Are you ready to reach out and touch your notebook? Acer wants you to do just that with its Aspire 5738PG, a 15.6-inch laptop that utilizes Windows 7's touchscreen support to let you navigate Web pages, zoom into photos, and dabble in multimedia when you place your fingers on the screen. But the system is no one-trick pony; Acer has packed in a fast Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a capable ATI graphics card, and Dolby audio for a relatively low $799. The touch interface feels half baked and glitchy at times, but if you're looking for an all-around performer with touch as a bonus, the 5738PG is a good choice.
Measuring 15.1 x 9.9 x 1.0 inches and weighing 6.1 pounds, the 5738PG is a tad bulkier and heavier than the 5.6-pound, 14.6 x 9.8 x 1.5-inch Gateway NV, as well as the 5.6-pound, 14.6 x 9.8 x 1.2-inch Sony VAIO NW. The system sports Acer's classy Gemstone design, which incorporates a dark blue lid (attracting a light amount of fingerprints and smudges), a charcoal gray base (featuring a granulated dot pattern), and black accents throughout.
To the upper-left of the keyboard are easily accessible on/off buttons for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, an illuminated power button, and the Acer Backup Manager button (which lets users create automatic backup profiles). Adjacent to those are status indicator lights, and to the far right you'll find dedicated volume keys, along with a user-definable shortcut button. A microphone is positioned dead in the middle.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The wide base affords a roomy and comfortable keyboard with firm, chiclet-style keys that made it easy to tap out documents, e-mails, and URLs. We appreciated the large Shift keys and full number pad. Using the touchpad, we could two-finger swipe through photos, and use pinch gestures to zoom in/out of images. The mouse buttons were quite mushy, and didn't offer much in the way of feedback. A button to the right of the touchpad allows you to disable it when pressed, and a biometric fingerprint reader is nestled between the mouse buttons to keep data away from prying eyes.
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Display and Audio
The high-definition 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel display provided sharp visuals when we loaded up our DVD of The Matrix. Darks scenes and clothing had plenty of richness without being overbearing, but the screen's glossy coating kicks back heavy reflections.
The Dolby Home Theater speakers (positioned north of the keyboard) served up very clean and loud sound. While listening to Curtis Mayfield's "Wild and Free," we marveled at the crispness of the horns and the separation from the high and low-end sounds that were delivered by the Virtual SurroundSound technology. The bass wasn't as robust as Acer's own machines that feature CineBass (such as the Acer Aspire 8920G), but the 5738PG certainly sounds better than other notebooks in this price range.
Click to enlargeWhat separates the 5738PG from other mainstream notebooks is its capacitive touchscreen display that utilizes Windows 7's multitouch capabilities. While reading new messages posted to Twitter, we very much liked how we could zoom in on text to make it bigger by spreading two fingers apart, zoom out by bringing two fingers together in a pinching gesture, or scroll up/down by flicking in those directions with our index finger. When viewing images in the Photos folder, we could page through all of the pictures in the folder by swiping left or right with a single finger, which felt completely natural. In fact, after a few minutes of interacting with the 5738PG in this fashion (and after some initial trepidation), we found it superior to the mouse for navigating photos.
Microsoft's Touch Pack is also included on the 5738PG; among the apps is Surface Globe, which operates in a similar fashion as Google Earth in that we could zoom in/out of virtually any location on the planet by using pinch gestures. Starting with the image of Earth floating in space, we effortlessly rotated the globe and spread our fingers to zoom in from an orbital view all the way down to street level in just a few gestures. It was simple to execute, and the application was quite responsive.
Overall, touch worked like a charm, but with our fingers constantly pressing the screen, it reclined from a 90-degree angle to approximately 45 degrees over the course of a few minutes. You'll clearly need to keep one hand behind the screen during longer touch computing sessions to keep the LCD front and center. We also found that the display picked up fingerprints quickly.
Acer Touch Portal
Acer also includes its Touch Portal, a bland-looking virtual room where you can interact with icons that are pinned to its walls or are sitting on its shelves. Clicking the paper icon, for example, loads a virtual piece of loose leaf, on which you can draw doodles and pictures with your finger using different colored paints.
Pressing the music icon displayed our digital albums as CDs (including album art) that we could touch to start a music session within Touch Portal's music player. When we fired up Panic! At The Disco's A Fever You Can't Sweat Out album, we were treated to a vertical track listing that we could scroll through with our fingers.
The video icon opened a film reel that we could scroll through of thumbnails corresponding to video clips stored on the 5738PG; tapping a thumbnail launched the video within the Touch Portal, which played back the clip without much delay. An Internet Explorer icon sits on the top right shelf, and allowed us to launch the browser and surf the Web.
