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It looks like Acer has no shortage of new notebooks to shout about at the moment. It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Acer TravelMate 661LMi walked away with an Editor's Choice award, but this Aspire 2003WLMi is a different beast altogether. What you've got here is a mobile solution aimed squarely at a consumer with heavy multimedia needs.
The first thing that strikes you about the Aspire is its size. This really is quite a large notebook, but it doesn't look unwieldy or ugly, despite its large dimensions it still looks cool. Part of the reason for the large physical proportions is the very generous screen size. Lifting the lid, you're greeted with a 15.4in widescreen TFT panel, much like the one I saw on the HP nx7000. However, unlike the nx7000 display, this screen supports a native resolution of only 1,280 x 800 instead of 1,680 x 1,050. That's not to say that the screen isn't good, because it is, and some people may even prefer the slighter larger character size of this lower resolution. The display isn't quite as bright as other notebooks I've seen lately, but the lighting is even across the surface. The low brightness does give the colours a slightly pallid feel to them, and photo images tend to lack any real vivid colour. Strangely, the slightly dull colours work well when watching DVD movies, where the image produced was very defined with well resolved skin tones.
You can definitely fit a great deal in the available desktop real estate. The widescreen ratio lends itself well to having two documents open simultaneously for comparison or cutting and pasting. It also makes watching DVDs far more appealing since the screen is the right aspect ratio, and as long as you watch anamorphic discs you'll be making the most of the display properties.
Inside the Aspire is a decent set of components. A 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M CPU is backed up by 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard disk and an ATi Radeon Mobility 9200 graphics chipset. Surprisingly, the SYSmark score wasn’t the fastest we’ve seen. The score of 141 is a whole 15 points slower than the Sony Vaio PCG-Z1RMP that I looked at last week.
However, where the Aspire really shines is in the battery department. Running the Mobile Mark test on the Acer resulted in a battery life of five hours and 10 minutes. That’s a pretty stunning battery life considering the very large screen on this notebook. So what you have here is a bit of a conundrum. The Aspire has stunning battery life which means you could carry it around all day and use it on the move. However, due to the large dimensions and hefty weight, you’re probably not going to want to carry it around with you all day.
As I already mentioned above, this machine is geared towards multimedia use and this is highlighted by the front panel controls. Unlike most notebooks, this one has a lip at the front that sticks out when the lid is shut. On this lip you’ll find an LCD display, a button marked “arcade” and multimedia control buttons. Pressing the arcade button will take you into an embedded multimedia application. From here you can watch movies, play music, look at images etc. all from a single user environment. The LCD display will give you information about what you’re doing, indicating whether you’re using a DVD or CD for example.
In practice this worked very well, and I’m sure it will appeal to many potential buyers out there. However, there is a major issue with this feature that kind of ruins its appeal for me. Considering that Acer has gone to the trouble of creating a whole set of multimedia buttons and a display that’s visible with the lid closed, you’d expect to be able to use some of the features without having to open the lid, but alas that’s not the case. I think that you should be able to playback MP3 audio or CDs without the need to open the notebook, especially since you can press the buttons without with the lid firmly shut. Personally I see this as a missed opportunity, and one that would definitely affect my buying decision.
As I always say when reviewing notebooks, the most important aspects are the screen, the keyboard and the touchpad since these are the bits that you physically interact with. As already mentioned, the screen is a pretty good one, but what about the keyboard and touchpad?