It's easy enough to find a thin, sexy 13-inch laptop, such as the Dell Adamo or Apple MacBook. Finding one for less than $1,000 is a little tougher, as the base model aluminum MacBook starts at $1,299 (yes, there's a $999 plastic model, too), and HP's recent Pavilion dv3 is certainly inexpensive, but it's not particularly petite (and, until very recently, was only available with an AMD CPU).
Acer's new Aspire 3935 manages to fit a standard Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 3GB of RAM, and a decent 250GB hard drive into a slim chassis with a brushed metal finish, all for $899. The trade-offs are the integrated graphics (the standard MacBook offers Nvidia's excellent GeForce 9400 GPU), a touch pad that's merely adequate, and a dearth of any kind of video output besides VGA.
|Price as reviewed||$899|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350|
|Memory||3GB, 1066MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions||12.8 inches wide by 9.3 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.2/5.0 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
The eye-catching Acer Aspire 3935 is only 1-inch thick, and the attractive bronze chassis has a brushed-metal overlay on the back of the lid. It's not as sturdy as the all-metal construction of the ($400-more-expensive) MacBook, but it generally felt solid and well-built, with a couple of exceptions. The plastic optical-drive tray wiggled and clicked under our fingers whenever we picked the system up, and we could occasionally hear the hard drive shutter and groan during even gentle handling.
A familiar-looking keyboard apes those found on Apple, Sony, and recent Dell laptops, with widely spaced, flat-topped keys. It's comfortable and easy to use, and includes full page-up and page-down keys, which we always find useful. The touch pad is usable but slightly cramped, and the mouse buttons require a firm click to register. The touchpad does, however, include a handful of multitouch gesture controls, including a photo-zooming pinch, and two-finger horizontal scrolling. We're fans of touch-pad gestures, but actually getting the gestures to register was hit-or-miss, and the small touch pad surface didn't give us a lot of room to work.
The 13.3-inch wide-screen LED display offers a 1,366x768 native resolution, which is standard for a 16:9 screen this size, and slightly higher than the usual 1,200x800 found on most non-16:9 13-inch laptops. The display was bright and easy to read, but also very glossy, so be warned if stray light reflections bother you.
|Acer Aspire 3935-6504||Average for category [thin-and-light]|
|Video||VGA-out||VGA, mini-HDMI or Mini-DVI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Acer Aspire 3935 performed on par with other mid-priced 13-inch laptops, such as HP's AMD-powered Pavilion dv3z, and Gateway's Gateway UC7807u. None were a match for the more expensive MacBook, but in the 13-inch category, Dell's high-end $2,000 Adamo was far behind in each of our benchmark tests, thanks to its slower ultra-low voltage CPU (although that same chip helps the Adamo be arguably the slimmest laptop on the market today).
In anecdotal use, we found the Aspire 3935 well-suited for everyday multitasking, including Web surfing, media playback, and working on office documents. The integrated Intel graphics aren't going to do much more than play casual Web games--another area where the MacBook has an advantage, with its Nvidia GeForce 9400 graphics.
The Acer Aspire 3935 ran for 3 hours and 2 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included four-cell battery. That's decent for a 13-inch laptop, but a few models, such as the HP dv3z and the 13-inch MacBook, can run for much longer. Our battery drain test is a grueling one, so you can expect longer life from casual use. Acer also includes a button labeled PowerSmart above the keyboard, which automatically dims the display and changes the color scheme to Vista basic, along with a few other power profile tweaks. It's nothing you can't do yourself manually, but the one-button operation is handy.