Pros: CineCrystal 17.3 inch display, excellent keyboard, wide viewing angles. nice faux brushed aluminum
Cons: Slower processor and smaller hard drive than Acer Aspire 7736, grainy webcam, runs warm.
After graduating high school, and graduating from using a terrible Compaq Presario V2000 laptop that my sister let me borrow, I went to walmart to find a new laptop that was anything but what I had to deal with from the V2000. I actually got this by mistake, but I'm glad I bought this one over the older Aspire 7736 that I was eyeing. They were both around the $498 that Walmart was advertising them for and they were both in the same exact area in most all stores that I went to.
The criteria for my new computer was what I've always wanted. Bright display that was 15.6 inches diagonal or larger, speakers to fill my room (10ft by 10 ft), a keyboard that I could type on for hours and not get tired of, at least 4 USB ports or 3 and a USB hub, and a clear web cam. Thanks to the things I knew I'd be doing, I knew that a "net book" or 3 year old desktop might be asking for trouble, since I usually get angry at electronics that bog down easily.
At first when I saw the display model, it was the 7736 with the Intel Pentium T4400 2.2 GHz processor and 4 GB of RAM. I thought I was getting that,but when we got it home, it wasn't the same as the display. I could live without the glossy blue panel and the black and fake brushed aluminum looked (and still looks) quite tasteful, and for the price, it really could not be beat. When I looked at the label on the palm rest, it said, "ASPIRE 7741Z-5731" then I looked at it with a bit of worry because I saw that the processor was clocked at 1.86 GHz, instead of the 2.2 GHz on the 7736. this was a bit of a concern with me since I knew I'd be having at least 15 tabs open on Firefox, listening to music on Grooveshark, chatting on Skype, and writing in Wordpad. Another thing that I was slightly put down by was the exclusion of upgraded audio (Dolby Optimized 2.0 system) like the 7736 has, but I knew that wouldn't be a huge problem since I already had a 2.1 Philips computer speaker set. Another thing I noticed was that the hard drive was smaller. 250GB versus 320GB. Despite these shortcomings, I decided to keep it since we had to go to 7 stores around the area to find just THIS, and the only display model that they were selling had a broken keyboard.
When I opened it and connected it to the charger, I was pleasantly surprised by the 90 degree elbow connector and the side mount of the charger on the computer. No more bending the cord at hard angles and going through 5 chargers per year, like we had to do with the V2000. The real looker was that I actually thought that it was brushed aluminum surrounding the keyboard deck, separated by a tasteful thin black plastic border. My first thought after seeing this was, "Brushed aluminum for $493?!! They are crazy!!!" A few hours later, and to some relief, I noticed it was mainly plastic. Though I'm a little bummed that it's plastic, the laptop itself feels very substantial, so this wasn't that bad for me. At one time though, I remember seeing an Acer that had smooth, possibly metallic keys on it that resembled the keys of Sony's Vaio computers. When I saw that there was a smooth matte finish on these, I wondered how long it would last until I wore it off. So far, it's lasted longer than the wireless keyboard I have.
When I turned it on to start the setup process, I was greeted by Windows 7Home Premium 64bit edition. Once I saw this, I knew things would be better. Since I have used XP, Vista, and 7, I already knew that 7 was the best mix of agility, security, and stamina. Windows XP, though older, is slightly faster, but less secure; Vista is noticably slower than XP, but not much slower than 7; Vista had too many bugs for me to really like. After a few minutes, I noticed how warm the keyboard deck was getting, so I decided to see if I could rig a cooling pad under it. After finding a few case fans and an unused battery pack charger, I had myself a nice and cool laptop once again. it wasn't too terribly warm for me. only about id 90 degrees farenheidt at the most, but it was quite annoying using it and then noticing that my hands were sweating.
After I got all my programs on and started using the Internet here, I was amazed at how much faster it was when compared to my parent's computer or my sister's V2000. I could finally have more than 4 tabs open and NOT bog down. Sadly, this went to my head in about a month, and 5 weeks later, I had 170 tabs open across six windows in Firefox, yet I was still going faster than most any other computer I've used. most of them were Facebook, but 3 were youtube and one was grooveshark. I can say after that torture test, I knew I made a good decision.
This brings me to the keyboard. this keyboard is just about the best I've used in a LONG time. Even though the keys are flat, it took me ablsolutely no time to get used to it. The best comparisons I can come up with for the keyboard are IBM Thinkpad T43, Sony Vaio EC Series, and the Compaq Presario C600. It's that good to me. The touchpad is easy to use and has multitouch gesture support, wich is a god send when you have web pages that are too small to read, and even though the buttons are on a single bar, it's still easy to tell the difference between a right click and a left click.
