Looking for a desktop system that will bring your family together? Acer's 21-inch Aspire Z3 packs quad-core Intel performance, booming speakers and a full HD display to offer multimedia enjoyment with your loved ones. For $799, this Windows 8 all-in-one also comes with a battery so you're not restricted to the study. Will the Z3 satisfy your family's needs? Read on.
The Acer Aspire Z3 sports a black front with rounded corners and a somewhat chunky white backside. It's pleasant looking but not exciting. The glossy 21.5-inch screen is framed by an inch-thick bezel. At the center of the top sits the Z3's integrated HD webcam, while a physical Windows button lies below the screen in the middle of a speaker grille.
The rest of the Z3 is mostly covered in white plastic. You might have to hunt for the power button, which is a round, white depression on the top right corner that blends into the back of the device. The Z3's right side houses indicator lights, a button for display options and a volume rocker. Pressing the display options button lets you select an input channel -- from PC to HDMI -- and adjust the screen's brightness.
A portion of the Z3's rear protrudes rather sharply, making it feel more disjointed than the Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 20, whose back portion flows more naturally from the front. An aluminum kickstand is attached to the smaller rectangle on a flexible hinge. The kickstand folds in completely so the device can be laid flat for use on a living room floor, and props the device up almost perpendicular to the surface for desktop use.
MORE: Best Laptops 2014
The protruding rear portion of the Z3 also houses its ports: the right edge features an SD card slot, two USB 2.0 ports, a headphone jack and a battery indicator light. The left side packs USB 3.0, Ethernet, power and HDMI-in, which lets you use the Z3's display as a TV or with a gaming console.
Despite the Z3 being touted as a somewhat portable device, you may need to muscle up to move the Z3 from room to room. At 21.02 x 14.57 x 1.89 inches, the Z3 is quite the beast. Other all-in-one systems are smaller, such as the Lenovo IdeaCentre Flex 20 (20.5 x 12.2 x 0.8 inches), the Sony VAIO Tap 20 (19.9 x 12.0 x 1.8 inches) and the Dell XPS 18 (18.25 x 11.17 x 0.41 inches). To be fair, the Z3 has the largest screen of its competitors.
The 14.6-pound Z3 is also the heaviest of the lot by a significant margin, compared to the Flex 20 (8.2 pounds), the Tap 20 (11.2 pounds) and the XPS 18 (5.2 pounds).
You'll enjoy games and movies on the Z3's glossy, 21.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 HD IPS 10-point touch screen. We watched a trailer for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" and loved the bright red and blue of Spidey's costume. Details such as individual eyelashes on a close-up of Andrew Garfield's face were impressively sharp. Text and graphics on websites such as Laptopmag.com and NYTimes.com also appeared crisp. Viewing angles were ample; three staffers standing around the Z3 were able to watch a trailer without experiencing distortion.
The main drawback to the Z3's display is that it's not very bright. The panel measured 223 lux on our light meter, dimmer than the average desktop replacement (252 lux), the Tap 20 (254 lux), the Flex 20 (274 lux) and the XPS 18 (307 lux).
The 2.5W Harman Kardon speakers with Dolby Home Theater enhancement provided booming but somewhat tinny sound. We first played "Lola" by Mika and "Paradise People" by Sam Sparro. While the Z3 filled a large open newsroom with music, higher tones sounded muddled, and there was a lack of bass. A harmonious chorus in "Paradise People" sounded like a cacophony of voices, while the piano and percussion intro for "Lola" was canned and hollow.
The Z3 comes with Dolby Digital Plus Profile Editor to tweak the speakers depending on what you're listening to. Four preset options -- Movie, Music, Game and Voice -- are available, and you can also create two custom profiles. We noticed no big change in audio quality when switching among modes while playing songs such as "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen and "Timber" by Pitbull featuring Kesha.
In more nuanced music, though, such as the opening to "League of Legends," we could hear clearer layers of sound in Movie and Game modes than in Voice or Music.
On LAPTOP's audio test (playing a tone at max volume and measuring it from 23 inches), the Z3 registered 88 dB, softer than the average desktop replacement (90 dB) but on a par with the IdeaCentre Flex 20 (88 dB).
Keyboard and Mouse
The Z3 comes with both a wireless keyboard and mouse. Powered by two AAA batteries, the thin and light plastic keyboard has flip-out stands at the top two corners so you can angle it for more comfortable typing. The amply sized keys provided adequate travel and feedback, and did not flex even when we jabbed hard. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, we scored an average of 75 words per minute with 0.66 percent error rate, compared to our usual desktop average of 77 wpm with no errors.
Unfortunately, the arrow keys were somewhat squished. We also wish the Function row keys at the top were reversed so we could toggle volume, brightness and playback settings with one touch instead of having to press the Fn button first.
