Acer Aspire ‘Gemstone’ 5920
The past two weeks have been all about notebooks as I test-drive the latest models from Acer; the Acer Aspire ‘Gemstone’ 5920 and the TravelMate 9810. However this review is all about the interestingly named, Gemstone laptop.
I think that this is perhaps the first time that Acer have actually devoted any time and effort in to actually ‘designing’ a product (aside from the Ferrari range) with its elegant cerami-white finish on the inside and a highly polished and glossy black exterior. Acer really have gone all out to make this notebook look as stunning and as different as they could to differentiate it from its past designs. So carry on reading to find out more about whether Acers’ attempt at producing a stylish and ‘all bells and whistles’ machine a success.
At the heart of this precious Gemstone is a Core 2 Duo T7300 running at 2.0GHz complemented by a generous 2GB of 667MHz RAM and backed by a capacious 160GB hard drive. An extra 1GB of Intel Turbo Memory is also included to help keep things running smoothly and increasing hard drive performance.
You will also be impressed by the performance-driven GeForce 8600M-GT chip from NVIDIA, one of the latest and greatest mobile graphics chip to hit the market and I’m impressed that this model has it considering the price point it’s at.
The mandatory wireless chip that is found in even the $100+ OLPC these days comes in the form of an Intel Wi-Fi chip that is compatible with the usual b and g standards as well as a and draft-N wireless. Throw in Bluetooth 2.0 EDR and you’ve got yourself a full deck of cards for all the wireless options you could possibly need (apart from a 3G data card but we will ignore that for now).
Flip open the screen and you will find a 0.3 megapixel web cam is built in to the latch opener that pulls out like a car door handle, no doubt inspiration from a car and to a certain extent works well but I would question its reliability over time.
VGA and S-Video are included in this model for video out options but perhaps it’s time to put VGA out of its misery and stick a DVI connection in there. No? Maybe it’s still early days for that since so many devices tend to have VGA (such as projectors in the conference room). So what do us HD content lovers have to do for the time being? The answer is shove in an HDMI port of course, what better way to get HD content from your notebook on to the big screen without Vista downscaling it or trying to stop you from playing it since HDCP is present thanks to the NVIDIA chip.
Another feature of this notebook that Acer has been trying to innovate is the sound system. In an attempt to add some style to what is nothing more than a speaker grille, Acer have got Dolby Home Theater certification for the built in surround sound speakers that is housed under a uniquely styled (and patent pending I think) grille, more about this later though.
Whilst the model that was sent to me had the DVD-Super Multi double layer drive there is the higher end model that includes a HD DVD drive for the ultimate movie buff or tech geek who wants to be in on the latest tech trend.
Use the 5-in-1 card reader to transfer files across from your flash memory cards with support for the latest formats, MMC, SD, xD, MS and MS Pro. It’s unfortunate that Mini-SD, Micro SD and M2 cards aren’t supported as these are becoming common amongst portable devices, especially for mobile phones.
A glossy 1280 x 800 15.4-inch widescreen display was able to reproduce vibrant colours in photos, rich blacks and very pure white in my DVD and Image viewing tests. As is the issue with all things glossy, reflections are a nuisance and can only be negated by having a high brightness backlight. The Gemstone does have a reasonable bright screen however in outdoor conditions it can be quite difficult to view the screen.
Rounded edges, smooth surfaces, contrasting exterior and blue LED’s are what make this notebooks rather large proportions looking quite tidy. My photos don’t do it justice, largely down to the lack in photographic skills but also down to the fact that glossy finish to the notebook makes it incredibly difficult to get a decent shot without it becoming a mirror not to mention the colour of the unit.
At first glance the Gemstone does look attractive to the naked eye, just make sure that no greasy fingerprints come near that outer shell because it’s a bugger for showing finger marks. Aside from that issue though, the holographic Acer logo adds to a nice touch on the exterior and shows that the designers have spent some time being anal about how it is seen.
It’s interesting to note that it was the BMW design group that came up with the Gemstone design and part of the spec for the design task was that the Gemstone could be recognised from a 5 metre distance.
