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Laptops

Acer Aspire 8920G preview

The Acer Aspire 8920G is a very promising machine, and one which may set standards in years to come. Coming in four versions, the desktop replacement has a full keyboard and a marvellous 18.4-inch display, mainly because it has a true 16:9, 1080p resolution

Approximately six months ago, Acer debuted its Gemstone series -- a range of laptops that was co-designed by BMW. They were excellent products, spoiled only -- we believe -- by the questionable styling.

Today, Acer has unveiled the latest evolution of the series, known as the Gemstone Blue. Not only are these more stylish than the previous models, but they're the first laptops to feature either 16-inch or 18.4-inch displays that offer true 16:9 aspect ratios. Starting at £899, the Aspire 8920G isn't available until later this week, but we've had the pleasure of testing a pre-production sample of this 18.4-inch desktop replacement.

Upsides
The Aspire 8920G is a very striking laptop, mainly due to its size. In order to accommodate an 18.4-inch display, Acer has had to utilise a very large chassis. Fortunately, its creators have managed to make it fairly attractive. We've seen the glossy piano black lid on countless other laptops and while it's getting a touch boring, it's still fairly pretty.

The most noteworthy thing about this laptop is its 18.4-inch display. It's the first we've seen of this size and the first to run in proper 1080p -- 1,920x1,080 pixels. Unlike other laptops that run in a 16:10 ratio, movies fit the Acer's screen just as the filmmakers intended. The quality of the display is also of a high standard. We didn't spot any blurring or ghosting in fast-moving scenes, and the colour reproduction and viewing angles are excellent.

Much has been said of Acer's CineDash system -- a set of touch-sensitive buttons to the left of the keyboard. These are designed to give you quick, one-touch access to common media control functions like mute, playback, pause, skip and stop. The coolest bit by far, however, is the volume control arc. Slide your finger over it and a set of LED lights follows your finger as you go. It looks fantastic, works well and is reminiscent of the transporter control panel from Star Trek.

Acer includes an integrated Blu-ray drive, tucked into the right side of the laptop. It's a nice addition, and one that many users will want to take advantage of in conjunction with the 16:9 widescreen display. Acer also gives you the chance to output video to a television or projector via the HDMI port on the left side of the laptop. Those without HDMI-enabled external displays can always make use of the standard analogue D-Sub port.

Due to the laptop's sheer size, Acer has been able to incorporate a full-size keyboard with an adjacent dedicated numerical keypard. The keyboard is very easy to type on, and all the keys seem to be in the right place. Our only gripe is the fact the return key is of the flat, rectangular shape rather than the larger, squared return keys you get on most desktop keyboards. As a result, it's harder to touch type and takes some getting used to.

Four versions of the Aspire 8920G will be sold, all of which come with a Blu-ray drive and 4GB of RAM. The £899 entry-level model has a Core 2 Duo T5720 CPU and 320GB hard drive; for £1099, you'll get the same machine but with a faster Core 2 Duo T8300 CPU, while the £1,249 model gives you a faster T9300 CPU, twin 250GB hard drives and a TV Tuner and remote control.

The top-spec £1,399 model also uses a T9300 CPU, but comes with two 320GB hard drives and a superior Nvidia GeForce 9650 GS graphics card. All models have a 6-in-1 memory card reader, 0.3-megapixel webcam, fingerprint reader and 802.11a/b/g/Draft-N wireless.

Downsides
Though the Aspire 8920G is good looking on the outside, the attractiveness level dips slightly when you open the lid. The problem is that there's an awful lot going on. The "Dolby Home Theatre" speaker panel, keyboard, wrist rest and the CineDash panel are all different shades, which can be visually overwhelming. We wonder whether Acer couldn't have made everything look more uniform.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of the laptop is the audio performance. Acer makes a big deal about how great the speakers are on the Aspire 8920G, but make no mistake about it -- they're rubbish. They shouldn't be -- there are five of the things: two just above the keyboard, two below the wrist rest and a subwoofer, which is cleverly integrated into the tubular hinge section below the screen. These run in 5.1-channel surround sound, but they sound truly dreadful.

We've mentioned how cool the CineDash feature is; it's not all peaches and cream. The system doesn't work within Windows Media Center. It does, however, work in Acer's own Acer Arcade Deluxe -- a Media Center facsimile -- but this is no substitute for the real thing. While we're on the subject of media, we should point out the Aspire 8920G does come with an infrared remote control. Unfortunately, it's unattractive and feels cheap.

Obviously, the Aspire 8920G packs some serious performance parts -- relatively speaking. Its screen is also very big and requires plenty of juice to run. As a result, battery life on the 8920G will suffer. We've yet to run benchmarks -- since our pre-production sample refuses even to hold a charge -- but rest assured this isn't the sort of machine you'll want to take on the road.

Outlook
The Aspire 8920G is a very promising machine, and one which may set standards in years to come. The 18.4-inch display in particular is a marvel -- mainly because it has a true 16:9, 1080p resolution. We'll reserve judgement until we see a final sample, but early indications are that Acer is on to a winner.

Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday

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Acer Aspire 8920G preview

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