Editors' note: This review is part of our Holiday 2008 Retail Laptop Roundup, covering specific new configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
If you set out to find the largest laptop for the smallest price, your quarry would be Acer Aspire 5735-4624, a 15.6-inch laptop that lists for $499--and currently selling at Best Buy for $399. That price puts it in Netbook range, but the Aspire 5735 is far from a Netbook in dimensions. At roughly 6 pounds, it weighs more than double that of your typical Netbook and features a roomy 15.6-inch screen with a wide 16:9 aspect ratio. The laptop must cut a few corners on its way to a $399 price, of course, and the Aspire 5735 features a flimsy plastic chassis, clacky mouse buttons, and integrated graphics while a Webcam and HDMI port go missing.
The laptop uses an older dual-core Pentium processor, which offers performance on par with a lower-end Core 2 Duo-based laptop such as this Dell Inspiron 1525 or the Gateway T-6836, and decidedly more oomph than you'd get from a single-core Intel Atom chip. It's hard to be too critical of such a low-cost laptop, particularly one with such an attractive price-performance ratio, but we still say it's best for movie lovers in need of a basic laptop. It will suffice for general laptop bargain hunters, too, provided they don't mind toting around an extra-wide laptop and can get used to the offset keyboard and touchpad (thanks to the presence of a number pad) and the keyboard's slightly cramped dimensions.
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200|
|Memory||2GB at 667MHz|
|Hard drive||160GB, 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3400MHD (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||15.1 x 9.8 x 1.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight||5.9 pounds|
The Aspire 5735 is the first 15.6-inch laptop we've seen. A standard 15.4-inch laptop features a display with a 16:10 aspect ratio, which means HD content and movies get the letterbox treatment, with black bands at the top and bottom of the screen when viewed at the proper 16:9 ratio (and not stretched to fill the screen). While movies fit nicely on the short but wide display, you'll find yourself scrolling through Web pages or long Excel documents for the simple fact that there are fewer rows of pixels. The Aspire 5735 features a 1,366x768 native resolution, whereas a 15.4-inch laptop will provide a 1,280x800 resolution or even 1,440x900 resolution. The relatively low resolution on this Aspire makes icons and text large and legible, but you can't really have two open windows side by side without a lot of overlap.
The display features a glossy screen coating, from which we generally try to steer mainstream buyers away, but it make sense here in such an entertainment-minded system. Movies showed vivid color and smooth movement, though some digital noise was evident in lighter scenes and along edges of objects. The laptop's stereo speakers emit weak sound; even at max volume, you'll find yourself hunched over the laptop in order to hear the dialog in a movie.
We're beginning to see this movie-friendly aspect ratio on 16- and 18-inch models (exhibits A, B, C, and D), and the added width here allows Acer to outfit the Aspire 5735 with a dedicated number pad. Unless you're an Excel jockey, we question its utility here, since number pads are of most use to gamers, and the Aspire 5735 lacks a dedicated graphics card. The keyboard feels a bit cramped, too, for such a large laptop. The space bar and left Ctrl key have been shortened. There is also a wide gap between the bottom row of keys and the wrist rest, which looks sure to attract dust and dirt and raise the potential of catching the underside of a key and snapping it off. (Disclaimer: This reviewer has two small children, who are surprisingly adept at inflicting damage upon electronics. Their small fingers, in particular, are seemingly well suited to the removal of keys from keyboards.)
The Aspire 5735's lid is a deep, glossy blue, which presents an upscale look. Open up the laptop, and you'll find other evidence of its extreme budget status, including a flimsy, plastic chassis. The wrist rest is prone to flex, especially to the left of the touchpad. The mouse buttons are of the loud, clacky variety, and the touchpad and buttons are sunken a bit into the wrist in such a way that it leaves an uncomfortable ridge in front of the mouse buttons. Media transport shortcut keys are absent; you need to employ the Function key and a row of keys below the number pad to play, pause, fast forward, and rewind. Lastly, the two LED indicator lights along glow a very bright green or orange, which may detract from your dark-room movie-viewing experience.
Above the keyboard is a row of four buttons: Wi-Fi on/off, volume up, volume down, and Bluetooth on/off. This model does not include Bluetooth, however. A button in the upper-left corner is marked with an "e" and calls up Acer's "Empowering Technology," which is a lofty title for a collection of shortcuts that let you adjust power management settings, view system info, encrypt specific folders or files, create a backup.
|Acer Aspire 5735-4624||Average for mainstream category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, multiformat card reader||4 USB 2.0, multiformat card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Aspire 5735 offers a basic collection of ports, which should hardly come as a surprise given its bargain-basement price. You won't find an HDMI port, which is becoming increasingly prevalent on laptops of all size and price. And although the system features Windows Vista Home Premium, which includes the Media Center shell, you won't find a remote control in the box for that 10-foot interface that Media Center can provide. You will be able to take advantage of the faster throughput and range of Draft N wireless networks; we were pleasantly surprised to find the Aspire 5735 to offer 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
Among the four entry-level retail laptops we reviewed this month, the Acer Aspire 5735 did well for itself, turning in similar performance as the Dell Inspiron 1525-139B and the Gateway T-6330U--not surprisingly since all three laptops feature the same Pentium Dual Core T3200 processor. The thing is, the Aspire 5735 costs $250 less than these two entry-level laptops. Its price puts it in low-cost Netbook territory, and you can see that it offers clearly superior performance to a single-core Intel Atom-based Netbook like the Asus Eee PC 901. In anecdotal testing, applications loaded quickly and only under heavy multitasking scenarios did we sometimes experience a hiccup. On the whole, we were pleasantly surprised with the Aspire 5735's performance--its more than acceptable given the low price.
Battery life, too, is more than acceptable. On CNET Labs' battery drain test, it ran for 2 hours 20 minutes. You can see the benefits of the low-power Atom chip when you look at the Asus Eee PC 901 battery life, but this Netbook has the advantage of a smaller display, a solid-state hard drive, and the efficient Atom CPU, all of which go toward helping battery life.