When looking for a desktop replacement notebook, consumers want extra screen real estate in addition to a machine that's portable enough to move from room to room. The Acer Aspire 7735Z (4357) fills the bill by offering a 17.3-inch display in an elegantly crafted 7-pound design. Its Pentium processor isn't the fastest on the block, but consumers seeking a budget machine will find the $599 price tag appealing.
The Aspire 7735Z's design is reminiscent of its larger cousin, the Aspire 8920. Though the 16.1 x 11.3 x 1.6-inch laptop has a large footprint, its rounded edges and tapered front keep it from looking boxy. Attractive Gemstone Blue holographic paint graces the lid of the 7735Z, but it's prone to smudges, just like its predecessor.
Inside, a blue, glowing power button dominates the top left, and are embedded in the Dolby speakers that stretch all the way across the deck. On the right is the Acer PowerSmart Manager button, which automatically adjusts settings for energy saving, including reducing screen brightness and changing the color theme to Windows Vista Basic. Another click brings the laptop back to Performance mode. The button glows green when PowerSmart mode is active.
Below the display rests the full-size keyboard and number pad. The unobtrusive, dimpled texture on the silver palm rest area also extends across the entire lower deck, and even to the trackpad.
At 7.0 pounds, this system is on the lighter side for a desktop replacement, and only 0.4 pounds heavier than the 17-inch MacBook Pro. We hardly noticed the weight when carrying the 7735Z from room to room. We even had little trouble transporting it between the office and home on public transport with a good large-screen laptop bag.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Acer outfitted the 7735Z with its Finetip keyboard, also found on the 13.3-inch Aspire 3935. This style combines the size of traditional beveled keys with the look of chiclet/island keys. We liked the slightly textured feel of the keyboard, and the large key caps kept our fingers from accidentally hitting the gaps. We noticed no flex, and the overall layout felt sturdy and durable. To the left of the keys sit three buttons: one to turn Wi-Fi on/off, one for Bluetooth (not included in our configuration), and a launch button for the Acer Backup Manager.
Click to enlarge
The dimpled touchpad provides just the right amount of friction. While we were disappointed with the Aspire 8920's small touchpad area, we have no such complaints about the 7735Z. Its 3.8 x 2.5-inch footprint gave us plenty of space to work with, and is ideal for multitouch gestures (pinch and scroll). We appreciated that the scroll area was marked by a thin, raised line, and that the touchpad itself is recessed, making it easy to find without looking.
The single touch button was very responsive, though we would have preferred two distinct ones. It's also louder than we like, but doesn't feel flimsy. Users who often accidentally brush the touchpad with their thumbs while typing will appreciate the on/off button just to the right. However, we didn't experience any jumping cursors while using the 7735Z to write this review.
Display & Audio
At first, the 17.3-inch (1600 x 900-pixel resolution) LED-backlit display's colors seemed washed out, with little depth. Changing the screen brightness via keyboard shortcuts didn't help; only after adjusting the brightness and contrast through Intel's GMA driver (located under Display Settings > Advanced Settings) did we achieve satisfying results. The screen was a bit too glossy and reflective, but the LCD still offered good vertical and horizontal viewing angles.
After the adjustments, the 16:9 display offered vibrant colors and great contrast for darker video scenes. Watching our Torchwood DVD under flourescent lights threw back our reflection most of the time, but we didn't encounter this problem in dim light. Streaming episodes of Legend of the Seeker on Hulu was smooth, and the images looked crisp.
The Aspire 7735Z's True 5.1 surround-sound Dolby speakers delivered enough volume to fill a small room, but were ultimately a disappointment. Sarah Solovay's rock-flavored "Gone" sounded decent, but when we played a song with a distinctive bass line, such as "One Girl Revolution" by Superchick, it seemed like half the sound was missing. No amount of adjustment resulted in decent bass, and the best we could do was set the Realtek HD Audio Manager equalizer to the Bass setting, which made music sound muffled. Sound delivered to our headphones and external speakers was much better.
Ports and Webcam
Click to enlarge
The Aspire 7735Z has a standard spread of ports. On the left you'll find Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, and two USB ports, plus microphone, headphone, and line-in jacks. On the right are two more USB ports, a modem jack, a DVD player. and a Kensington lock slot. The 5-in-1 memory card reader sits on the front.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam above the display initially produced images with a slightly yellow cast. Adjusting the saturation level within the Acer Crystal Eye software's settings fixed this problem, though the picture could have been sharper. During a chat on Skype, our caller noted little blurriness, even when we waved a hand vigorously in front of the lens. The integrated mic transmitted clear audio.
Despite having 4GB of RAM, the 2.0-GHz Intel Pentium T4200 processor made for lackluster performance in the PCMark Vantage benchmark. Its score of 2,816 was over 1,000 points below the category average. Though this category contains top-notch gaming rigs, the 7735Z came in only slightly above mainstream desktop replacements (like the Toshiba Satellite P305D), and beat the budget $348 Satellite L355 by about 800 points. Still, when switching between ten tabs in Firefox, browsing Flash-heavy sites, and uploading images to Facebook and Flickr, the system never choked or took an unreasonable amount of time to complete tasks.
