- Unique and innovative removable touchpad remote
- Attractive design with brushed aluminium
- Good backlit keyboard
- Oodles of connectivity
- Decent dedicated graphics
- Sub-par, glossy screen
- Average 2.1 speakers
- No Blu-ray
- Removable touchpad remote
- 15.6in, 1366 x 768, seamless bezel screen
- Intel Core i5-2410M, 8GB RAM, 750GB 5,400rpm HDD
- Nvidia GeForce GT540M 1GB dedicated graphics
- Backlit keyboard, USB 3.0, eSATA, mini Firewire
Laptops are the most-sold computers, and 15.6in models are the most-sold laptops. Thus it follows that there are an awful lot of 15.6in laptops around, and many of them are, to put it nicely, somewhat interchangeable. Some manufacturers give them a metal shell, others count on design or colours, and of course the range of connectivity and quality of components like the screen and speakers do differentiate them. But when you get right down to it, few manage to offer something truly unique. However, Acer’s new Aspire Ethos does manage to stand out from the crowd. Its killer feature? A rather nifty removable touchpad that can act as a remote control and wireless mouse.
We previously saw an idea much like this on Acer’s media-centric Aspire Revo 100, but there the remote combined a touchpad and keyboard. Here, it’s a stationary touchpad during normal laptop use, and a remote when browsing on a large screen or watching movies/listening to music from a distance. Not only does it offer multimedia controls, but you can still use it as a ‘mouse’ too.
Clever as the removable pad is, it’s not all that makes the Ethos 5951G interesting. We also have a fetching durable aluminium lid and keyboard surround, powerful specifications (including a ‘Sandy Bridge’ Core i5, 8GB of RAM and discrete graphics), as well as – surprising on a desktop replacement like this – good battery life. Is it the multimedia laptop for you?
Coming in at just under £900, the Ethos is firmly in premium laptop territory, and that’s apparent from its build without even opening it up. Apart from a glossy black lip at the front, the entire lid is brushed black aluminium. While you can see fingerprints on this finish, they’re less visible than on glossy plastic, and it’s both more durable and easier to maintain.
Opening the beast up, its insides are adorned with a variety of finishes and textures. While we would have preferred a slightly more cohesive look, at least the materials used complement each other nicely. The screen features a gorgeous seamless bezel with a single sheet of glass across the front which does, however, result in lots of annoying reflections.
The hinge is smooth matt plastic, also used on the palm-rests and touchpad buttons, while the speaker grille and immediate keyboard surround are aluminium. The touchpad itself is glossy black plastic, though the cavity it leaves once removed is matt like its surrounds. Etched-metal power and control buttons are found to either side of a silver metallic strip that highlights the laptop’s Dolby audio processing.
Build quality is simply excellent. In fact, it’s easily the best-built Acer laptop we’ve had through our labs. There’s not a hint of creaking or unwanted give anywhere and all the plastics used feel firm. Even premium laptops often suffer from varying degrees of keyboard flex, so it’s nice to find that on the Ethos everything is absolutely rock-solid. Mind you, it also weighs quite a bit at 3.3kg, reaffirming its status as a desktop replacement.
As you might expect, connectivity on the Acer Aspire Ethos 5951G is prodigious. Along the left we have VGA and 3D-compatible HDMI 1.4 for video, followed by a combined USB/eSATA port, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and mini-Firewire. That gives you a lot of flexibility for hooking up all kinds of devices and lets you access external storage in the fastest ways possible.
Along the front is a physical wireless button (rather than the usual switch) to enable or disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but it’s recessed to prevent accidental pushes. Next you’ll find an SDXC/MMCplus/MS Pro memory card reader and the release switch for the touchpad, which we’ll discuss in greater detail later on. To the right there are three 3.5mm audio jacks, which allow you to output analogue or digital surround sound to external systems – always a touch we appreciate – along with a second USB 2.0 port, the tray-loading optical drive and a Gigabit Ethernet port.