The black optical mouse takes one AAA battery and has curved, recessed edges that proved comfortable for our thumb and ring finger. It connects wirelessly to the Z3 with a USB dongle. The two click-buttons are slightly indented to better accommodate your fingers, and the mouse also has a scroll wheel between the two buttons and an on/off switch at the bottom.
The Z3's integrated HD webcam was sufficient for Web chats, but didn't impress. Images we snapped looked dull and pixelated. Our green eye shadow appeared brown, while our gray turtleneck looked fuzzy and lacked detail.
In addition to the standard Windows 8 camera app, Acer offers its Crystal Eye Webcam software that packs additional frames, filters and effects. We enjoyed using the fun frames to create goofy postcards to send to our friends.
Packing a quad-core 2.41-GHz Intel Pentium J2850 processor with 4GB of RAM, the Z3 is responsive on day-to-day tasks, but it's not meant for heavy lifting. We played a round of "League of Legends" with ease while apps such as Internet Explorer, Camera, Store and Video Player ran in the background.
However, the $799 Z3 didn't fare as well on synthetic tests. On PCMark 7, the Z3's score of 1,728 was far below the average desktop replacement (4,714), the 2.7-GHz Intel Core i5-powered XPS 18 (4,127 score) and the 1.7-GHz Intel Core i3-powered Flex 20 (2,330). To be fair, the Dell we tested costs $1,424, but the Lenovo is cheaper than the Acer, at $749.
With a 750GB and 5,400-rpm hard drive, the Z3 took 28 seconds to boot Windows 8. That's slower than the average desktop replacement (24 seconds), the Flex 20 (15 seconds) and the XPS 18 (19 seconds).
The Z3 duplicated a 4.97GB folder of multimedia files in 3 minutes and 29 seconds, which translates to a rate of 24 MBps. That's slower than the XPS 18 (33 MBps) and Flex 20 (31.4 MBps).
Taking 17 minutes and 11 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses on the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Z3 significantly trailed its competitors. The average desktop replacement (5:13), the XPS 18 (5:58) and the Flex 20 (8:06) all completed the task in much shorter times.
The Z3's Intel HD Graphics GPU will hold up for casual gaming, and delivered decent graphics on "Shark Dash." Those looking to play more graphics-intensive games will find this all-in-one just isn't up to par.
On 3DMark 11, the Z3's score of 251 is well below the XPS 18 (619) and the Flex 20 (715).
When we played "World of Warcraft" with settings on Autodetect at 1366 x 768 resolution, the Z3 delivered an unplayable 16 fps (11 fps at its native resolution of 1920 x 1080). By comparison, the Flex 20 and XPS 18 delivered better frame rates of 27 fps and 31 fps on Autodetect and 1366 x 768.
You can move your Z3 from room to room, thanks to its onboard, six-cell lithium-ion battery. Just don't expect a ton of time to play unplugged.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display set to 40 percent brightness, the Z3 clocked 2 hours and 15 minutes. While that's in line with Acer's prediction of 2.5 hours, it's significantly less than the times of the Flex 20 (3:27) and XPS 18 (4:12).
Software and Apps
Running a 64-bit version of Windows 8, the Aspire Z3 comes with a small suite of preloaded software including the usual Windows 8 apps such as Xbox, SkyDrive, News, People, Bing and Skype.
You also get some third-party apps, including Amazon's Kindle reader, Norton Online Backup, Nero BackItUp Essentials, McAfee Internet Security Suite (60-day trial) and WildTangent Games. If you're looking to do some light work, the Z3 also comes with a trial version of Microsoft Office.
Acer also includes its own Acer Power Button, Recovery Management, User's Manual, AcerCloud, clearFi Media, clearFi Photo, Docs, Hotkey Utility, Identity Card and Live Updater.
Warranty and Configuration
Our unit of the Acer Aspire AZ3-600-UR31 costs $799 and has a 750GB hard drive. For $779, you can get the 500GB configuration (AZ3-600-UB30), which costs $699 on Best Buy.
With a full HD display, loud speakers and a comfortable keyboard and mouse, the $799 Aspire Z3 is a solid multimedia system for families who don't want to spend too much for a touch-based all-in-one. And while you don't get very long battery life with the Z3, it's nice that you can use it unplugged. However, we wish Acer included a beefier CPU for the price and that the screen were brighter.
For the same price, the Lenovo IdeaCentre Flex 20 provides better performance with a longer-lasting battery and an engaging Aura interface. Its 1600 x 900 display isn't as sharp as the Z3's, but the Flex's system packs nifty voice command features. Bottom line: If you're looking for a family friendly all-in-one, the Z3 is a worthwhile choice, but we'd shop around for a lower price.