshopper, the big deal is that this is one of the first computers this size (at a decent price) with power enough to run sophisticated photo editing software, a drive big enough to store a respectable number of images, and still fit in a camera bag. The AMD C50 processor, with dual logic chips, makes short work of 10-12 MP still images, which is about all I shoot. It’s not really great with RAW images, but it gets the job done if you’re patient. The GIMP loves it. So does Picasa 3, which I use for indexing. I don’t use Photoshop, but I expect it would run OK, if not brilliantly. It’s seriously draggy editing video, enough so that I uninstalled the video editing program and Microsoft Movie Maker in favor of the extra hard drive space, but if I shoot three minutes of video a year, it’s a big year. I’m a “slice of time” photographer and always will be.
Sure, I’d rather have my color-calibrated monitor for editing, but think about it: I can view, cull, sort and do basic editing anywhere for the penalty of carrying around the weight of an extra lens. There are lenses that weigh three times as much. I can download and back up the cards immediately. If there’s WiFi available (and, presumably, power) I can upload images to the cloud or elsewhere. It streams video nicely over WiFi, too. And remember, we’re talking fit in the camera bag, here. Less than 5 lbs. with mouse and charger.
You’ve been able to do all this stuff with laptops for a long time, but this thing is tiny. The baby Acer is as portable as a tablet, and it has a keyboard. (Try writing and editing a thousand or so words a day on a virtual keyboard, when you’ve been using physical keyboards for more than half a century — or even it you haven’t.) This thing’s not as trendy as an iPad, but the screen’s as big, it’s half the price and, when it’s closed, a lot less fragile. For my purposes — writing and dealing with still photographs — it beats any tablet I’ve seen, used or read about all to heck. Maybe the Digital Generation can type 70 wpm on a tablet…and maybe it can’t. I don’t need to try. For the rare occasions when I need to answer an email or tweet standing up — well, that’s why they make Droids.
So, I’m a happy camper. And if you want to consider one of these cuties to solve some of your road warrior problems, there’s no charge for the idea.
*Figure two USB ports, because you’ll need room for the mouse’s Bluetooth radio. You just leave it in all the time unless you’re really trying to squeeze the battery, because it only sticks out about a quarter of an inch.