The Acer Aspire 9802WKMi (along with its higher-spec sibling, the 9804WKMi -- together, the 9800 series) is the second 20-inch laptop to reach the UK. Like the Dell XPS M2010 before it, it's difficult to imagine a market for such a product. It's too large to be considered a traditional laptop, and it lacks the upgradeability of a desktop PC. However, like the well-received M2010, the Aspire 9802WKMi does have a place. It should appeal to users who want a computer that has a large screen, plenty of power and moderate portability.
Acer hasn't been particularly adventurous with the Aspire 9802WKMi's design. Sure, its 20-inch screen is a novel feature, but the laptop bears more than a passing resemblance to every other laptop in the Aspire range. There's the familiar silver lid with a shiny Acer logo in the centre, and on the inside a black keyboard and mouse touchpad surrounded by smooth and brushed silver-coloured plastic. It's certainly not the most adventurous design we've seen, but the whole thing feels very well put together.
One surprising aspect of its design is the fact that the screen portion of the laptop is thicker than the base section. This design gives the laptop an inherent instability when sat upright, as the screen could cause the entire device to tilt backwards. Acer has tried to prevent this by installing a plastic bracket that sticks out of the back of the base section. It's an effective measure, but it spoils the appearance of the laptop slightly.
The screen is surrounded by a glossy black bezel. Towards the top of it there's a 1.3-megapixel camera, dubbed the Orbicam because of its ability to follow a subject's face around a room. Next to the camera there's a switch for manually adjusting the height of the lens.
The laptop has a large, comfortable keyboard, to the right of which is a dedicated numerical keypard that aids fast input of numerical data. We were also pleased to see the mouse touchpad has a four-way rocker between the two buttons that can be used to navigate through documents.
To the left of the keyboard there's a set of media control buttons for cycling back and forth through audio tracks and adjusting the system volume. These are joined by the Acer Arcade button, which launches a clone of the Media Center portion of the Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system. Above the main keyboard, there are buttons for quick-launching an email client, a Web browser, an application of your choice and putting the laptop into a power-saving hibernation mode. The latter is a nice touch, but most people will prefer to use the cursor buttons on the keyboard.
The front portion of the Aspire 9802WKMi is home to line-in, microphone and headphone audio ports. These are in a great position for attaching a set of headphones, but you'll see plenty of unsightly wiring if you connect a permanent set of speakers. Rear-facing audio ports would have been a better solution.
Happily, the front is also home to two switches for activating or deactivating the integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi adaptors. The majority of the front section is covered by a mesh that's somewhat reminiscent of chicken wire, and behind it is a pair of speakers -- one on either side. The bottom of the laptop is home to a subwoofer.
The Aspire 9802WKMi's 20-inch screen one of the best displays we've seen on any laptop. It's bright (200 cd/m2), clear, has a wide horizontal and vertical viewing angle, and proved a joy to use in a variety of applications. Its 16:10 widescreen aspect ratio (running at a resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels) makes it ideal for watching DVD or DivX movies, and its glossy screen coating helps enhance contrast and intensity of colours. The glossy coating makes the screen prone to picking up unwanted reflections, but this didn't prove a problem during our tests.
Acer has thoughtfully set the laptop's font size to 120 dots per inch (dpi) -- which is 125 per cent larger than normal. This is a welcome move, as it makes text more readable and reduces the likelihood of having to squint -- a common occurrence with many laptops.
Though it matches the Dell XPS M2010 for girth, the Acer Aspire 9802WKMi isn't quite as powerful. The top-spec 9804WKMi model has a 2.0GHz T2400 Intel Centrino Duo processor, but our 9802WKMi review sample uses the more pedestrian T2300 CPU, running at 1.66GHz, and 1GB of DDR2 RAM running at 667MHz. This specification can more commonly be found on mid-range thin-and-light laptops, so to see it in a hefty 20-inch device is slightly disconcerting.
The Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 graphics card in the Aspire 9802WKMi is a far better solution than the integrated Intel graphics cards found in most laptops. It provides enough graphical horsepower to run high-definition movies and modern games, although you won't be able to run the latest titles properly at full resolution with full-screen anti-aliasing (FSAA) or anisotropic filtering (AF) image enhancements enabled.
TV buffs will be happy at the inclusion of an AVerMedia Hybrid analogue/digital TV tuner card that lets you watch and record one Freeview (or analogue) station while you watch another. The laptop doesn't use Windows XP Media Center Edition, but browsing your multimedia files is made easy thanks to the inclusion of the Acer Aspire Arcade software -- a Media Center clone. It's not quite as feature-rich as Microsoft's offering, but it's a welcome addition, particularly as it can be used with the accompanying Acer remote control.
The 9802WKMi has a pair of 120GB hard drives arranged in a RAID 0 configuration and offers a total storage capacity of 240GB. This will appeal to anyone with a large file collection and will please speed freaks as the RAID 0 configuration allows faster disc access time than you'd get if using a single hard drive. User data is broken down into chunks with each chunk written to a separate disc. Because the load is spread across multiple drives, input/output speed is greatly increased.
Acer initially piqued our interest in the Aspire 9802WKMi by claiming it would be the company's first laptop equipped with an HD DVD drive. Sadly it has shipped without an HD DVD drive -- in its place you get a Matshita UJ845S 8-speed DVD rewriter. It's a dual-layer model, so it can create backups of up to 8.5GB on compatible discs, but we'd have preferred if Acer had been able to supply a next-generation optical drive.
The Aspire 9802WKMi is one of the largest laptops in the world, but it's definitely not among the fastest. Its Intel T2300 processor runs at a modest 1.66GHz, so it's not the ideal platform if you intend to do loads of processor-intensive tasks such video editing and encoding. It's a dual-core processor though, so it'll handle everyday tasks without batting an eyelid, as indicated by its PCMark 2005 score of 2,841.
The Aspire 9802WKMi's graphics performance wasn't particularly inspiring either. Kudos to Acer for not relying on an Intel integrated graphics adaptor, but the GeForce 7600 card it has chosen offers only average gaming performance. It achieved a 3DMark 2006 score of 3,213, which is good enough to run Doom 3 at 78 frames per second at a resolution of 1,280x1,024 pixels. At maximum image quality at a resolution of 1,600x1,200 pixels the frame rate dropped to an average of 32fps.