Acer Aspire 5652WLMi review

21 Jul 2006

A fantastic specification partnered with comprehensive features, integrated 3G and a bargain price

Price when reviewed: 
820(£964 inc VAT)
5

Dell was the first to offer a 3G-ready notebook with its Latitude D620 but, along with Fujitsu Siemens, Acer is among the first to ship a notebook with 3G integrated as standard.

The SIM card sits in a slot underneath the battery, and in this case it's supplied in partnership with Vodafone. There are three tariffs to choose from: the most basic gives 250MB of data for £25 a month, with each extra megabyte costing £1. The Data Unlimited tariff costs £45 a month with a fair-use policy of 1GB, while the Data Travel tariff (£95) still has the 1GB cap, but gives you 100MB of free downloads when you're abroad, and cheaper rates thereafter when roaming. It's well worth taking these roaming download charges into account when planning your tariff, as they can soon mount up (see www.vodafone.co.uk for more details). And, should you end up in the 23% of the UK not yet covered by Vodafone's 3G service, or a non-3G area abroad, the 3G controller can revert to GPRS or EDGE too.

There are plenty of other well-specified components on hand to make this an attractive purchase in its own right. There's a Core Duo processor and 1GB of DDR2 RAM to speed through even the toughest of tasks. Our Real World benchmarks ran to a score of 0.98, just 2% behind our 3.2GHz Pentium D reference PC- not bad considering that this dual-core mobile chip runs at a modest 1.66GHz. On the graphics front, the GeForce Go 7600 provides enough power for Windows Vista should you opt to upgrade next year, and will even accommodate a little 3D gaming, so long as you're prepared to turn down the resolution and quality settings.

The 15.4in wide-aspect screen runs at a sensible resolution of 1,280 x 800, and was consistently impressive in use. The bright, even backlighting and good viewing angles made general use very pleasant, and none of our demanding technical tests revealed any flaws of note, with a wide contrast range and competent colour handling. Video displayed rich shadows and digital photos looked vibrant. That's helped by the screen's glossy coating, although its slightly reflective nature may occasionally prove distracting in a brightly lit office environment.

Despite the usefulness of 3G when on the road, the 5652 isn't ideal as a regular travelling companion. Its dimensions make it reasonably portable, but while the 2.85kg weight isn't back-breaking we'd hesitate before carrying it around too often. With close to four hours' battery life under light use, it grants a reasonable stay of execution when out and about, although that will go down substantially if you're making constant use of the 3G connection. We're also not convinced by the ruggedness of the build quality: the chassis flexes just a little too much for our liking, although the lid will protect the screen from all but the firmest pressure. A protective notebook bag would nonetheless be a wise purchase.

We have similarly minor reservations about the keyboard, as its spongey feel may not be to everyone's liking. However, the large keys and sensible layout are great for touch typing and page navigation, and there's minimal doubling up of function keys. We also found the series of configurable shortcut buttons across the top of the keyboard handy, plus there's a set of useful media transport controls down the right-hand side.

Along with the generous networking options - 802.11a/b/g, Gigabit Ethernet and a 56K modem supplement the 3G - there's little compromise when it comes to expansion options: ExpressCard/34, Type II PC Card, 4 USB 2 ports and mini-FireWire, as well as infrared and Bluetooth, cover practically every base. There's an SD/MMC/Memory Stick card reader tucked into the left-hand side and storage is generous elsewhere too, with a 100GB hard disk catering for just about everyone's needs and a slot-loading dual-layer DVD writer. Lastly, there are D-SUB, DVI-D and S-Video outputs.