The interior of the Acer Gemstone is finished in a white material that the spec sheet lists as ‘Cerami-finish’ that feels clean and durable that is also easy to keep clean. Perhaps it’s a combination of ceramic and plastic materials, I wasn’t able to dig up any further details but it does work well.
Inside you will find the puzzling media flow line that is meant to activate whilst you’re doing certain things but the only time I managed to get any part of it up was when I had the charger plugged in. The whole idea is that a line of blue LED lights trace around the edges of the laptop down to the track pad. Perhaps if they took that idea and made it in to a backlit keyboard then it would be both more stylish and have some useful functionality rather than put these lights in for the sake of it, think of the battery drain people.
You can find a set of shortcut keys and control keys on the left and right hand side of the keyboard, nothing new with these apart from one very discrete button that you wouldn’t really notice unless you touched it by accident. I’m talking about the small dot on the right hand side, give it a light tap or brush over and it emits a beep and starts to launch an assigned application. It’s a cool feature but a little odd and if you’re not careful you can easily launch the application by mistake, which as you can imagine can be quite annoying, however the button has been placed in a location that is out of the way most of the time. A minor issue that I discovered with the shortcut keys on the bottom left hand side is the inclusion of a blank key, which is strangely reminiscent of what you find in a car that doesn’t have all the deluxe package added on to it, why is this required on a laptop?
With a Core 2 Duo chip inside running at 2GHz, Vista ran briskly especially since it’s got 2GB of RAM to chew on and a DX10 graphics card. An interesting new feature that I’ve not come across before is the integration of onboard flash memory, what Intel has dubbed ‘Turbo’ memory. This 1GB chip is fully Vista compliant for the ReadyBoost feature that gives Vista extra RAM and a temporary cache. You can however store whatever you want on this drive although the 1GB isn’t really enough room for games, which is perhaps the critical application you would use it for.
Gaming performance was better than expected from a notebook, my experience of gaming on a notebook has usually been a disappointing one with graphics options mostly turned down or turned off completely due to lack of raw processing power. The Gemstone however holds its own very well. I was able to turn on pretty much all of the settings on to High or Very High on the latest release of the Command and Conquer series, which my PC barely runs on Medium. The clarity of the glossy CrystalBrite screen was fantastic for games with vivid colours making the experience all the more better to put up with even with a small screen.
Sound comes courtesy of the Dolby Home Theatre certified speaker system that is meant to reproduce the Surround Sound effect. Whilst I didn’t hear no surround sound at any point in time or from any application, whether it be DVD, CD or game, quality of the audio and volume was impressive with an acceptable amount of bass and a distinct lack of tinniness to the sound, which is always welcome. Bass comes not from the main speaker just below the screen but a separate downward firing subwoofer at the bottom of the notebook.
3D performance to say the least is fantastic for the Aspire 5920 especially considering its expected price point of £799 for a Santa Rosa laptop, whilst it’s no high end ultimate demon performance machine, it does well as a notebook gaming machine for the casual gamer.
Battery life varies anywhere from just over 2 hours when playing a DVD and when browsing the web using the WiFi connection, you can expect to achieve a shade over 3 hours of operation time.
The formula that Acer has concocted this time round for their Aspire range is one that I think will gain it some success and headway in to the mainstream market who are style conscious. So much of that market however is already fortified by the likes of Apple and Sony so it’s anybody’s guess as to whether the Gemstone range will fall in to the cool and wanted category or if it will just belong to an exclusive club like the Ferrari range has become.
Designers of the Gemstone have come up with an innovative design whilst unique in looks in its own right, is also similar to the likes of HP’s range of notebooks. The polished ‘gemstone’ exterior with its rounded edges gives the impression that this notebook is smaller than it actually is, pick it up and you’ll be surprised by both its X and Y dimensions.
If you can see past the irregularities, you will find a trendy notebook that offers superb performance for the money they’re going to be throwing this out at and you also have the option to upgrade to a HD-DVD drive making it perfect as a media entertainment system on the road or at home.
The Acer Gemstone isn’t going to win any awards for portability, but then again this isn’t what this is about, for £799.99 you get a Santa Rosa notebook with all the trimmings like a decent graphics card and Intel Turbo Memory, features that you typically find on a higher end notebook.