Unfortunately, the drive on our 5951G is of the DVD writer, rather than Blu-ray player, variety, which dents this laptop’s credentials as a multimedia powerhouse somewhat. And unlike Dell’s or Sony’s machines (and HP’s ones if you live in the States), you can’t upgrade to one before you buy. This aside, other noteworthy titbits on this Ethos include Wi-Fi n and Bluetooth 3.0, a 720p webcam, and fingerprint reader for password-free yet secure access.
Getting to usability, the chiclet/isolation keyboard is a decent. Good points include an excellent, logical layout, with volume and brightness on the cursor keys where they belong (though there’s no secondary function key to enable one-handed control like with the Samsung RF711).
There’s also a full number pad with multimedia controls along the top of it, though these are made mostly redundant by those on touchpad/remote. Individual key feedback is flawless, with plenty of travel and a rather nice click. We also like the quirky way Acer has made the Enter key larger than usual.
Last but certainly not least, the entire keyboard is backlit beautifully in white, with less bleed than on many rivals. Backlighting can be turned on using either a keyboard secondary function or a dedicated key. This dedicated key joins a dedicated button for launching Acer’s Clear.fi media centre and a handy customisable launch button to start up any program you wish.
Of course the most interesting point of use with the Ethos is its removable touchpad remote. It offers a large, smooth surface area that feels a bit like a resistive touch screen. Used as a traditional touchpad, it’s generally nice if unremarkable, with just a hint of unresponsiveness on rare occasions. Its buttons, which are part of the laptop, are beautifully integrated into a single rocker switch that forms the front of the pad’s ‘docking cradle’, but they do suffer from a large dead zone. However, it’s still very usable.
It’s when you take the pad out of the laptop that it comes into its own. At just 6mm thick and with a lovely textured rubber base, it’s light and comfortable in the hand, and is certainly usable one-handed. It sports a lithium ion battery to power its white LED control icons, which appear in stages when you press a button in the pad’s top right-hand corner. This looks pretty awesome, and works rather well too (our favourite combination in technology).
Pressing the touchpad/remote’s button once reveals Video and Music shortcuts, leaving part of the pad free to use for touch navigation. Pressing it again brings up a range of playback and volume controls. As a remote, the pad will work from a ridiculous distance away: we measured more than seven metres before it became unusable.
Even the way the pad docks deserves special mention. It slides in smoothly on its rubber base and is magnetically pulled into place, where it’s held very securely by another magnet. Releasing this magnet with the lever at the laptop’s front pops the pad up for easy removal – beautiful. Our only minor niggle is that the pad’s surface is very glossy, resulting in a fingerprint house party without regular wiping.
As the Aspire Ethos 5951G is a multimedia laptop, it’s important to see how it holds up in the audiovisual department. Let’s begin with the 2.1 speakers. Overall, they’re … competent. They do produce reasonable volumes, decent detail and a modicum of bass, but despite Dolby Home Theatre processing, “professional” tuning and a dedicated subwoofer in its base, treble was overly harsh and the low-end too tinny. So while they’ll do fine for the odd movie, for serious entertainment we would still suggest an external solution.
It’s not as easy to mitigate for a poor screen. It’s a bit unfortunate then that the 15.6in, 1,366 x 768 example found here is, like the audio accompanying it, merely average. Vertical viewing angles are poor (as usual with TN-based laptop panels). Horizontally they hold up better, but significant contrast shift still creeps in when sitting off-centre. Things aren’t helped by the reflections galore from the glossy layer that extends over the screen’s edges to give it its attractive seamless bezel.
Backlighting is mostly even with no significant bleed, dithering is minimal and there’s no sign of banding, which are all positives. However, contrast is relatively poor, with the Ethos unable to distinguish between the three darkest greyshades and lacking in any white purity or differentiation. This means you’ll miss out on subtle detail in particularly bright or gloomy scenes in movies and games, an area for which the rest of the laptop seems to be particularly well-tailored.
