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.