- Review Price: £1461.00
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?
Well the keyboard has all the signs of being a great unit that’s comfortable to use. The keys are full size and the Return and Backspace keys are large. The cursor keys are in their correct configuration and dropped slightly down from the main keyboard. The travel on the keys is good and the break is solid and reassuring. So, on the surface you’ve got a keyboard that should be a dream to type on, but it isn’t. Using the Aspire is without a doubt the most uncomfortable typing experience I have ever had to suffer.
The keyboard itself isn’t the problem; it’s the sheer size of the notebook itself. The chassis is so large that when you’re typing, you’re not resting the heels of your hands, or even your wrists on the area in front of the keyboard. No, with this notebook I ended up with the ends of my forearms resting on the front of the chassis, making it virtually impossible to type. The only other option was to hover my hands above the keyboard, but with no support for my arms this soon got tiring.
Obviously any ergonomic issue can be a personal thing, and I would suggest that anyone considering the Aspire should get a hands-on test before parting with any cash.
Either side of the keyboard is a set of stereo speakers. This set up is very similar to the HP nx7000 although these speakers are not branded JBL. The sound quality is very good however, and I was quite happy listening to music through them or watching a DVD.
The touchpad is a fine example and features a four-way rocker button for scrolling both vertically and horizontally.
The front of the chassis is well featured. You get a memory card reader that will accept SD, MMC, SmartMedia and Memory Stick formats. This will be pretty useful for anyone with a digital camera or an MP3 player that uses any of these cards. The headphone and mic sockets are also at the front for easy connection. Finally there are two buttons to activate the wireless functionality. The button on the right will turn on the WiFi adapter, while the button on the left is for Bluetooth. Unfortunately, as with the Acer TravelMate 661LMi there is no Bluetooth adapter installed, so the button is redundant. I also found it quite annoying that when you boot up the notebook the WiFi adapter is activated by default. This means that unless you remember to turn it off you’ll be running your battery down even when you don’t need WiFi.
At the left hand side is a single Type II PC Card slot and a DVD-RW drive. The latter is always good to see, because you can backup large chunks of data from your hard disk, as well as create your own DVD movies. What makes this drive a little special is that it’s a slot-in model and doesn’t have a disc tray like most optical units. This could be useful if you’re using the Aspire in a confined space, like an aeroplane.
The right of the case is pretty empty apart from an infrared port and the power socket. I personally prefer the power socket to be at the rear of a notebook rather than at the side. It just makes cable routing a little tidier when you’ve got the notebook plugged into the mains.
The rear makes up for the near-barren right hand side. Here you’ll find three USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, a parallel port, a D-SUB connector, 10/100 Ethernet port, a modem socket and finally an S-Video output. That’s quite an impressive array of connection options.
The street price of £1,461.16 inc VAT for the Aspire 2003WLMi is quite amazing considering the specification. You’re definitely getting a lot for your money, and it’s also a fair bit cheaper than the HP nx7000. That said, I can’t stress enough how uncomfortable it was to type on this Acer, whereas typing on the HP was no problem at all.
I really didn’t want to be disappointed in this Acer notebook, especially since the Acer TravelMate 661LMi was such a great product. The specification is truly impressive and some of the multimedia features are welcome and well implemented. Unfortunately, having a notebook that you can’t comfortably type on is not ideal, and the Performance and Features scores reflect this.
The Acer Aspire 2003WMLi is a fully featured multimedia notebook at a great price. The front panel display and controls are a nice touch, but the inability to play music without opening the lid is a shame. I really wanted to like this notebook, but the poor position of the keyboard made it almost impossible for me to type comfortably. If you’re considering this machine I strongly suggest that you try it out first.
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