I have a new pair of shoes!


My precious new travel companion

I've finally found the precious companion for my business trips. Traveling with my new companion, I'm more productive than ever before. Everyone is fascinated by its presence, and we quickly become the center of attention on every flight.

The "companion" of which I speak is my new Acer Aspire One "netbook" computer. It has an 8.9" screen, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive, which easily holds all my software and data files, including my entire music and digital photo collections. It came with the Windows XP operating system and a six cell battery that provides five solid hours of work time – enough juice for a transcontinental flight. Best of all, it weighs less than three pounds, is only 10" wide, and 7.5" high and deep when open. That means I can still work comfortably in any airplane, even stuck in a middle seat when the passenger in front slams their seat all the way back.

With 50 installed software programs, including AVG antivirus and the Carbonite automatic file backup service constantly running in the background, the Aspire One is still by far the fastest computer I've ever used. I have already consumed 105GB of hard drive space with over 200,000 files, yet my Acer boots up in less than a minute. Oh, and by the way this little computer is readily available for under $400.

It's no wonder my computer becomes the focus of my fellow passengers on every flight. Everyone wants to know how I like it and how much I paid for it. One flight attendant asked to hold it to compare the weight with her current laptop. At airports, in meetings or just about anywhere, my Acer is a conversation starter. Even on a San Francisco BART rapid transit train I was accosted by a stranger who asked a litany of questions about the Acer's performance and my level of satisfaction with it.

My little Acer is one of a new breed of "netbook" computers which are smaller and lighter than traditional notebook computers and are likely to revolutionize the way business travelers work on the road. Acer is just one of a growing number of netbook producers offering comparable, similarly priced machines. I've recently seen similar netbooks from Asus, Averatec, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Lenovo, Q2 Designs, and Toshiba. Some with smaller hard drives are selling for under $300. My Acer netbook uses the speedy new Intel Atom processor, which was designed specifically to power these small computers.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Hewlett-Packard | Dell | U.S. Bancorp | Windows XP | Toshiba | PDAs | Ethernet | Lenovo | Asus | Carbonite | 1GB of RAM | Averatec | Intel Atom
Until recently, computers this small sold for thousands of dollars. For years I've been resigned to carrying a considerably larger and heavier laptop which better fit my budget. With batteries typically lasting two hours or less, every time I purchased a new computer I had to invest in additional batteries to be able to work all day in a meeting room with no electrical outlets or to provide enough power for the duration of a cross-country flight. With those larger machines I was immediately out of business the moment the passenger in front reclined their seat, rendering me unable to open my laptop wide enough to see the screen and use the keyboard in that crowded space. In addition, that heavy laptop plus a spare battery or two greatly increased the weight of my carry-on bag.

I review each new handheld computing device or personal digital assistant (PDA), but have always decided against buying one. The keyboards and screens are much too small for composing long documents or creating presentations, and there was no way to fit all my software and data on the very limited memory in those tiny units. Additionally, many PDAs use operating systems not always compatible with all my software. Those little gadgets are great for phone calls, text messages and GPS functions, but for my work needs, they are not a viable substitute for a laptop, notebook, or now, netbook computer.

I am amazed how Acer is able to fit so many great features into the Aspire One. This is the first portable computer I've owned where I didn't have to purchase spare batteries, external wifi cards, or other accessories (except a slim little $15 neoprene sleeve that fits snuggly around the computer to protect it from bouncing around in my briefcase).

My netbook offers almost every feature or accessory you would expect to find in a larger computer. There are three USB 2.0 ports, two slots for storage expansion or a variety of memory cards or sticks, an Ethernet port, a VGA port, a webcam and microphone, and built-in wireless LAN capability. The Aspire One does not have an internal CD/DVD drive, but the need for such a drive is rapidly diminishing as new software and data are increasingly downloaded or distributed on USB memory sticks. If you really need CD/DVD capability you can purchase an external drive for under $100 these days.

With all it has to offer, the Aspire One is well worth the $400 price tag. I don't like to purchase expensive computers because they become obsolete so quickly. In addition I'd be devastated if a more expensive computer is lost, stolen or broken. For $400 I'm not nearly as worried about replacing the Aspire One when it becomes obsolete.

After only a few months, I've grown quite attached to my perfect little travel companion and we are inseparable. It's certainly enhanced my productivity on the road. At this point it still creates a buzz wherever I go. Walking through a computer store the other day I overheard a salesman touting the benefits of the same model to a prospective customer. After a long list of technical reasons why he should purchase the computer, the salesman concluded, "And not only that, it's a great conversation starter. Everyone will ask about your new computer." I couldn't help but chime in to tell the interested buyer that this salesman was actually telling the truth.

Travelers, have you started using the new generation of "netbooks?" Share your comment stories below.