At least Acer’s multimedia machine has all the internals required for a sterling performance. Leading the cast is our mid-range favourite, an Intel Core i5-2410M. This dual-core processor runs at 2.3GHz by default, though it can Turbo Clock all the way up to 2.9GHz. Combined with HyperThreading for up to four virtual cores, it should dispatch most tasks with alacrity.
It’s backed by a very generous 8GB of RAM, meaning you shouldn’t need to upgrade the memory within this laptop’s feasible lifetime. For permanent storage there’s an equally munificent 750GB hard drive, though unfortunately this Seagate Momentus model only spins at 5,400rpm and offers 16MB of cache.
Graphics are a pleasant surprise, with Nvidia’s decent GeForce GT540M dedicated chip accompanying Intel’s integrated HD3000 effort. The GT540M will more than suffice for casual gamers or those who don’t mind a few compromises on recent titles. It managed a silky 49.5 frames per second (fps) in Stalker: Call of Pripyat, albeit at 720p and with detail set to Medium. With details turned up to maximum at the laptop’s native 1,366 x 768, it still managed a smooth 38.3fps average, definitely putting it into gaming territory.
The Aspire Ethos 5951G’s battery hangs in for a surprisingly long time considering its desktop replacement ambitions. This is due to its use of a large-capacity eight-cell battery, which gave us a solid four and a half hour running time – though this was with screen brightness turned down and wireless radios disabled.
Regardless of load you should get well over three hours, long enough to watch the longest film around and to cover most trips or commutes. Naturally, this measurement uses the laptop’s integrated graphics, so gaming or graphics-accelerated apps will decrease time away from a socket.
One thing to also note is that this isn’t the quietest laptop around, and it produces an audible, if not unpleasant, hum even when not under heavy load. However, it’s certainly nothing drastic enough to count as a negative.
Overall then, how does Acer’s nifty multimedia laptop hold up? It’s a real shame that the screen is merely average, for otherwise it would be a solid choice for those not looking to get Blu-ray. However, at a price point of close to £880 there is plenty of competition. For example, a similarly configured Dell XPS 15 will set you back £890, and pack in a faster hard drive and double the graphics memory for that £10 extra. Of course, you won’t get Acer’s neat little touchpad remote, but that’s hardly a must-have gadget.
With this in mind, entrants like the Asus N53SV will throw in slightly lesser specs but similar system performance with a Blu-ray drive for under £700. And there’s the crux of the matter: if you like the idea of the removable touchpad, don’t mind its lack of a Blu-ray drive and moderate gaming interest you, the Ethos 5951G is an interesting proposition. Otherwise not even its remarkable pad makes it worth the outlay.
A nicely-designed, metal-clad multimedia powerhouse, the Ethos
5951G packs generous specifications, excellent connectivity and plenty of
features for its price, not least of which is a unique and innovative removable
touchpad that makes using the machine when hooked up to your TV or stereo a lot
easier. If this feature appeals and you want to run some games, it’s worth
checking out – despite its lack of a Blu-ray drive and somewhat mediocre
screen. Otherwise, these omissions combined with its slight premium means cheaper
alternatives might be a better bet.
Score in detail
Battery Life 7
Processor, Memory & Storage
|Processor||Intel 'Sandy Bridge' Core i5-2410M|
|Processor Speed Standard (Gigahertz)||2.3GHz|
|Memory (RAM) (Gigabyte)||8GB|
|Hard Disk Drive (HDD) (Gigabyte)||750GB|
|Hard Disk Drive Speed (RPM)||5400rpm|
|DVD Optical Drive||Yes|
|Blu-ray Optical Drive||No|
|Processor Speed Maximum (Gigahertz)||2.9GHz|
Graphics & Sound
|Graphics||GeForce GT 540M|
|Audio Connections||3 x 3.5mm for analogue surround sound|
|Operating System||Windows 7|
|Battery life (Hour)||4.5hr|
|Special Features||Removable Touchpad Remote, Backlit Keyboard|
|Weight (With Battery) (Kilogram)||3.3kg|