- Review Price: £1181.00
There is a growing market for “multimedia” laptops. This is partly fuelled by the popularity of small form factor PCs and software like Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system, and now laptop manufacturers are getting in on the act. A hybrid mix of desktop replacement, improved battery life, widescreen display and decent speakers seem to qualify entry into this emerging category and Acer’s Aspire 2023WLMi fits squarely into this space.
To be fair, the 2023WLMi does break slightly from this mould in a couple of positive ways. First, at 3kg it’s at the lighter end of the scale as far as widescreen notebooks go, and second, it comes with “Acer Arcade” a utility that allows the machine to slideshow photos, play music or DVDs through its own software menu, avoiding the need to boot Windows. Neither of these aspects is particularly groundbreaking but they are welcome. The 2023WLMi also comes with Bluetooth built in – an optional extra for the majority of the 2020 range.
Other than that, the rest of the 2023WLMi is fairly standard. Based on the Intel Centrino platform, at its heart is a Pentium M 1.6GHz CPU with 512MB DDR RAM, a generous 60GB 4,200RPM HDD and a 15.4in widescreen display. Making up the other part of the Centrino standard is an 802.11b/g wireless network adapter, so you can stay connected at home, in the office or on the move.
You also get a DVD rewriter that can burn to DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW and even DVD-RAM. Graphics are taken care of by a 128MB ATI Radeon 9700 graphics chipset, so you should be able to play your favourite game on the move as well. There’s also a wealth of connectivity options, with three USB 2.0 ports, a single FireWire connector, S-Video out, 4-in-1 memory card reader, a modem socket, a 10/100 network port, PS/2 and parallel ports.
So far so good, and at £1180.88 you’re getting a lot for your money. However, a good laptop is as much about implementation as it is about features and sadly while the 2023WLMi has some very positive aspects, it also provides its fair share of disappointments.
A perfect example of this is the 15.4in widescreen display which is clear and crisp but personally, I find the illumination a little dull and lifeless. While this no doubt aids battery life (more on that later), it does make the screen look a little washed out. Likewise, styling is a mixed bag. Personally, I prefer laptops to have clean lines and stick to one primary colour but the 2023WLMi can’t make up its mind. Dulled silver on the outside but with an incongruous black hinge, then inside we are treated to Dell-like black keys, screen border and touchpad. Dulled silver pointer buttons hint back to the 2023WLMi’s external styling but are positioned above the reflective shiny silver front panel that houses the Arcade control buttons. It’s all a bit inconsistent. Even the font used on the Arcade buttons is capitalised while the wording on the keyboard is upper and lower case.
The keyboard itself is equally hit and miss. The construction is solid and the tactility good as it tends to be on all Acer laptops, but at the same time it suffers from the typical peculiarities of Acer’s haphazardly shifting layout. This time, the arrow keys are at fault, stuffed into the main body of the keyboard yet still protruding, and the impact is to squash the right Shift and right Ctrl key alongside each other with the Ctrl key feeling particularly out of place directly below Enter. Repositioning the Page Up and Page Down keys to straddle the Up arrow key is also an own goal as I found myself continually jumping the cursor up and down pages when reaching for more commonly used buttons. Of course I could get used to this layout, but any length of time on a normal keyboard will send you right back to square one next time you open the 2023WLMi.
I’m also not particularly happy with the quality or positioning of the volume switch, a small feature which becomes a major irritant. For a start, the single plastic button feels loose and insubstantial and while it doesn’t get in the way during typing, you can’t help but graze it time after time when using the touchpad. The indentations on the top of the button scratch your wrist and after just a week I wanted to snap it off. To be honest, I’ve never understood the placement of any switches in this position on laptops, they’re too easily knocked and surely a much better solution is to locate them above the Function keys or on the sides. That said, in this instance, the volume button needs to be accessed when the notebook is closed, which explains its position to some extent – although volume buttons flush with the casing would have saved me some annoyance.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The 2023WLMi’s speakers come with an integrated subwoofer and consequently sound reproduction is clear, clean and distortion free. They may not be quite as powerful as the JBL Pros fitted into HP’s nx9110 but they are certainly comparable and serve as another reminder that for today’s laptop owners, headphones are no longer the only viable audio option.
When it came to benchmarking, the 2023WLMi continued its inconsistent theme and given its tech specs the majority of scores were a little disappointing – its failure to break the 200 mark in any of the SYSmark 2002 tests being a particular sore spot. Yet in contrast, the 2023WLMi turned up a superlative MobileMark 2002 score of 181, with the battery lasting 290 minutes, or just under five hours. With this kind of battery life and relatively silent running, combined with the 3kg weight, the 2023WLMi has far greater travel options than any multimedia widescreen laptop we have seen. Whether it’s used for entertaining kids on long car journeys with DVDs, or for mobile presentations, such longevity gives the 2023WLMi a real shot in the arm.
Furthermore, the Aspire Arcade mode extends the battery life even more. Using this feature I managed to run DVDs for three hours and then boot into Windows to discover I still had 20 per cent of the battery remaining.
The 2023WLMi is rather a return to the old days of Acer where innovation, value and features are frustratingly hampered by styling and layout flaws. Under and over performing in equal measure, this is not a bad machine at £1180.88 but it won’t suit all users. If you’re tempted, it’s worth taking a look at one first hand before you put your money on the table.
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