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The Acer Aspire 4920G is a fascinating beast -- a 14.1-inch notebook with surprisingly powerful guts (complete with ATI Mobility Radeon X2500 and 2GB RAM), a polished up exterior and overhauled sound, with a questionable design ethic and a few interesting omissions.
The exterior is detailed in the currently all-too-popular piano black, that seemingly coaxes fingerprints out of the ether which are intensely difficult to remove. In the middle of the lid is an inlaid section of a slightly sparkly material reminiscent of graphite. It's a nice touch that makes the notebook feel a little more sophisticated.
This is spoiled when you open it up and are greeted with the single most boring grey possibly conceived of by the human mind, kindly called "ceramic" by Acer. The design is not entirely unattractive, but the choice in colour screams "beige is back!" in capital, neon, flashing letters. It's so utilitarian in its function that it wouldn't look out of place in a navy sub.
Fortunately then the bit you actually have to look at, the 1,280x800 resolution screen, is quite nice indeed, even if the high reflectivity makes it difficult to use in high light situations. No option exists for a matte screen.
The top right hosts a set of quick access media buttons, lit by blue LEDs. These don't seem to be customisable, so while the play button will launch your default music player, the other buttons are quite useless in anything except Windows Media Player. Fortunately the buttons on the left are a different kitchen appliance filled with aquatic vertebrates, the quick e-mail/Web browser buttons and even the vaunted "gemstone", a clear plastic button that brings up widget style access to Acer's software suite all able to launch pre-selected programs or Web addresses.
The touchpad follows the increasingly common practice of not marking where the scroll pad is, although this is perfectly acceptable considering the width of the zone is customisable. Not so common is the inclusion of a middle mouse button. This sadly doesn't function as a middle button, but a four way directional pad that can help with scrolling. Given that this can already be achieved with great precision through the touchpad, the inclusion is puzzling at best.
A decent whack of real estate is taken up by the Dolby Virtual Surround Sound speaker. While the words sound exciting, and Acer's advertisements seem to promise complete immersion, the reality is that they're slightly louder than speakers from other notebooks, afford a little more detail in the midrange, and comes with a bunch of presets that barely skim the surface of satisfactory. Volume also seems to be hard limited at a set level -- if you try to push the gain higher in something like Winamp and play back a song, crescendos are artificially limited, creating a sort of sucking noise as the dynamics are forced back onto a flat line. No doubt this is to physically protect the speakers, and we were pushing them beyond their limits, however the effect is, simply put, awful. In short, while better than most, the speakers aren't worth the price hike compared to competing notebooks.
Acer's "Empowering" software suite is, like many brands, window dressing for common functions already included in Windows, accessible via the "gemstone" button at the top left. Unlike other software suites it's presented in a widget fashion, and is actually well designed, non-obtrusive and easy to use. Full marks to Acer on this one. There's also a program called "GridVista", allowing you to restrict maximised windows to certain zones. This lets you use, say, half the screen instead of full for an application, allowing you to easily use and view two applications at once. Crapware was thankfully left to a minimum, the only vexing entry being the annoying Yahoo toolbar.