Unfortunately, we encountered some script errors when using this software, and at times the interface really lagged. HP's TouchSmart environment looks more polished, and includes more compelling touch apps, like Hulu and Twitter.
Ports and Webcam
The Aspire 5738PG includes plenty of connections for attaching accessories and peripherals: four USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, S/PDIF, 5-in-1 memory card reader, Ethernet, modem, headphone, and microphone. Acer also includes an 8X DVD drive for watching movies, loading software, burning discs, and other activities.
Above the display is Acer's 1.3-megapixel Crystal Eye webcam. When chatting with friends over Meebo, they reported seeing clear images with good color balance that only suffered from motion blurs when we moved about too quickly.
Click to enlargeA 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 processor and 4GB of 667-MHz DDR2 RAM (expandable to 8GB) powered the 5738PG to an outstanding PCMark Vantage score of 4,556, which was more than 1,200 points higher than the 3,225 mainstream notebook average. This was considerable better than the scores notched by the Gateway NV (3,262), and the Sony VAIO NW (3,334).
A 320GB hard drive (spinning at 5,400 rpm) booted the 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium operating system in exactly one minute, nearly on a par with the 58-second category average. When we ran our LAPTOP Transfer Test (which copies a folder containing 4.97GB of mixed media from one area of the drive to another), we saw a data transfer speed of 22.7 MBps, which was 3.4 MBps faster than the average mainstream machine.
The 5738PG proved to be a decent gaming notebook, thanks to ATI's Radeon HD 4570 graphics card (with 512MB of dedicated video memory). The machine achieved a 3DMark06 score of 3,097, which was about 300 points less than the mainstream average (3,413), but far higher than the Gateway NV (942) and the Sony VAIO NW (1,000), two systems that feature Intel's integrated graphics.
With the resolution set to 1024 x 768, the 5738PG was able to handle the graphically demanding Far Cry 2, moving at a solid 45 frames per second. This is much better than what the Gateway NV (2 fps) and Sony VAIO NW (6 fps) produced at the same resolution. However, that number dipped to just 14 fps when we bumped the pixel count up to 1366 x 768 and increased the eye candy to maximum.
The 5738PG was able to transcode a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI in 6 minutes and 27 seconds, which was 47 seconds faster than the mainstream notebook average. This time also beat out the Sony VAIO NW (7:22), but lagged behind the Gateway NV (4:44). It also flawlessly played back a 1:59 clip of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1080p).
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
Intel's WiFi Link 5100 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi card pushed data along at a rate of 19.7 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point, and 16.4 Mbps at 50 feet. Not only were these numbers on a par with the mainstream wireless averages (19.4 and 16.0 Mbps), but the strong signal permitted us to stream full-screen HD episodes of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog over Hulu without any buffering.
You can expect approximately 3 hours of endurance from the 5738PG's six-cell battery. When we ran our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web-surfing over Wi-Fi), the system lasted 2 hours and 57 minutes before losing its charge, which was 39 minutes shorter than the mainstream notebook average. This was also 23 and 26 minutes short of the Gateway NV and Sony VAIO NW's runtimes, respectively. We attribute this poor showing primarily to the presence of the discrete ATI graphics chipset, which can devour battery life.
Click to enlargeIt took 1 hour and 28 minutes to charge the 5738PG up to 100 percent battery capacity (which was far swifter than the category average of 2 hours and 23 minutes), and the system used an average of 52.4 watts during that time. The notebook's LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating (the total amount of watts it takes to recharge divided by the battery life; lower is better) was 26.1--about twice as efficient as the typical mainstream notebook (50.5).
Software and Warranty
Preinstalled on the 5738PG is Acer GameZone, Adobe Reader 9, Microsoft Office and Home Student 2007 (60-day trial), Microsoft Works, and a 30-day trial of Norton Online Backup. Acer covers the system with a one-year limited warranty and toll-free phone support on Mon--Fri from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sun 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (EST).
The $799 Acer Aspire 5738PG is a well-rounded notebook that provides plenty of style and power, as well as touch capabilities at a wallet-friendly price. For $80 more you can purchase the Sony VAIO NW, which includes a Blu-ray drive and nearly half an hour more of additional battery life, but less graphics muscle. If you want to save some chips, the $599 Gateway NV performs well, but foregoes Blu-ray and gaming capabilities--not to mention a touchscreen. We wish the 5738PG's touch features were more robust, but overall this machine is a good value.