Acer Aspire 9504WSMi
At a Glance
Acer Aspire 9504WSMi Notebook
A fine Media Center notebook with impressive features and performance is held back by awkward keyboard and speakers.
The Acer Aspire 9504WSMi, with Windows XP Media Center Edition, is a good entertainment notebook that has the power to serve as an office workhorse. The sheer breadth of its features is impressive. However, this Aspire doesn't quite get everything right; in particular, the speakers and the keyboard don't do justice to this sturdy black-and-silver unit.
I liked the screen, a dazzling 17-inch display with an easy-to-read WXGA+ resolution of 1440 by 900 pixels. The laptop's 120GB 5400-rpm hard drive is top of the line, and the multiformat DVD burner is the same sleek, slot-fed type found on Apple notebooks.
The entertainment applications--for TV, DVD movies, music, and photos--and the hardware required to support them, including a built-in TV tuner and a remote control, mesh nicely for the most part. Moreover, the 9504WSMi offers the rare option of instant-on TV, which saves you the hassle of turning on the notebook and launching Media Center Edition just to catch the evening news. Acer's stand-alone Arcade software, with its dedicated controls on the front of the notebook, also plays movies, music, and photos at the press of a button, so you don't have to start Windows to enjoy your media. Bonus audiovisual connections include a DVI-D port for taking in a movie on your flat-panel screen and ports for downloading camcorder and VHS video, a plus for home-movie aficionados. Five USB ports, conveniently scattered all over the case, handle other peripherals.
Battery life is good for this big, 8.5-pound notebook, at a little more than 3 hours on one charge. And its speed was red-hot in our tests, earning a WorldBench 5 score of 99--no surprise since the 9504WSMi is loaded with high-performance components, including a 2-GHz Pentium M 760 processor and 2GB of RAM.
Considering all you get, the $2299 price is not bad, but several compromises become noticeable drawbacks. One is the keyboard, which will make number crunchers happy with its dedicated numeric keypad but will disappoint touch typists despite its size. The right Shift key is no bigger than a regular alphanumeric key, and the arrow and question mark keys are half-size. To advance pages you must use the keypad, which is too far away to reach easily and clumsily separates the PgUp and PgDn keys with the right arrow key. The four-way scroll button is a nice bonus, but it feels flimsy.
My other beefs are with the stereo speakers--which lack a subwoofer and distort a bit at high volume (something resonates inside the case)--and with the lack of a docking station. None of these failings are deal breakers alone; put them all together, however, and the 9504WSMi is not the most attractive entertainment-cum-desktop-replacement option.
So-so sound and a cramped keyboard limit this otherwise well-equipped desktop replacement and entertainment laptop.