Acer Aspire 5750G
Inside the textured blue case of the Acer Aspire 5750G is an interesting mix of new technology (the second generation Core i7 processor and the new Nvidia GeForce GT540M), multimedia features - and the odd compromise to keep the price down, which make this a capable if slightly unbalanced system.
The distinctive textured blue case may not be to everyone's taste but we think it looks good, although there's the usual disparate mix of styles, with glossy black plastic around the screen and behind the keyboard (which is matte black plastic). The 15.6-inch screen looks slim and isn't quite as rigid as we'd like, although there's no flex at all in the main body of the notebook.
Acer has managed to squeeze a full numeric keypad into the case without making the keyboard feel cramped or making you feel that your left wrist is teetering on the edge of the palm rest. The pronounced texture of the palm rest certainly stops your hands slipping but the main reason you don't feel that the keypad is pushing you out of the way you do on, say, the Sony VAIO E Series, is that there's less spacing between the keys than on many isolated chiclet-style keyboards. The keys are large enough that the closer positioning shouldn't cause any problems typing and while the feel is a little soft and not as positive as some of our favourite keyboards, it still has perfectly adequate typing action and travel. The slight angle to the case and the raised palm rest combine to give the keyboard a slight rake for comfortable typing.
Most of the secondary keys are large enough - CapsLock, Backspace, Enter and right Shift are all a good size, but the Num Lock key is too close to the Backspace key and you'll often find yourself turning the keypad on and off when you intended to delete something. The keypad also means there isn’t much space for the arrow keys; they're unusually small and a little too close to the other keys to hit easily. Of course you can use the arrow keys on the numeric keypad - which are much larger and easier to hit at speed - but you'll have to use the small arrow keys for changing the volume and screen brightness. Oddly, the mute button is elsewhere; it's one of the function key options, along with turning off the wireless and the trackpad and switching to external screens. The Home and End keys sit either side of the page Up and Page Down keys - an unusual arrangement that you'll have to get used to - and they double up as media controls.
Compared to the textured palm rest the trackpad has an exceptionally smooth surface, with a single separate rocker button and the scrollbar at the side embossed into the surface so it's easy to find. You need to press quite firmly on either end of the button to select it and the central third doesn't let you click at all; that feels rather old-fashioned compared to the larger seamless trackpads we've seen recently. The two-finger scrolling and rotating isn't as sensitive as on new Synaptics touchpads, although pinch zoom works well - and you do have both the marked scrollbar at the side and the option of moving your finger in circles for chiral scrolling (though the trackpad is a little small to do that comfortably). The two-finger flick for swiping through photos or moving back through previously viewed web pages is easy to activate, but there are no three-finger gestures. As these hardly ever work we doubt many people will miss them, but this is last year's trackpad in a brand new system.
The Aspire has slightly dropped hinges; they leave enough room at the back for the edge of the large battery but all the ports are on the sides and front in what's becoming an increasingly common - and convenient - arrangement. Power and Gigabit Ethernet together at the back mean your cables are as out of the way as possible, the DVD writer is in the usual position on the right, the combination SD and memory card slot is on the front where it's easy to put your camera card in and the VGA, HDMI and USB ports are towards the front on either side, with the microphone and headphone socket. There are only three USB ports, and only one is SuperSpeed USB 3.0 (and although USB 3.0 peripherals are pricey enough now that you're only likely to have one or two, that will change over the next couple of years). The webcam has a reasonable resolution although it defaults to VGA; tweaking the settings gives you a much better image but it keeps reverting to a picture that's much too dark and has a distinct pink tinge.
The Dolby Advanced Audio doesn't give the Aspire the same hi-fi quality sound we've heard from some recent high-end notebooks like the Dell XPS 15 and Asus NX90, but you'll definitely notice the difference if you turn it off. With it on, the sound is certainly far better than the average laptop and enjoyable enough for listening to music with reasonable midrange and treble detail, but it's nothing exceptional and the volume is a little quiet, with bass-heavy audio showing noticeable distortion at high volumes.
