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Acer Aspire 8920G review: Acer Aspire 8920G

Acer's interesting take on the entertainment desktop replacement makes a few good steps, a few bad, but ultimately is a viable option.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
5 min read

Acer has definitely come a long way in the Gemstone series with the Gemstone Blue. While the company certainly hasn't hit HP's level of design, it's a step in the right direction. While the plastic faux-metal-kickplate wrist rest feels and looks cheap, the full-sized keyboard is great to use, the trackpad is accurate and the styling is leaps ahead of the previous bland greyness inflicted by the last in the series. Somewhat vexingly, the trackpad isn't active all the way to the edge, and so when using the virtual scroll button you have to make sure you swipe in further from the right-hand side than you'd usually expect.


Acer Aspire 8920G

The Good

Good quality screen. 16:9 ratio. "Cinetouch" media navigation. New design. Acer Empowerment software.

The Bad

Cheap plastic wrist rest. Cinetouch panel too high friction. Entire mouse pad isn't active. Integration between media controls, Acer Arcade Deluxe and Windows Media Center is lacking. Single TV tuner only. Sound management is not made easy, with different options in three different places. Yahoo toolbar.

The Bottom Line

Acer's interesting take on the entertainment desktop replacement makes a few good steps, a few bad, but ultimately is a viable option.

The 8920G is an 18.4-inch, LED back-lit 1,920 by 1,080 screened laptop -- both firsts as far as we're aware. You'll certainly notice the 16:9 aspect ratio, which gives you a letterbox-like aspect and can make you feel you're suck in a movie while typing. The screen also claims to have "100% more color range" -- more colours than what it fails to tell, although another sticker claims 90 percent colour gamut -- presumably NTSC. Regardless of these discrepancies, the screen's colour representation is very nice indeed.

The most attention-demanding feature is most certainly the capacitive-touch media control interface on the left of the keyboard, which Acer has dubbed "Cinetouch". We say interface, but frankly it's more like an abstract art piece, that takes a while to figure out exactly what everything was meant to be. After a little self introduction we were able to navigate, set volume, and control our media playback with ease through Acer's included media centre software, Acer Arcade Deluxe, but is made near useless in Windows Media Center by the fact that the back button doesn't work in it. We also feel the friction of the control interface needs to be reduced for it to be used effectively -- as it stands, we'd prefer to use the included, dead ugly Windows Media Center compatible remote -- at least the back button works there.

Windows Media Center is also rigged to run Acer Arcade Deluxe if you choose the "Play Movie" function -- and there's no way to close the application down from the remote when finished, leaving you with the fall back option of hitting the green Media Center button in the middle of the remote to call back the original program, while leaving Arcade Deluxe running in the background. Sloppy.

The power button at the top left glows blue, as does the control interface (unless you press the "Hold" button, in which case only that is lit), but you can't turn these off at any point, even when watching a movie -- which is high level distraction. In the same vein, Acer has taken a cue from Apple and has lit the company logo up on the back of the monitor.

The 8920G claims 5.1 surround Dolby certified sound, and this time it gets close to the promise of decent sound -- however, despite the large amount of tweaking done in the three separate areas of sound management (under the sound device's properties, through the Empowering technology bar, and through Acer HD Audio Manager in the control panel), we couldn't achieve an acceptable level of clarity, probably down to the fact that there are so many speakers jammed into such a small space, all trying to do different things.

If you're sitting at a distance watching a movie, the end effect is far too much treble to the point of wincing, if you're sitting at the laptop the effect is a lack of definition, regardless of how many of the sound profiles you cycle through, or how you alter the "Room Correction" settings. It handled Muse's Hysteria reasonably well, a track that typically punishes laptop speakers with distortion and clipping, but the end effect simply felt hollow and restrained. We're afraid as usual that this means for those who like decent quality audio, it's still headphones, HDMI out into a decent system, or the combined optical/3.5mm audio jack into some good speakers.

The Acer "Empowerment" menu, accessible from the big "e" marked button in the top right has received an upgrade, but remains one of the most useful vendor-created laptop customisation tools we've used, this time with the aforementioned added sound profiles. A fingerprint scanner is nestled between the mouse buttons, while a webcam and microphone is situated at the top of the monitor.

We mentioned earlier that the laptop features a 16:9 aspect ratio compared to the usual 16:10, to give a more movie-like feel -- as well as the 5.1 sound Acer has added in a Blu-ray optical drive, 320GB hard drive and a digital TV tuner to seal the experience, all driven by a Core 2 Duo T8300, 3GB RAM and NVIDIA GeForce 9500M GS. In short, this thing was designed, born and bred to be a media laptop, even if it is missing a second TV tuner which would allow you to both record and watch different channels.

Ports offered are modem, Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, four USB, SPDIF/headphone, speaker and microphone, as well as SD/xD/MMC/MS card reader and Express Card 54 slot, in which the included VoIP phone can be docked when not in use. Tellingly, there's a complete lack of FireWire.

Given the specs, performance was quite good, with 3DMark06 pulling in 3,158 and PCMark taking 5,475. This makes it suitable for all things media and production, and means it should run older games like Half-Life 2 just fine.

Turning off all power-saving features and setting screen brightness to maximum while we played back a DVD, the laptop battery lasted one hour, 37 minutes and 47 seconds. For a laptop of this size that's quite impressive, and indicates the presence of a high capacity, 8-cell battery.

While we have been justifiably harsh on the Aspire 8920G in some areas, there's no doubt it represents exceptional value. At AU$2,699, an 18.4-inch screen with Blu-ray capability can't be ignored. If you're looking for a desktop replacement that won't break the bank, this is a decent option.