On the surface, Acer's Aspire 531 doesn't add much in the way of extra choice to the incomprehensibly large number of netbook options out there. If anything, it takes away the stylistic flair of Acer's earlier D250. It crisps the corners, mutes the colours and seems to be just another shot at making the netbook more business friendly, like Asus' N10J or Sony's Vaio P.
That's on the surface. It may not have the panache of, say, Asus' Seashell 1008H, but otherwise it's a checklist of all that's good about netbooks. A little formal, perhaps, but an excellent choice.
For a start, there's the cost. We're used to Acer consistently hitting friendly price points that begin with a '2', but usually that's at the expense of battery life. The D150, for example, is available from £230, but that will only go for a couple of hours without charge.
The 531 Pro, though, comes with a much larger battery as standard which – unlike Asus' 1008H – doesn't add to the overall weight. It protrudes slightly behind the screen, but even under heavy usage comfortably reaches the six-hour mark, and with a bit of care can be coaxed much further.
There's also a Vista option, which may not be desirable right now, but will allow a free upgrade to Windows 7 when it arrives.
Like all of the Aspire Ones, the mousepad is one of the smallest available, but at least a rudimentary multitouch has been added this time round. More importantly, the keyboard is practically sized and hard-wearing. Overall, it's better suited to writing rather than browsing: for the blogger, rather than the blog-ee perhaps.
Either will be rejoice in the screen. It lacks the high definition sharpness of Sony's Vaio W or the top spec Dell Mini 10, but is bright with reliable colours and good contrast, without being too reflective at the same time.
This display stands poised above the keyboard on similarly functional hinges. Not elegant, but rigid enough to prevent any screen wobble from over-enthusiastic typing.
In fact, its only real failing is that Wi-Fi is limited to 802.11g, rather than the faster n standard, but there's an optional 3G modem built in to help make up for that. Plus, the card reader can take memory sticks and xD cards, which gives it more connectivity options than most.
If you value looks and faster Wi-Fi, you'll justifiably be willing to splash out a few extra pounds on an Asus Seashell. But in its straightforward delivery of everything that's important in a netbook, it's the Aspire 531.