Acer Aspire 4820TG notebook

The Acer Aspire 4820TG is a product of continued refinement from the computing giant. Acquisitions and rebranding have taken place in the attempt to move the "Acer" branded machines away from the bargain basement end of the market (where eMachines lies) whilst still retaining definition from their "consumer lifestyle" models (Packard Bell). Not only is it from the Acer Aspire line, but it is the evolution of the Timeline launched last year, so gets the X moniker. Despite being launched as such it still comes packaged as the Aspire 4820TG, leaving us scratching our heads as to what it will be called.

But heritage aside, the Acer Aspire 4820TG on trial here is the 14-inch version, which blends portability and power into a convenient package. As with the previous Timeline models, there are also 13.3- and 15.6-inch versions available. It measures 341 x 240 x 30mm (30mm being at the rear, where the battery causes a slight bump). The screen itself is only 6mm thick, so it has a nice neat profile - good looking even.

The lid is skinned with brushed aluminium which gives some rigidity, but there is still a degree of twist when you pull on a corner and your screen will still be vulnerable to knocks from the outside. The screen is surrounded by a customary black glossy plastic bezel, housing a webcam.

The choice of materials almost hits the mark, but we can't help feeling that Acer should have stuck with a simpler approach. Instead you are left looking at five or six different sections which are all a different colour or finish. We do like the palm rests though, the brushed look surrounding the trackpad is smart.

The construction is par for the course for Acer and you won't be surprised to find a bit of flex here and there. Above the DVD drive on the right-hand side the plastic flexes at its worst, although you'll find the deck moves in most places you apply pressure.

The keyboard is reasonable: as with most current Acer models, the keyboard offers-up isolated flat keys, which are large enough to hit accurately when typing at speed. The biggest problem the keyboard has, however is again flex. We noticed movement across the keyboard, especially just right of centre around the UIJK keys, suggesting is isn't well enough supported. It doesn't stop the keyboard being fast to type on, but it doesn't have the premium feel you'll find elsewhere, especially as this level of Timeline is asking for a fair amount of cash too.

The layout of the keys is pretty good however, with function shortcuts for media control and to toggle the other usual features like Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.0. Rather than cycle through on/off combinations for both devices, it pops-up a management window so you can quickly make your selection. Emblazoned above the keyboard is Dolby Home Theatre Virtual Surround Sound with two speakers.

Many notebooks are looking to boost their sound offering as we get involved in watching streaming movies and so on and the 4820TG benefits from this addition. The Virtual Surround Sound certainly works, but it also lacks any sort of bass, and distortion is noticeable when turned up loud. As always, it will be easily bettered by a set of headphones.

The screen is a glossy 14-inch, LED backlit, number with a native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. That means it qualifies for the HD tag and given its size we feel it is a high enough resolution, although there are rival notebooks out there which offer more at this screen size. The limited resolution actually does you a favour of you want to play games however, as the 4820TG also comes with an ATI Mobility HD 5650, giving you 1GB of dedicated graphics memory (but there are some model variations, so check carefully before you buy).

That, combined with the 4820TG's 2.27GHz Intel Core i5-430M processor and 4GB RAM mean that you won't have problems using this notebook for a bit of gaming too. We loaded up Modern Warfare 2 and found that it ran with no problems, which is great in a portable machine. HD content is handled with no problems too, be it Flash content in HD online, or from your video camera.

What is interesting about the graphics is that you also get an onboard Intel GMA HD graphics solution as well as the GPU. This doesn't show the smart switching that Nvidia Optimus does, but it will switch with power modes. Unplug the mains and by default the 4820TG moves over to the onboard solution and makes a number of power saving moves.

What it won't do is detect when you need to use the GPU and make that change for you and you can't use it whilst the graphics are in use, so you can't be watching a video and then switch mid-way through. You also have to be careful to make sure that no applications are blocking the graphics switch, so you can press the power saving button and it will change modes without changing the graphics – something to watch out for.

However, the onboard graphics will handle the likes of HD video playback, successfully tackling the Full HD camcorder samples, and Full HD Flash video too. Pressing the power mode button will switch you back, so if you suddenly feel the need to do something graphically intensive whilst mobile, you have the freedom to do so.

There are battery options available for the 4820GT. We had the standard 6-cell battery which offered over 6-hours in power saving mode watching a little video and generally surfing the internet and carrying out basic tasks, although this will vary depending on what you ask of it, and basic offline word processing will give you closer to the cited 8 hours. In high power mode the battery will drain quickly: fire up a game and you'll be lucky to get 2 hours from it. There is also a 9-cell battery which promises 12-hours of power saving life.

Physical connectivity is pretty good too, offering 4x USB2.0, Ethernet, VGA and HDMI, so you can connect the 4820TG up to a larger display to take advantage of the graphics power it offers. There is also a card reader on the front edge of the notebook offering to read Sony's Memory Stick, SD/SDHC, and xD-Picture cards.

The trackpad is especially nice on the new Timeline. It is incredibly smooth and large enough to be practical. A scrolling area runs down the right-hand side to easily move up and down pages without having to resort to the keys. The one piece button bar across the bottom provides just the right amount of travel too.

Given the relatively powerful specification, it is no surprise to hear that the 4820TG does run hot, with noticeable exhaust pumping out the left-hand side, the fans of which can be a little noisy, as is the DVD drive. Our test model came with a 320GB hard drive and was running Windows 7 Home Premium.

Verdict

Compact, well specced and fairly lightweight (just over 2kg), the Acer Aspire 4820TG makes a tempting proposal for those who want to travel and not compromise on performance too much. An obvious downside is the construction quality, with a little too much flex evident. We'd have like to have seen a more advanced switching graphics system too, but it's nice to have the option.

There are some really nice touches here, but given the price tag of £899, some might want to see a little less flex across the body. But you can't deny that Acer have put together a notebook that is both practical and powerful in this new Timeline X model, the 4820TG.



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