Cloud Writing

Since Evernote on the iPhone is still hopeless for mobile note-taking (in the sense that not only does it not allow you to edit notes on the iPhone, it also has a horrible UI), I’ve taken to tapping away on my iPhone and iPod (I use both, since I switch my phone off in the evenings and like the iPod’s svelte form factor and great battery life) and e-mailing myself snippets from the (as yet orphaned in sync) built-in Notes application.

Which is good to let off some steam and perfect for between-kid breaks, but useless for any sort of structured writing.

So I’ve been mulling getting a netbook, or whatever the current term is for a lightweight sub-notebook. My preferences lean heavily towards the lightweight, solid-state kind (since it is likely to require quick on/off times), but I have been hampered in my quest by manufacturer’s willingness to ship product to Portugal in volume and their constant desire to cut corners.

For instance, I’ve been using an Eee PC 701 on and off for many months now (I can finally own up to it, since it’s being bundled with a USB HSPA modem at a killer price), but the samples I had didn’t have a Portuguese keyboard (an absolute must for me) and the 701 does not have Bluetooth.

Plus I would rather pay extra for a bigger screen and a better OS than Xandros Linux – I used it for a good while and know my way around, but I’d rather have something better integrated or XP, which is palatable once suitably defanged.

(As an aside, I’ve been living inside Citrix and a 2GB TrueCrypt volume containing Portable Apps for over two years now, so an ‘appliance’ laptop is perfectly feasible for me.)

So I started looking at the Acer Aspire One A110L, which looks great and has a pretty clean Fedora-based environment1 – but which apparently has an under-spec battery and a pretty crummy SSD (bad enough to make running XP on the base model a tinkering exercise I cannot afford to undertake), not to mention built-in driver support for a number of things like HSPA.

Sure, I will be able to get revisions with a hard disk and built-in HSPA, but I want something light, quiet and where I can use my own products, so those are out. My take is that Acer pretty much dropped the ball here – they could have sold a bazillion A110s if they had spent a trifle more on the SSD and flashed the things with XP Home (which would have made it a lot easier for people to get them to work)2.

Asus, on the other hand, is taking forever to get the 901 model out here in Portugal, and has already taken a beating from Acer (the One sold out everywhere, leaving a bunch of 701 boxes in stores). Their PT keyboard layout feels a little cramped when compared to the Acer, but they at least managed to stuff in Bluetooth and a decent battery, which would make it the best option if it was available… Now. Even if it is (as expected) considerably more expensive than the 701 or the One.

As to Apple, the persistent (and recently renewed) rumors that they may yet launch a webpad of sorts are nothing short of hilarious, and are nothing more than link fodder – they are far more likely to cut prices sharply on the iPod or MacBook ranges.

On the whole I think that what’s important is that I find a comfortable device to write on. Splurging on an Air is completely out of the question and Apple is extremely unlikely to toss out anything smaller than my MacBook and substantially cheaper than US$1000 (even if that does not add up to much Euro-wise these days).

So in effect the jury’s still out, and it doesn’t look like there will be an easy choice – especially considering that everyone and their dog seems to be manufacturing a netbook these days.

But the 701 is a sturdy little machine, though, and I recommend it if you’re not picky. With XP, it makes a great presenter’s laptop (it even has PowerPoint Viewer installed), and with Linux, it is a great newbie-proof computer3.

1 Which has a pretty recent Python and ImageMagick – grab one and do an Alt+F2 to get at a command prompt, then sudo bash to your heart’s content.

2 Feel free to correct me by sending me a sample A110L (or A150L/X) to review. I’d love to have a go at it for a few weeks.

3 For a lark, and since I also needed to be able to emulate a mobile device for testing, I followed these instructions to get Opera Mini running on it. Very much like the E90, really.

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