How much power can a 4.6-pound notebook really offer? More than you might think. Thanks to a second-generation Intel Core i5 CPU and AMD Radeon HD graphics, the Acer Aspire TimelineX AS4820TG-6847 ($729) outperforms most of the competition and looks good doing it. Perks such as Dolby Surround Sound really sweeten the deal, too. Read on to find out how this thin-and-light speedster compares to the competition.
Understated but elegant. That's how we'd describe the chassis of the TimelineX AS4820TG. The lid has a black brushed aluminum finish, while the palm rest has a lighter brushed metal treatment. Glossy black plastic surrounds the display and keyboard, which adds a nice accent but picks up fingerprints.
Above the keyboard on the left side of the deck is a grooved circular power button, next to which are LED activity lights. Two speakers separated by a Dolby Home Theater Virtual Surround Sound label sit in the center, and two thin black buttons--one to launch the Power Smart Manager and an eject button for the tray-loading DVD drive--are on the right side of the deck.
After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the TimelineX AS4820TG stayed well below the threshold of what we consider uncomfortable. The touchpad and keypad (between the G and H keys) both checked in at 89 degrees, and the bottom registered a far-from-threatening 83 degrees.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The AS4820TG's FineTip keyboard felt comfortable to the touch. The tactile response wasn't as sharp as we'd prefer, but we had no problem writing this review and a few e-mails. The Ctrl and Alt buttons on both sides are the same size as the letter keys, which resulted a few errors while touch typing. While it wasn't exactly a trampoline, the keyboard had a bit more flex than we'd like, too.
It would be nice to see dedicated keys for adjusting brightness and volume; those controls are alternate keys on the arrow buttons to the right, but the function key is on the far left. That made changing the volume a two-handed process.
The 3.5 x 1.9-inch surface of the touchpad was smooth and accurate; it was easy to execute multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling, pinch-to-zoom, and rotating pictures. We prefer individual mouse buttons, but the single bar on the AS4820TG was large enough so we never clicked the wrong side by accident.
Display and Sound
The widescreen 14-inch LED backlit display on the AS4820TG has a standard resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. Despite its glossy finish, we didn't notice many reflections during an episode of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena streamed on Netflix. Though the display tilts back a wide 165 degrees, viewing angles dimmed at 20 or 30 degrees from center. Colors were faded, too. Even after adjusting the screen for gamma, contrast, and brightness, colors remained flat, from Hulu to YouTube. Though characters looked pale, facial expressions and scenery detail were crisp.
Augmenting the stereo speakers on the 4820TG is Dolby Home Theater technology. Dolby's Audio Enhancer solution added much-needed density to the standard audio output. Vocal and guitar highs in Queens of the Stone Ages' "3's & 7's" offered much more kick with the feature activated. Surround Sound creates the illusion of 5.1 surround sound, so long as you set the volume above 50 percent. Speaking of volume, at about 85 percent, the AS4280TG's speakers got so loud that a friend could easily make out our tunes from the next room.
Ports and Webcam
The AS4820TG offers four USB ports: Three are on the right side and one is on the left. The remaining ports, all of which are on the left, include a headphone and microphone jack, Ethernet, HDMI, and VGA. A tray-loading DVD drive is on the right side along with a power port. Last but not least is the 5-in-1 memory card slot, located on the left side of the front lip.
The 1.3-megapixel high-definition webcam on this notebook captures 1280 x 1024 still shots and 640 x 480-pixel, 30 fps video. Footage looked rich in detail and well lit. Acer includes Acer Crystal Eye WebCam software for manipulating camera settings such as brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation, as well as camera-specific controls including zoom, exposure, aperture, and focus. You won't find such entertainment-focused features as animated filters or masks.
The AS4820TG uses a 2.66-GHz Intel Core i5-480M processor with 4GB of RAM, plus AMD Radeon HD 6550M graphics. This combination of components helped the notebook earn an impressive PCMark Vantage score of 6,348. That's nearly 1,500 points higher than the category average and much higher than the ASUS U41Jf (5,510) and the new 13-inch MacBook Pro (5,534). Another 14-incher, the Samsung QX410, scored 600 points lower, but it has a first-generation Core i5 CPU.
We surfed the web, streamed tunes in Grooveshark, cycled through 720p YouTube film trailers, and played back video in Hulu and Netflix--and the AS4820TG barely flinched. You can also edit video at a fast clip with this machine. We transcoded a 114MB MP4 video to AVI via the Oxelon Media Converter in a quick 41 seconds, faster than any other 14-inch notebook we've reviewed. The Samsung QX410, Asus U41Jf, and 13-inch MacBook Pro completed the task in 50, 48, and 47 seconds, respectively.
