Notebook Design and User Interface
The Acer Aspire AS551G-4591 is, from a standpoint of design, the laptop equivalent of unsweetened oatmeal. It is bland, dreary and isn’t something you’d serve up when your friends come over, but it does what it’s supposed to without any toil or trouble.
Although clad entirely in black plastic with the exception of some interior components, critics of the black-gloss fad will be happy to know that this Acer Aspire has ditched the glossy can of paint for an old-fashioned matte finish. The lid is textured with a diamond-plate pattern that further reduces the possibility of smudging. The interior of the laptop, including the palmrest and trackpad, are textured in a faux-aluminum gray that will fool most casual observers into thinking it’s the real thing. Dell should pay attention here – the M101z tried this same trick, but didn’t pull it off nearly as well.
Acer certainly deserves some praise for taking the route of form over function. It is nice to handle a laptop that doesn’t have to be taken in for a professional wax and buff if you ever touch it after enjoying a slice of pizza.
But while the matte plastics are nice, there were some design aspects that proved unpleasant in day-to-day usage. The display, for example, is wobbly in the extreme. Typing with anything but the gentlest touch can cause it to move slightly from side to side, a trait that becomes annoying quickly. The laptop chassis isn’t the most robust, either, as it does not remain completely rigid when handled in certain ways. The area surrounding the DVD drive is particularly bad – holding the laptop on this side results in noticeable chassis flex and an occasional plastic moan of protest.
The underside of the laptop hides a large plastic panel that covers both the RAM and hard drive. This panel is held in by two screws which can easily be removed. Replacing hardware on a laptop of this size is simple, and the locations of the hard drive and RAM in this design ensures that future upgrades won’t be a pain.
The generally cheap feel of the Acer Aspire 5551G-4591’s chassis continues throughout the laptop’s keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard is the same island style design that Acer has been using for some time. It is a relatively well laid out keyboard, and there is plenty of space between the keys. However, the keys themselves produce a strange wobble while you type, a trait that may be due to the keyboard’s tendency to flex when treated with all but the lightest touch.
The keyboard also includes a numpad. This is fine, but the Acer Aspire (like most 15.6” laptops) fails to offer any tactile distinction between the keyboard and the numpad. This makes it easy to mistakenly start using the keyboard when you meant to be hamming away on the numpad, or vice-versa. The solution to this – a simple plastic ridge or an extra few millimeters of space – would be very easy to implement, and it’s a shame that so many laptops fail to address the problem.
Navigating the Acer Aspire’s trackpad is a pleasant experience. Multi-touch gestures are included, and I found that the most important function – scrolling – was generally responsive. The trackpad surface is large enough as well. However, the trackpad buttons are a one-piece rocker design. This creates a non-functional dead zone in the middle of the trackpad and results in button feel that can be generously described as squishy.