A couple of weeks ago I revealed that I was one of a select few bloggers and MVPs who had been selected to receive a review laptop from Microsoft and AMD.
The review machine sent was a Acer Ferrari 1000 that arrived fully loaded with Windows Vista Ultimate and Office 2007 Professional Plus.
In the interest of full disclosure the email offering me the review laptop gave me three options:
- Send the unit back to Microsoft
- Give the unit away
- Keep the unit.
I have opted to keep the unit for reasons that I outlined here. Some have voiced concern that this will place undue bias on any review that I write of the hardware or software. I don't feel any obligation to only say nice things about the device or the OS, but you be the judge.
I already blogged about my unboxing experience - check it out here.
The first thing I needed to do was to get the machine into a state similar to how I would actually use it. When I received it the machine was installed in a Workgroup (of course) and was configured to autologon as a user that was a member of the Administrators group. Not how I would recommend running any OS on a daily basis. On the plus side it was running CA Anti Virus software, which is a good thing. I've unboxed review machines before to find them sans AV software and it is a pet peeve of mine.
To make it a more realistic review I renamed the machine and joined it to my domain. I now log on as a standard, unprivileged user.
Lastly I installed some of the software I need to do my thing. This included Windows Live Writer, which I am using to write this post, and TechSmith SnagIt, which I will use for all the screenshots.
A visual tour of the Laptop
As you can see in the photo below there was quite a bit in the box to get through. Click on any of the photos in this post for a larger image.
Along the front edge of the laptop there is:
A - Multi card reader that supports SD, Memory Stick/Pro, MMC and XD.
B - Left and right speakers.
C - Audio Line in.
D - Microphone in.
E - Headphones jack with SPDF optical output. Great for connecting the laptop to your home theater system
F - Bluetooth enable/disable soft switch.
G - Wi-Fi enable/disable soft switch
The top of the front panel, in front of the keyboard, has some nice detail.
Notice that the speakers vented on the front are also vented above. This make for reasonable listening when you are using the laptop. The model name Ferrari 1000 is etched into the metal buttons in front of the touchpad. I have never been a fan of touchpads because my thumbs drag on them as I type, which can cause ghost clicks. I find this particular touchpad very touchy. Fortunately it is easy to easy to disable with a function key.
In front of the touchpad buttons there is a recession into which the inbuilt web camera seats when you close the lid.
On the leading edge are a number of indicator lights including power state (i.e. on or off), Bluetooth state, Wi-Fi state and charge indicator.
Above the keyboard the nice detail continues. On the left is the power button.
And on the right there are a number programmable buttons across the top and three indicator lights down the side.
Left to right the buttons (by default) launch email, the browser, the Acer Empowering Technology tool (which is not installed so it errors) and the Launch Manager.
The Launch Manager can be used to reassign what these buttons do. The indicator lights, top to bottom are Caps Lock, Num Lock and Hard Disk Activity.
The white power button, the yellow launch buttons and the indicator lights are backlit, which looks pretty cool. Even better, whenever a button is pressed the red lines around the buttons also light up. It looks good, especially if you are up late writing a lengthy blog post in a dimly lit room.
On the right side of the unit you will find two USB 2.0 ports, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, modem and VGA connectors.
I dislike the practice of putting VGA on the side. I much prefer this on the back. The reason - it makes for some really nasty cable twisting if you happen to want your monitor on the OTHER side.
The red trim on the side of the screen is recessed and this gives the side profile a nice look.
The back of the screen looks great, but it is hard to do it justice with a flash photo.
The bulk of the area is laminated carbon fiber and it give the unit quite a distinctive and striking look. The dancing horse Ferrari logo does little for me and the Acer logo even less. At the top of the screen in the middle there is a web camera that can be rotated to point towards the user or away from the user as if you are looking out from the back of the screen.
In the lower left of the photo above there is the docking station connector. In the lower right is the power in socket. Between these two connectors is all battery.
On the left side of the laptop there is the obligatory Kensington lock slot, a large vent, a IEEE 1394 FireWire port, a powered USB 2.0 port and a PCMCIA slot.
