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Acer Aspire 1705SCi

Too big to be a laptop?

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Review It's hard to know exactly where to start when reviewing the Acer Aspire 1705SCi, since it's such a strange mix of positives and negatives. A laptop the size of a suitcase, boasting some truly exceptional specifications and yet some basic errors. In fact, is it even a laptop? asks Gordon Kelly.

After all, how do you define a semi-portable PC that measures 37.8 x 32 x 5.5cm and weighs over 7kg? It's nearly twice the size of a so-called desktop replacement, its charging unit is as big as my shoe and I could probably be as comfortable dragging an iMac around with me.

Acer Aspire 1705SCi

So what, exactly, is Acer trying to do? Essentially, it's trying to go one step further than the desktop replacement by creating a giant laptop that you use as your main PC, which can also be transported between home and the office as necessary. How has Acer tried to achieve this, beyond building the biggest luggable known to man? Well a quick look at the specs will provide a better insight. For the Aspire 1705SCi is almost half desktop, incorporating a 3.06GHz P4 desktop processor, 512MB of DDR SDRAM and full size 3.5in 120GB 7200rpm ATA-100 hard drive. A dampener on this power-packed feature set is the SiS M650 integrated graphics chipset, although a variety of Nvidia GeForce chips can be specified at additional cost.

But the highlight of this product, and certainly its biggest selling point, is the stunning 17in display. Now Acer isn't the first company to fit a 17in screen to a laptop. Apple impressively incorporated one into its PowerBook range last year and it weighs a lot less than the Aspire 1705SCi. That said, the display from Acer is truly stunning. The colours are bright and sharp right through to the edges and it can hold its own alongside most standalone TFTs. And if you play a DVD in the supplied eight-speed DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, the picture will blow you away.

There's also built-in 802.11b wireless LAN which worked flawlessly, and surprisingly, a set of integrated stereo speakers that are reasonably clear and loud.

However...
Of course, there is a 'but...' and in the Aspire 1705SCi's case it's a big one, because while its advanced features stand out, the basics are a bit of a mess.

For a start, it is all well and good having a large, beautiful 17in screen but navigating around it when your touchpad has the two stiffest left and right selector buttons I've ever used is another matter. Pressing the right button two or three times to get it to respond is simply ludicrous, and successfully pulling off a simple drag and drop should not make you feel like you've just come back from the gym. Still, if any laptop was designed to be used with a separate mouse it is probably the Aspire 1705SCi, but I still find it incredible that such a fundamental part of the machine has been implemented so badly.

But if the touchpad can be circumvented, the keyboard can't and like the touchpad it's a bit of a nightmare. At this point, I have to say I was actually looking forward to using what Acer claimed was a full-size keyboard which also includes a full-size numeric pad, but ironically the layout is where all the problems lie.

For a start, Acer's wording is ambiguous as not all the keys are full size. Some have been shrunk to almost half size while others have mysteriously ballooned to nearly double their usual proportions. And what has Acer decided to shrink? Commonly used keys such as Full Stop, Return, Right Shift, Question Mark and the @ key, while on the left hand side of the keyboard the Caps Lock, Tab and the Left Shift are ludicrously big which knocks the whole alignment of the keyboard out. It is a disaster for touch typists, and each time you move for the tiny full stop key it feels like a lucky dip.

Then there is the battery life, and while it may not be the most important feature on a product this size, I was disappointed to see it last under two hours.

So both internally and externally the Acer Aspire 1705SCi is a mixed bag. It offers up excellence and nonsense in equal measures but what is annoying is that all its worst aspects should never have been issues in the first place. Acer got all the difficult bits right.

Performance

All of which pains me to tell you that the performance of the Aspire 1705SCi is superb. In PC Mark 2002, the Aspire 1705SCi's CPU and memory scores were among the very highest we have seen with scores of 7196 and 4690 respectively. But this was nothing when compared to the hard drive which scored an incredible 1265, more than doubling anything we have seen in a notebook to date. A remarkable achievement but not enough to offset the poor ergonomics.

Naturally, the SiS integrated graphics in our review model do not match the latest mobile graphics chipsets from ATI and Nvidia but I can forgive this as it's clearly not designed for games. And with a retail price of £1387 you get a lot for your money (no pun intended), although I'm sure the use of so many desktop components has helped Acer to keep the price down.

On reflection, however, I'm still not convinced. Had Acer got everything right, that there is much of a market out there for a 7kg hybrid laptop. To me the point of laptops and desktops are that they provide different functions. Sure, you can make a small PC using a Shuttle case, or lug around a 3.5kg performance-oriented laptop, but when the gap between the two blurs too much, as in the case of the Aspire 1705SCi, you create a machine that struggles to perform either task well.

For example, had the Aspire been all it promised, it would still have lost the portability of a laptop and the comfortable spacing of a normal keyboard, and though the screen is superb, it can't be heightened or rotated like a normal TFT. All credit to Acer for trying something very different, but even without its faults, I'm not sure that the cost saving of having a single machine for office and home can justify the ergonomic compromises.

Verdict

A sumo-sized machine with plenty of kick, that falls over on the fundamentals. With the incredibly low price of basic desktop machines these days having two machines and some form of removable storage wouldn't cost much more than the Acer.

Rating 60%
Price £1387
More Info The Acer UK web site


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