The Aspire 5750G is one of the first notebooks with the new GeForce GT540M, which is a strong mid-range graphics card that delivers pretty good gaming results at high detail (better than comparable ATI cards) and pretty good video playback, although we suspect the screen lets it down for video; streaming 1080p video from YouTube and local 720p video both have plenty of detail and movement is smooth and fluid, but the video quality doesn't stand out compared to other systems. It's disappointing to only get 1360 x 768 resolution from a card that Sony is using to drive a full HD screen in the VAIO F Series. We'd call this an average screen. It's bright and colourful and there's a reasonable amount of contrast, even in dark scenes, but the viewing angles are poor if you shift the screen away from almost vertical and we've seen far better screens - although those are on more expensive systems. Again, we'd say this is Acer keeping the price down with a cheaper component.
Where Acer hasn't cut corners is the processor; after the initial manufacturing problems Intel has finally brought the second generation Sandy Bridge Core processors to the market and the Aspire 5750G gets the quad core, 8-thread 2GHz Core i7-2630QM. This isn't the most powerful of the new generation Cores but it's faster and more capable than the current Core i7 chips (pushing up to a maximum speed of 2.9GHz with TurboBoost when you need the extra power briefly) and more power efficient too - you'll see a definite speedup over previous Core i7 chips for demanding applications and multitasking. Even the 5400rpm hard drive doesn't slow the system down (and the 640GB capacity is very welcome).
The Aspire uses Nvidia's Optimus technology to switch between the built-in Intel graphics and the GeForce card as appropriate; that means the battery life depends on what you're doing. In light use you can easily see over 5 hours of battery; with Wi-Fi on and in almost constant use for web browsing, streaming music and video and general computing we measured 3 hours 10 minutes, which isn't at all disappointing for a 15.6-inch notebook with a six cell battery.
Acer's bundled software certainly doesn't push the Core i7 processor, but there's one very welcome app here. Clear-fi is Acer's implementation of DLNA media streaming and while we have some quibbles about the interface, it's nice to see a simple, easy to use way to push music, video and photos from device to device (and an alternative to using Windows Media Player). Despite the constant mention of other Acer devices you can use Clear-fi to access content on any PC you have that's sharing media (or any other DLNA device, which includes Android and LG's Windows Phone devices) and send it to any DLNA device that can play it - another PC, a DLNA-equipped TV, a Sonos media player and so on. Clear-fi has hooks for Facebook and Flickr photos and YouTube or Facebook videos as well as content on your PC and any accessible device on your network and once you've told it to use the folder view rather than simply listing every playable file you can browse music and videos by date, genre, rating, artists, series, playlist - or just folder.
Making all this work automatically and simply means you're far more likely to use the Aspire to share content over your network and that makes Clear-fi more useful than much of the bundled software stuffed onto PCs these days. You get the usual assortment, although it's easier to navigate that usual because Acer pins a link to its Welcome Center to the taskbar to explain what you get: Office Starter, Windows Live, McAfee anti-virus, a Norton Online Backup trial, Skype, eSobi RSS reader, MyWinLocker encryption and secure file deletion - plus links to eBay and Acer's online games area and accessory store. Oddly this doesn't include the slew of Acer utilities for backup, recovery and updates.
If you don't want to pay a high price for a high-end processor like the Sandy Bridge Core i7, the Aspire 5750G is a way to get the performance and reasonable battery life, without breaking the budget. You're not paying for unusually fancy design (although we think the blue case is stylish) and you're getting most of what you need, including a decent keyboard and good graphics. The screen is slightly disappointing and we'd like to see more than one USB 3.0 port, but it had the rest of the spec to match the processor you'd be paying rather more than this. This notebook makes Core i7 definitely affordable.
Thank you to saveonlaptops.co.uk for the loan of this sample.