The PCMCIA slot includes a plastic blank that you can use to keep dust out when the slot is not populated. The other strategy that hardware manufacturers use to keep PCMCIA slots dust free is an inbuilt flap that closes over the slot when the card is ejected. I much prefer the second approach over the first. With the first approach the blank is just another thing you have to carry around with you. For most of the devices I've had with such a blank I have lost it in short order. It may be a moot point in this case, though as the VoIP phone I'll be talking about later is designed to be popped into the slot for storage and charging.
The other bits in the box are quite interesting as well.
First up is the Bluetooth mouse. This mouse has a distinctly automotive style to it. The wedge shape is distinctly sports car like. The mouse wheel is black rubber and looks like a tire. On the back there is even a tail light (yes, it does light up).
Also included was an external optical drive. In this case the drive shipped was a DVD Multi-Writer.
The housing is a quite thin and this is achieved by using a slot loading drive. It seems to me to be a little noisy, but my only real complaint with the drive is that the cable included to connect it to the PC is a tad short and this limits your choices when positioning the drive.
The best gizmo in the kit - IMO - is the way cool Bluetooth VoIP handset. Once paired with the laptop this little device can be used either as a handpiece...
... or with a flip of the mouthpiece and the push of a button it can be come a handsfree speakerphone.
This can be used with Skype and MSN (according to the documentation) but it just shows up as another audio input/output device so you could use it with any voice chat app.
The Acer Software
One of the things I was looking forward to in reviewing this laptop was giving Vista a fair thrash on a machine with all the vendor software in place and functional. I was bitterly disappointed in this regard as two of the three bundled applications fail immediately after logon. In fairness to Acer I will say at this point that to my knowledge this is not the Acer OEM build of Vista. I believe that this laptop was sent to Microsoft, rebuilt there and then shipped to me. The utilities that were on the Laptop when I received it were almost certainly not installed in the same manner as Acer will be installing them on machines they ship with Vista. Furthermore, the versions on this laptop may or may not be the same versions that Acer will be using.
There were three Acer utilities installed. These were:
- Acer OrbiCam - which is suppose to provide some functions around the web camera
- Acer VCM (Voice Communications Manager) is used to pair the VoIP phone and manage the settings. Fortunately you can do this without VCM.
- Launch Manager
Of these three only Launch Manager seems to work.
I also noted that all of three of the above apps pre installed on a 64-bit laptop were 32-bit applications. Why not build the apps for the platform they will be running on?
There is much to like about this laptop. The highlights for me are:
- The feel: This laptop is light but feels anything but flimsy. It appears to be well constructed and has a feel of quality about it.
- The styling: Initially I thought the styling was a bit OTT, but I have to say that it has grown on me. I especially like the carbon fibre on the back of the screen and the detail around the buttons.
- The included accessories: The optical drive, mouse and VoIP phone are all well made and functional. These are handy devices to have in your mobile kit bag and the ones that ship with the laptop are good enough that you would not feel a need to rush out and buy new ones.
- Performance: Yikes - it is fast!
Bearing in mind that this laptop retails for US$2,200 I approached it with high expectations. In addition to the little things I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of points that could be improved upon. Such as:
- Battery life is shocking. No pun intended. The small battery (which sits flush with the back of the laptop when fitted) gives just under an hour of running time. The larger battery (which sticks out when fitted) gives a bit over 2 hours. In my opinion a total running time of three hours for two batteries is just not long enough to be useful as a primary Mobile PC.
- Batteries not warm swappable. On some devices you can swap out the batteries with the laptop in standby or sleep mode without losing your session (provided you can change a battery in less than a minute.) On a device of this caliber that ships with two batteries I would expect it to support this feature. It doesn't. To swap out the battery you need to power off or hibernate. This only compounds the battery life issue above.
- No latch on the lid. You just close the lid. There is no click. There is no release to open it again. It just does not seem right to me.
- Gets quite hot. The heat radiated out the bottom is enough to be uncomfortable if you are using it in your lap.
- It's not a tablet. I have to say I find the lack of a digitizer quite limiting. Using this device quite heavily for the last week or two has re-enforced for me that I would not buy a device as my primary mobile PC that did not have pen and or touch support.
Still to come...
I'll be doing a drill down into a couple of areas that I have not previously had the hardware to explore.