I have to say, the audio on this is not that bad, but the audio on Compaq's V2000 was bolder, and Altec Lansing. Even though it distorted in the upper volumes, it wasn't afraid to go there. This computer's audio is slightly flatter, with more of the mids and highs coming through. only the lows are heard if you listen really closely. 100% is good for a 10ft by 10ft room, but not much else. The 7736 did not have this problem, again, thanks to its Dolby-grade audio, and plus the utterly massive speakers in it. I've seen them and let me tell you, 1 inch by 3 inch speakers built into a notebook has some immense cahones for the size. The ones in this laptop are about the size of quarters, and do not compare to Dolby grade speakers in the slightest.
The screen is nicely vibrant and has some very good horizontal viewing angles. Vertical viewing angles aren't as good, but still above average. I've heard of reviews that say that the CineCrystal display is slightly blurry, but I can only tell when I'm literally 6 inches away from the screen and looking at every pixel. For someone who wears glasses and is very sensitive to the clarity of the display, this is no problem for me.
The web cam however, is a source of constant criticism from me. When I first turned it on, I noticed that I looked noticeably grainy and when I moved I was blurry. My Skype friends confirmed this, saying that I was grainy, but was moving smoothly. When I talked in a normal volume though, they kept having me repeat what I said, so I'm basically having to either tilt the screen to where the built in microphone is 2 inches or less away from my mouth with the volume on both the microphone and the main volume on 100%, or using my aftermarket headset and keeping the microphone properties at ~70% with 20 decibel boost, and keeping the main volume at around 50%. at those levels I can talk like I normally would with no need to raise my voice, and if I have friends over, they can be heard over skype after I turn the main volume to about 70%, and that's with them across the room.
When closing the laptop, I noticed that there was no latch. Instead the lid likes to close itself after about 30 degrees or so, and it takes two hands to get it open. While open, there's no tendency to fall more open or more closed. it stays firmly in place easily, and the nicely textured lid hides fingerprints amazingly. The only thing is, the bezel around the screen is glossy, so you might want to keep a cloth around to polish it if you open and close the lid many times.
Carrying the 7741 is easy. All you need to find is a bag large enough to hold its girth. At 17 inches diagonal, it's about an inch too wide to fit in most bags, and most anything that can fit this may be over $50. at 7 pounds though, it's not much heavier than a Compaq C600, so it's not too terribly heavy, but it's not light as a feather either. Besides, I've seen enthusiast notebooks that are more than 20 pounds, so compared to that, I'd MUCH rather have this. For a 17 inch notebook, I expected at least 4 USB ports, but instead, on this, the now entry level model in the 17 inch class that Acer has, there is but 3. this would not be a problem if I didn't need to use an aftermarket webcam, but with a wireless keyboard, mouse, printer, and notebook cooler I find myself needing a few more and that would be it. thankfully though, I have a USB hub that I wasn't using. and that has solved this problem. I'm glad that Acer did their homework and put all the connections on the side, save for the memory card reader, but after getting used to everything on the sides, there really isn't any room for it on the sides since the exhaust for the processor's heatsink is so large. Now though, I'm liking where they put it because now, I'm not hitting a memory card in there like I an when I use the V2000.
There are no more than 5 lights on the deck of the 7741, and they are all easy to know that they are for, and two can be hidden. the power button is above the keyboard and on the top left corner, and is easy to press and is nicely large at about an inch wide. Next to it are the hard drive activity light and the wireless adapter light. then on the bottom lip there is also a non descript light with a lightbulb on it, which I can only conclude is the light for the charger (which is always connected with me since I charge the battery and take it out to keep it away from the heat) and the charging light, for when the battery is charging. Why there's possibly two lights for this is beyond me and the only real thing I can find wrong with this computer.
One quirk that I have found is that there are no Scroll/Caps/Number lock lights. Instead, you have these prompts that come up on the screen, and they are none too small either. They all appear in this shaded box about 3 inches square and very easy to see. The only problem with them is that after I restart, sometimes the lock prompts and the volume promts will not show. The wireless adapter, sleep, secondary screen, backlight on/off, and touchpad on/off will still work though. This problem is only intermittent and has happened only 3 times since I have bought this. The one funny thing is, Acer has gone Function button happy with multimedia, audio, screen brightness, and the other said controls, being used only with a function button combination. At first they were confusinf, but it took me only 4 or 5 days to master them all.
In closing, I can reccomend this laptop to anyone who needs a new computer, and can't spend more than $600 on it. Mine, was bought for $493 and some change, and it has so far met and, even with lower specifications than what I was wanting. The only thing that still annoys me is that the "1.3 MP" web cam is too grainy and slow for me to say that it will be all you need, and for that, I reccommend purchasing a higher quality one. trust me, you'll like how the picture looks then. Another thing that I don't like is how the model this replaces has Dolby Digital audio built in and this model doesn't. For that I reccomend purchasing something more than the replacement HP or $10 Logitech speakers that I've seen for sale. A cheap 2.1 system should suffice for normal everyday tasks, but you will want to step up to something of higher quality it you like listening to music, videos, or chat on skype for extended periods of time.