Review Price £399.99
Acer Aspire 5749 - Screen, Keyboard and Speakers
The Acer Aspire 5749 has a 1,366 x 768 pixel 15.6in screen using a TN panel - the standard for all mid-range laptops of this size. At the price, you simply won't find anything else unless you make do with a tablet hybrid like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.
TN panels tend to offer the worst image quality of all the most common LCD types (IPS, PVA) but, surprisingly enough given the price, performance is pretty good here. Colour reproduction is fairly rich, where entry-level laptops often look rather cold and sterile, and contrast is good. Of course, this being TN tech, there's plenty of contrast shift once you tilt the screen back, and the Aspire 5749 gives you plenty of scope to blast away the image doing so. The hinge lets you tilt the screen back so there's only about 30 degrees between it and the surface it's resting on - much more than many.
Horizontal viewing angles are respectable. There's plenty of loss of brightness beyond when you stray beyond 45 degrees, but it's capable enough to get two or three people huddled around the display for a spot of gaming or movie-watching.
The pixel arrangement, very close-up
The surface of the display is glossy, which sparks off reflections from light sources, but the maximum brightness setting is enough to cope with most outdoorsy scenarios. Maximum brightness does wash out colours a little, and spoils black depth a tad - the best image performance is found between the 50 and 70 per cent brightness marks. As you might guess from its practical approach to - well - everything, the Aspire 5749 does not have a brightness sensor, so doesn't have an option to tailor backlight intensity to your surroundings automatically.
The keyboard uses a "floating" chiclet design, where each key is a thin plate atop a mechanism at its centre. It's the one element of the Aspire 5749 that's a little interesting, visually. This design does make the keys feel a touch wobblier than a more conventional chiclet design, but there's a decent amount of travel, giving a reasonably satisfying action. The keyboard is an element that really benefits from a non-compact design, allowing for larger keys and removing the need to make the action too shallow.
The trackpad below is nothing too special, but it's an area where a conventional approach really works. Its plastic surface isn't snazzy, but the light texture gives a feel that's not a million miles away from the glass touchpads of Apple's Macbooks - thanks to a similar level of friction.
Underneath, the two mouse buttons are incorporated into a single bar, resulting in a ~1cm dead zone in its middle. It's no biggie, though, and the buttons' action is definite and not too loud. Overly clicky buttons can get annoying if you're going to be tapping away in a lounge with other people nearby, watching Strictly Come Dancing.
Things aren't quite so hot when you let the Aspire 5749 take on AV duties. The stereo speakers, which pipe out sound from two little circular cut-outs in the grill above the keyboard, are pretty weedy, incapable of providing the grunt required to give movies and music the necessary body.