The AS4820TG copied a 4.97GB folder of mixed media at a rate of 25.4 MBps. That's just above the category average of 25.1 MBps and better than the Samsung QX410 (21.6 MBps) and the ASUS U41Jf (24.5 MBps).
Inside the AS4820TG are both an AMD Radeon HD 6550M discrete graphics chip with 1GB of video memory and integrated Intel HD graphics. A small key above the keyboard launches the AS4820TG into Power Smart mode, which switches the graphics from the AMD to the Intel GPU; a small blue light lets you know that the integrated chip is in use.
Unlike Nvidia Optimus technology, the display flickered at least twice each time we switched between GPUs. The switch took only two or three seconds, but because it breaks up your workflow until the display stops flashing, it's a little annoying.
The discrete AMD GPU earned an exceptional score of 7,844 on the 3DMark06 graphics benchmark. That showing is more than double the 3,069 category average. It's also much higher than the Samsung QX410 (3,804), which has Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics. However, the ASUS U41Jf, which has an Nvidia GeForce GT 425M GPU with 1GB of DDR3 RAM, came close with a score of 7,597. The 13-inch MacBook Pro mustered just 4,509, but it only has Intel's integrated graphics.
In World of Warcraft, the AS4820TG at its native resolution notched 89 frames per second with graphics settings dialed down and 38 fps under more demanding performance settings. Both numbers are impressive for a laptop this size. The latter figure bests the Samsung QX410 (12 fps), but the ASUS U41Jf turned in a much better 62 fps at the max settings.
The AS4820TG achieved 74 fps in Far Cry 2 at the standard 1024 x 768 screen resolution and 38 fps in its native resolution, which means it fared better against the competition. The ASUS U41Jf notched 44 and 37 fps, respectively, while the Samsung QX410 churned out only 33 fps and 12 fps at its native resolution.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The AS4820TG lasted 5 hours and 11 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test (web surfing over Wi-Fi), which is about 15 minutes longer than the category average for thin-and-light notebooks. However, the Samsung QX410 endured for 5 hours and 20 minutes, and the ASUS U41Jf lasted an even longer 6:36.
The Atheros AR5B97 Wireless Adapter pulled down 25 MBps with a 15-foot connection and 15.6 MBps at a 50-foot distance from the router. Both data rates are lower than the category averages of 33.5 and 21.7 MBps as well as the Samsung QX410's scores (39.9 and 28.7 MBps).
We should note that the Wi-Fi card in our first evaluation unit failed to connect to the Internet after a few days. However, a second system equipped with the same Wi-Fi card worked fine.
Software and Warranty
Acer bundles the AS4820TG with The New York Times Reader and the Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader for books, magazines, and newspapers, along with less practical additions such as shortcuts to the Netflix and eBay websites. Other pre-installed software includes a free 30-day trial of Norton Online BackUp ($49.99 a year after the trial), a month-long trial of McAfee Internet Security ($39.99 a year afterwards), and a newsreader called eSobi. Last but not least is Microsoft Office Starter 2010, which includes ad-supported versions of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word.
There are also proprietary programs from Acer: Acer eRecovery Management and Acer Backup Manager create system restore discs and backs up data, Acer Updater downloads the manufacturer's software updates, and Identity Card contains pertinent system info such as product name and serial number for tech support calls. Acer Game Console is a hub for downloading paid casual games such as Bejeweled and Plants vs Zombies. To browse photos, music, and video, there's Acer Arcade Deluxe.
The AS4820TG ships with one-year parts repair and labor, plus phone and web tech support. To see how Acer fared in our Tech Support Showdown, click here.
For consumers looking for power and portability--plus a DVD drive--the Acer Aspire TimelineX AS4820TG is a very good choice. For $799 ($729 on Amazon), you get Core i5 speed and AMD graphics muscle, impressive Dolby sound, and more than 5 hours of battery life. While we wish this notebook offered stronger Wi-Fi performance, it outperforms the 14-inch competition in most tests. The ASUS U41Jc ($815) lasts longer on a charge and has better gaming chops, and the Samsung QX410 ($799) is sleeker, but both of those laptops cost at least $70 more. So if you want a lot of oomph on the go for an aggressive price, get the TimelineX AS4820TG.