Just when we'd thought multimedia laptops had lost traction, in comes the positively giant Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G.
This 18.4-inch, 1920x1080 monster's major unique selling point is that you can pop the touch pad out to become a remote control, allowing you to watch movies at a comfortable distance, but still have control.
Press a button on the top right of the touch pad and logos light up on the right-hand side, giving you shortcuts to the music and video players in Acer's included Clear.fi software. At this stage, you still have some space to mouse around, but press it again, and your touch pad becomes a full media remote, lighting up play, fast forward buttons and the like, while taking up the entire space.
It's a great idea in theory, not so much in practice. The cursor is a little laggy when the touch pad is used as a wireless remote, which is fine and to be expected. What's not so great is that when you plug it back into the laptop, the lag still exists, which suggests the touch pad is permanently wireless, with the metal contacts that the touch pad connects with in the base is used purely for charging its battery.
There are also no options for the touch-pad driver, the clearly unfinished software making us suspicious that it might be a Sentelic pad. At the time of writing, Acer had also failed to put touch-pad drivers on its website.
Acer's Clear.fi software is a decent effort at a media centre, but is ruined by the software forcing the touch pad into media mode every time you play something, neglecting to take into account users who just want to use the touch pad as a mouse.
Despite a battery-style hump at the back, the battery pack isn't removable. Even if you open the laptop up, it's barely accessible, meaning that this will absolutely have to go back to a service centre should your battery fail. This is a serious downside for such a large, high-power laptop — the most likely candidate for purchasing a spare battery.
If you do open up the laptop, you'll find two spare DIMM slots for expanding memory, along with an empty mini-PCIe slot to do with whatever you please, one of the bonuses of having extra room to play with.
Audio is helped by an included subwoofer, something that's always welcome. Sadly, the speakers attenuate if volume gets too loud, killing any dramatic effect dynamics may have in music. The included Dolby software goes some way to dialling down this attenuation, but it never really goes away. We found turning off all the options in the Dolby panel improved sound quality markedly, but then we lost a lot of volume. We'd prefer vendors to put in good speakers rather than look to software to fill the hole.
The included Dolby software allows the user to change the level of attenuation, but it never really goes away, leaving crashing rock to sound distant and limp — it's best just to turn everything off in the Dolby panel that way the sound isn't screwed with. Sadly, this also means volume is lost. We'd love for vendors to stop screwing with licensed software solutions, and just put in good speakers already.
Connectivity is plentiful as one would expect for a laptop of this size: four USB 2.0 ports, one USB 2.0 + eSATA port, HDMI, VGA, 5.1 sound out, FireWire 400, gigabit Ethernet, an SD card reader, Blu-ray writer, and the typical Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.