Acer Aspire AS9802WKMi review
An impressive attempt at a good-value portable PC, but the ergonomics let it down
The Acer Aspire AS9802WKMi takes the recent trend for desktop-replacement notebooks to an extreme, with its wide-aspect TFT measuring 20.1in diagonally, and running at 1,680 x 1,050. The screen is nearly an inch thick, and the whole machine weighs a colossal 7.8kg - about three times that of an average notebook.
The CPU at the heart of the system is an Intel Core Duo T2300, which, along with 1GB of RAM, pushed the Aspire to an overall score of 1.02 in our application benchmarks. You get discrete graphics too, in the form of Nvidia's GeForce Go 7300. Our 3D benchmarks returned scores of 13fps in Far Cry and 12fps in Call of Duty at our low settings; if you need more power, you could opt for the 9804, which comes with 7600 graphics. But even that only gets around 25fps in our tests.
Not surprisingly, battery life isn't impressive: under intense use, the Acer ran for 1hr 6mins, and a shade over two hours under light use. That's thanks in part to the sheer size of the screen, although the use of six LED backlights rather than traditional fluorescent tubes keeps the power drain to a minimum.
The screen is good without standing out. The backlighting is bright, but colour reproduction isn't perfect. A 256-shade greyscale ramp also revealed some minor stepping. But you won't notice this unless you're a demanding photo or video editor, and the glossy finish means contrast appears greater, with more detail in dark and light scenes in films, games and images. The high, widescreen resolution is also a major productivity benefit, as you can fit a Word document, an email window and an instance of Internet Explorer on the screen without running out of space.
The keyboard beneath the monitor doesn't stretch all the way across the vast chassis, but you do get a full-sized number pad. The keyboard is pleasant in use, with good layout and reasonable solidity.
Seven multimedia buttons run along the left side of the keyboard, offering control over audio and video playback, and the large, glossy screen combined with the loud (albeit distortion-prone) speakers make the Aspire a great system for watching DVDs on. Acer supplies its own Arcade software - a slow, clunky take on Windows XP Media Center Edition. There's a mini-PCI DVB-T TV tuner card integrated too, although it can only handle one channel at a time.
The sheer size of the chassis offers some desktop-like opportunities. You get two slots for hard disks, for instance, one of which is filled by the 100GB 2.5in SATA disk that comes as standard. You can easily add another, taking advantage of the onboard RAID controller if you wish. There's also a dual-layer DVD writer, which will write to all current formats, including DVD-RAM.
Parallel and serial ports are rare sights these days, while DVI-D, D-SUB and S-Video provide video outputs, along with S-Video in. Four USB 2 ports, mini-FireWire, ExpressCard/54 and a Type II PC Card slot give ample expansion potential, and digital camera users are well catered for with a reader handling MMC, SD, xD and Memory Stick. Gigabit Ethernet networking is joined by Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g WLAN. The 640 x 480 webcam in the top of the screen's bezel is welcome too, although the image is noisy compared to standalone units. Our only gripe is the front-mounted 3.5mm audio ports, which make the machine look untidy when they're in use.
There's nothing notable that the AS9802WKMi lacks. Its overall performance is impressive and it's even up to a spot of gaming. The RAID capabilities make this one of only a few laptops we've seen with genuine upgrade potential, and the huge panel is a real asset. But the chief problem is one of ergonomics: you need to sit back from the screen to take it all in, yet the keyboard is immediately below, leaving you sitting too close for comfort. You could always attach an external keyboard to one of the USB ports, but that rather defeats the object of having a self-contained chassis.