Mobile Roundup: A Trio of Midrange Laptopsby Jarred Walton on September 17, 2008 3:00 AM EST
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Acer 6920G - Thoughts and Summary
We had some initial difficulties getting the Blu-ray drive to function with our test disc (Jumper), but an update to the Acer media software resolved our issues. That's the good news, and watching a Blu-ray movie looked great. Unfortunately, many Blu-ray movies use a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, so the difference between a 16:9 and 16:10 LCD isn't going to be a huge benefit - you still get black bars on the top and bottom. If that were the only problem with Blu-ray support, we wouldn't have any concerns. Unfortunately, consider the following images.
The first image is what we saw after updating our graphics drivers - using official drivers from Acer, no less! We also tried unofficial hacked drivers from LaptopVideo2Go.com, with a similar result (albeit a different error message). We're not actually sure if the problem comes from the drivers we used or if we installed some other program on the laptop that created a conflict; the issue remains unresolved. The second picture is the same movie running without any difficulties, only this time we are using a 720P x264 encode. You want to talk about shooting yourself in the foot? Here we have a laptop equipped with the latest and greatest multimedia hardware, and it refuses to play back a 100% legitimate Blu-ray movie. Meanwhile, it has no difficulty whatsoever playing downloaded HD movies. Sure, quality is a bit better with the original Blu-ray version, but only serious home theater buffs are likely to care. Of course, there are also legitimate HD movie sources out there (the final picture comes via a TVTonic video), and if you happen to have 720P or 1080P 16:9 aspect ratio sources, we definitely like the Acer LCD more for multimedia use than the various WUXGA laptops we've tested.
Besides this particular "driver" snafu, we just have to say in general that our experience with watching Blu-ray movies on computers (and especially laptops) has been less than stellar. First, you need to update your media player software on a regular basis, and often it's quite difficult to find the latest patches. Acer did better than the Alienware m15x in this respect, but when we consider the above we would just as soon save $300 and forget about having a Blu-ray drive - at least for the time being. No, none of this is Acer's fault, but it does mean we recommend a different model of the 6920G than what we are reviewing.
We're going to list off various complaints first, but try not to let the negativity get you down. This really is a decent laptop, but there are a few items that we need to mention before we get to the good points. First, Acer still only ships the 6920G with a 32-bit operating system. If they're going to go ahead and give you 4GB of memory and Vista, there's no reason to continue shipping a 32-bit installation. Okay, so maybe there are a few incompatible programs people might want to use, but many of those will also have problems with Windows Vista and not just 64-bit operating systems. At the very least, it would be nice to have a choice, although considering Acer doesn't allow customized builds this omission is a bit more excusable than with companies that allow you to select individual components (i.e. Dell).
Another point that we need to emphasize - and you will see this later in the benchmarks - is that the GeForce 9500M GS is completely inadequate for running modern games at 1920x1080, or in many cases 1280x800. If you are willing to turn down the details levels and run at lower resolutions, the 9500M GS might be able to deliver an acceptable gaming experience, but for a similar price there are definitely better gaming laptops available. This applies to all three midrange laptops today, but we'll get this point out of the way up front.
Some of the design decisions on the 6920 could have been better. For example, a large area to the left of the keyboard is devoted to the "Acer CineDash media console", a fancy name for some multimedia keys like volume control and next/previous track, plus a few quick launch keys. These keys are touch sensitive, and we inadvertently activated them on a regular basis. The most useful button in this area seems to be the "hold" button that disables all of the other keys. We would have been happier if the multimedia functions were placed above the keyboard like on many other laptops. Otherwise, we didn't have any issues with the Acer keyboard. Another boneheaded move is the placement of the two speakers. Acer includes a base expander that actually helps improve audio quality for the built-in speakers, but then they went and placed one speaker at the far right and the other speaker in the center area above the keyboard. The result is that stereo recordings don't sound quite right because they are shifted to the right side. The various surround sound enhancements may help, and if you sit a bit further away from the laptop the effect isn't as noticeable, but this is really such a strange oversight. All they need to do is change the position of the power button slightly and they could have had the two speakers in the accepted locations.
We've listed several complaints so far, and at this point you might think that we didn't really care for the 6920G. In reality, we found plenty to like; you just need to keep the above concerns in mind. We mentioned that the 6920G is designed to be a multimedia computer, and the heart of every multimedia laptop would have to be the display. Forget about the aspect ratio for a moment - even without that advantage, the LCD in the 6920G is without a doubt one of the best laptop displays we've used, particularly in terms of multimedia laptops. (I'd still like to test the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro as a point of reference, but unfortunately I have not had an opportunity to do so.) Color accuracy after calibration is very good - one of the best results we've seen so far - brightness levels are good, and it has the second-best color gamut we've seen on a mobile LCD. The only other laptop that's come close in terms of display quality is ASUS G2P, and while that has a better color gamut we're willing to make a small compromise there in order to get a higher resolution display. Another nice multimedia feature is that Acer includes full support for 5.1 audio output, as well as HDMI support. Battery life is also good (though not great) for a laptop of this size, and you should be able to watch most (non-Blu-ray) movies before your battery runs out of steam.
Overall, the Aspire 6920G isn't perfect, but it does very well in the multimedia arena. If you're a bit more cautious in terms of what software and drivers you choose to install, Blu-ray support and a very good LCD make this a nice mobile movie platform. Get ready to make all of your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPod Video friends turn green with envy when you fire up a high-definition movie. (Then prepare to return the favor as they drop their iPhone/iPod into a pocket and wander off while you try to pack up your seven pound notebook.) The display quality also makes this laptop great for home or business use - all other things being equal, we always prefer working with a better LCD. Down the road, we would like to see LED backlighting and a Centrino 2 platform with DDR3 memory, but those changes would only improve an already good laptop. Acer has definitely been in the market for a long time, and like many large companies the quality of their products can be hit or miss. I've also dealt with Acer support over the years, and while they haven't been the fastest to respond, the problems did get resolved. In this case, the 6920G is a solid offering and definitely better than many of the alternatives.