Review: Acer Aspire 3935

By Eric Grevstad

June 15, 2009

Both 802.11n-draft Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are built into this $900 laptop, as are a fingerprint reader and Webcam. If we went shopping for a 13.3-inch notebook today, this is the one we'd pick.

Woo woo. Or if you prefer, hubba hubba. The Acer Aspire 3935 is a brushed-metal slimline just 1-inch thick and just 4.2 pounds, including the DVD±RW drive missing from ultralight notebooks, such as Apple's MacBook Air (and the Ethernet port and swappable battery missing from the Air, as well).

No, it's not quite as skinny and sexy as the Apple status symbol or Lenovo's magnesium-alloy ThinkPad X301. But this 13.3-inch widescreen traveler is about half the price--$900 at Newegg and J&R.

And that's not for a stripped-down model, either. The CPU is one of Intel's up-to-date "Penryn" Core 2 Duos--the P7350, a 2.0GHz dual-core with 1066MHz front-side bus and 3MB of Level 2 cache--teamed with 3GB of quick DDR3 rather than more mundane DDR2 memory and an ample 250GB Toshiba hard disk, itself a lighter, cutting-edge 1.8-inch compact rather than a more mundane 2.5-inch model.

Both Bluetooth and 802.11 draft-N WiFi wireless are built in, as are a fingerprint reader and Webcam. The 32-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium anchors a software bundle that includes 60-day trial versions of McAfee Security Center and Microsoft Office Home & Student 2007; NTI Backup Now and Media Maker; the eSobi RSS-feed reader and Orion instant-messaging client; and Acer's (really CyberLink's) Arcade Deluxe, an alternative to Windows Media Center for enjoying DVDs, photos, and music. There's also a handy window-tiling utility dubbed GridVista that makes it easy to arrange, say, one application on the laptop's LCD while two others share a split-screen external monitor.

Lovely to look at, delightful to hold

Acer's press release describes the 3935--its official configuration name is the Aspire 3935-6504--as a "golden-brown [color] that evokes both glamor and efficiency." It also takes vigorous buffing to remove what you might call a thumbprint-polka-dot pattern after you've picked up and carried the thing a few times, but picking up the 9.3 by 12.7 by 1.0-inch Acer is never a chore, even when lifting the opened notebook one-handed.

There's a Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard/xD/Memory Stick/Pro flash-card slot on the system's front edge, with USB 2.0 and Ethernet ports beside the DVD burner on the right. At the left are two more USB ports, microphone and headphone/SPDIF audio-out jacks, and a VGA port. The Aspire loses points for not providing a more contemporary HDMI port, but Acer's designers presumably thought the system more likely to be plugged into a business-presentation projector than a high-def-video-viewing TV set.

One very contemporary feature is the Aspire's iPhone-style, gesture-enabled touchpad, which combines the usual tapping and dragging with auto-scroll through long documents (a circular motion starting at the top right corner of the pad) and zooming in and out of documents and images (pinching two fingers together or spreading them apart). An adjacent button turns off the touchpad for users who prefer an external mouse.

Perhaps the 3935's best feature is its keyboard, which combines full-sized keys with a chiclet-style layout that puts an extra tenth of an inch or so of space between them. The result is actually more comfortable than most desktop keyboards--the A through apostrophe keys span 8.25 instead of the usual 8.0 inches--with a soft but smooth typing feel with good key travel.

The keyboard provides both cursor arrows and dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys, as well as Ctrl and Delete keys in their proper bottom left and top right corners, respectively. A cooling fan at the left of the keyboard provides occasional background noise, but you'll have to concentrate to catch its whisper.

A touch-sensitive strip above the keyboard offers volume up/down/mute buttons, on/off buttons for the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, and a button to launch a backup utility. A PowerSmart button activates energy-saving settings including reduced screen brightness and a switch from Windows Vista Aero to Basic graphics.

Acer's advertised five-hour battery life is a fib, but the Aspire's four-cell lithium-ion pack lasted a tolerable three to three and a half hours in our real-world, more-demanding-than-minimal work sessions. One worst-case scenario lasted only two and a half hours, but that was a disk-intensive torture test (a system restore followed by DVD viewing).

Hey, bright eyes

Speaking of elegant design, the Aspire's 13.3-inch display is a borderless or bezel-less glass panel that runs the width of the lid, with no seams or corners for dust to collect.

A sunny LED backlight makes the 1,366 by 768-pixel screen easy on the eyes, with excellent contrast and vivid colors even with brightness turned down a few notches. High-def aficionados will applaud the display's 16:9 aspect ratio versus the old-school 16:10 (1,280 by 800) of 13.3-inch rivals such as Dell's XPS M1330 and Lenovo's IdeaPad U330.

That said, while the screen has the right resolution and aspect ratio to show 720p HD video if hooked up to a USB HDTV tuner, Intel's GM45 chipset and its GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics fall well short of dazzling video performance. At the display's native resolution, the Aspire struggled to a pathetic six frames per second in our Unreal Tournament III game benchmark.

The system posted a 3DMark06 score of 899 and rendered Cinebench R10's sample scene in a leisurely 3 minutes and 37 seconds.

Its non-graphics-related benchmark results were more respectable, with a 104 rating from SysMark 2007 Preview and a PCMark05 score of 4,412 (CPU 5,041; memory 4,510; hard disk 4,182; graphics 2,269). Windows Vista's own Experience Index gives the Aspire a 3.7 on its 5.9-point performance scale, with poor gaming graphics offsetting solid CPU, RAM, and hard disk subscores.

The Aspire 3935 isn't the only machine to stake a claim as an affordable alternative to 13.3-inch glamor candies like the MacBook Air and Dell Adamo. But it comes in $100 to $200 below such contenders as the IdeaPad U330 and Dell Studio XPS 13, and more than a pound below the Gateway UC7807 we reviewed in April, with an exceptional screen and keyboard plus decent battery life. If we went shopping for a 13.3-inch notebook today, this is the one we'd pick.

Article courtesy of HardwareCentral.com.



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