The 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive yielded decent performance. The 7735Z completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test (where we measure how long a system takes to transfer a 4.97GB folder of mixed media files) in 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The resulting 18.6 MBps transfer rate is respectable, beating out the HP ProBook 4710s and ASUS N90 by nearly 2.0 MBps, but still coming in under the category average of 23.0 MBps. The 59-second boot time beat the category average by 8 seconds, and is fairly speedy for a Vista machine.
The Aspire 7735Z didn't do well in our video transcoding test. It took 8 minutes and 4 seconds to convert a 5:05 MPEG-4 video file (640 x 480) to AVI using HandBrake. That's 2 minutes and 15 seconds longer than the average.
We didn't expect stunning performance from the 7735Z's Intel GMA 4500M integrated graphics, but the 3DMark06 score is a very low 815--a little more than 5,500 points under the category average. To be fair, the desktop replacement category includes a number of gaming rigs, but the Aspire 7735Z's score is even lower than the ultraportable average of 830. The only desktop replacement with a score in the same range is the Toshiba Satellite L355, which notched 722.
Not surprisingly, the 7735Z was only able to eke out 4 frames per second in Far Cry 2 at 1024 x 768, and 3 fps at its native resolution. Taking a sightseeing tour in Google Earth also taxed the graphics on this notebook; it took more than 5 seconds in most locations to render a viewable image. With 3D buildings on, some locations didn't even fully load before the program whisked us off to the next location.
Considering the low graphics performance score, we weren't surprised that HD video playback was lackluster. When watching The Discoverers from the Windows Media Video 9 Showcase, and the HD QuickTime trailer for 9, there was very noticeable pixelation in darker scenes and light-to-dark transitions. When we output these videos to an HD television via HDMI, the pixelation was still apparent in the 720p files, but not as much in the higher quality 1080p versions. Some of this can be attributed to notebook and television screen limitations, but the graphics card bears the brunt of the blame. When we watched the same videos on a Gateway P-7807u FX, which has an Nvidia GeForce 9800M GTS graphics card, the pixelation didn't completely disappear, but it was far less noticeable on the notebook's screen and the television. For a budget system, this is not a dealbreaker. Plus, all of the files played smoothly on the Aspire 7735Z, and lighter, more colorful scenes rendered beautifully.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
Wherever you decide to work, this notebook should deliver strong throughput. The 7735Z's Wi-Fi signal delivered scores of 20.3 and 20 Mbps from 15 feet and 50 feet, respectively, from our access point--slightly above the category averages of 19.7 and 16.1 Mbps.
You won't get great battery life out of the 7735Z, but its 3-hour-and-9-minute score on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi) is 29 minutes longer than the category average. This is enough to get a bit of work done away from an outlet, but you won't want to stray too far.
Click to enlarge
The Aspire 7735Z was moderately efficient when charging, taking 2 hours and 30 minutes to fully recharge and using an average of 52.7 watts (the total came to 7,905, more than 760 watts below the average). Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating (calculated by dividing the total wattage by the battery life in minutes) is a respectable 41.8, far less than energy-hogging gaming rigs such as the Alienware M17x and the ASUS G51Vx (125.2 and 56.6), but about 10 watts per minute more than the HP ProBook 4710s.
Software & Warranty
Acer bundles its typical suite of branded software tools with the Aspire 7735Z, including Arcade Deluxe, Backup Manager, eRecovery Management, and GridVista, among others. Also included is a trial version of McAfee Internet Security Suite, full Microsoft Works 8.5, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, NTI Media Maker, Windows Live Essentials, a trial of the Carbonite Online Backup Solution, Orion instant messaging software, and eSobi for information management. We encountered several annoying popups and nagging screens for the Carbonite and McAfee trials, which we had to dismiss several times. Users will want to uninstall or activate these programs to keep their windows from showing up every few hours or every time the computer restarts.
The 7735Z comes with a one-year limited parts-and-labor warranty. To see how Acer fared on LAPTOP's annual Tech Support Showdown, click here.
Click to enlarge
The 7735Z (4357) is the only configuration of this model currently available in the U.S. Acer's Web site lists one other model, the 7735 (4291), which has most of the same specs but a smaller hard drive--250GB instead of 320GB. As of this writing, there is no further information on pricing for this second configuration.
In the tradeoff between price and performance, the Acer Aspire 7735Z (4357) strikes a pretty good balance for budget shoppers who want a machine for basic tasks. This notebook's processing and graphics muscle won't win over a true multimedia maven's heart, but users who just want to watch DVDs or Hulu videos will have a satisfying experience. The $348 Toshiba Satellite L355 provides even more bang for your buck, but the $599 7735Z's more attractive chassis, longer battery life, and more robust feature set (including a memory card reader, HDMI, and webcam) make this budget machine a compelling bargain.