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I am a mature student with no interest whatsoever in the technical ins and outs of computers. I like a computer that is easy to use and does what I need it to, reliably and without any hassle. I was lucky enough to be bought this machine by my LEA through Disabled Students' Allowance. Although I had no choice as to which one I was bought, I have found that this one more than meets my needs. Plus I would imagine that the LEA have deemed it more than adequate for the needs of students, reliable and good value for money, or they wouldn't have chosen it as the one to buy for lots of students.
I won't bore you by going on about the technical specification, as you can easily look that up elsewhere, and I don't really know what most of it means anyway. I'll just tell you my experiences of using it, and if you're anything like me then that is what you will want to know anyway.
I have had this laptop, sorry, smacked hand again, NOTEBOOK, now for about six months. Apparently we're not allowed to call them laptops anymore because it gives people the impression that you can use them on your lap. I would not recommend trying to use this on your lap, unless you have asbestos legs, because it does get very hot. I have one of those folding TV dinner tables which I find is ideal. I also use it on my bed, although it does get hotter on a soft surface presumably because there is no airflow underneath, but it has so far never overheated - I always take care not to block the vent. One extremely important word of warning: do not leave your chocolate anywhere near the vent, I learnt this the hard way by leaving a bag of minty Aero balls too close without thinking, and ending up with minty Aero mush!
I use it mainly for surfing the net and for word processing, for which it is more than adequate. It isn't too big or heavy which makes it easy to carry around the house or out and about (for this I would recommend Samsonite's range of laptop backpacks. The one I have doesn't look like it's for a laptop so it doesn't scream "steal me!" at anyone who sees it, and it was very reasonably priced).
I have selected 'satisfactory' for the instruction manual in the criteria options because it doesn't give 'not applicable' as an option. It is so easy to use that I have never looked at the instruction manual - I don't even know what it looks like! The machine was set up for me by the company it was bought from and I haven't needed to do anything else with it since that would require any instructions (although admittedly if I did then I would just ask my husband, who knows about these things, to sort it for me). The same goes for manufacturer support - I have never had any problems with this machine so I have never been in any need of support.
It has a touchpad which I find very easy and convenient to use. I had used one before so was used to it, but if you've never used one they're quite easy to get used to and much more convenient than plugging a mouse in and finding a suitable surface to use it on. The only problem I have with touchpads is that sometimes they are a bit too clever for their own good: they have features where if you make a particular movement it activates something, or you can tap the pad instead of pressing the 'mouse' button. I don't like these features because I find that I go to move the mouse pointer and it misinterprets my movement and does something I don't want it to. On this machine you can turn off any touchpad features that you don't want: so I have it set to work just like a mouse, where movement just moves the pointer and if I want to click on something I press the buttons.
It has built in wireless capability, of a high end specification so I'm told, so (as far as I know) will work with any wireless router without the need to buy anything extra. I find the wireless extremely useful as I can just pick up the machine and go anywhere I want in the house, without having to worry about wires, and still be connected to the internet. That said, I do usually plug in the power cable if it's convenient to do so: the battery does last for ages, but in order for it to do that it does run a little slower on battery and the screen is not as bright; when on battery it also automatically hibernates itself, in order to save power, after a short period of inactivity, and this can be annoying if I'm watching telly or something and have got the computer on just to listen out for incoming emails or messages - it logs me out of messenger when it hibernates.
Another cool thing about the wireless is that it detects all available wireless networks within range, not just your own. Most sensible people will make sure that their wireless networks are secured but some networks aren't, often because they are designed for open access, so you may be able to access the internet when out and about, or at home through someone else's network when yours is down!
The keyboard is slightly curved, which doesn't bother me at all as I am used to it and I can't touch type anyway so I'm always looking at what I'm typing. But other, more techno minded, people always moan about the keyboard shape whenever they use my computer as they go to type and the keys are not where they expect them to be. It would only be a minor irritation though for most people, and for desktop use you could always plug in a separate keyboard.
There are various sockets and slots, including (but not only): USB; network cable/modem; and a very handy slot which takes the card from our digital camera, so I can put the pictures straight onto my computer - very handy for listing things on eBay! (Ours is an SD card but it does take some other types too). There is also another slot (a general expansion slot, apparently) which can take a card allowing you to connect to the internet over a mobile phone network; this came in very handy when we moved house and so didn't have a phone line or broadband connection for a while.
The screen display quality is very good: everything is very clear and sharp, which is important to me as I am a little short sighted but like to be able to use the computer without my glasses (it is also very easy to change the settings so that everything's bigger!)
In addition to the basic functions I need, I have discovered a couple of other things it does which to me are a bonus: I can use it to put tracks on to my MP3 player; and it also has a DVD writer - great for backing up lots of data, or for making backup copies of your CDs so you can wear those out, by playing them over and over again, instead of the originals! It also has Bluetooth and infrared capability but I have no need of those.
Overall I think it is a very good machine, because it is reliable and does what I need without any fuss; and my husband thinks it's good because he knows what all the technical jargon in the specification means!
*UPDATE - October 2006* It has now developed a fault, and as I write this I'm waiting for a courier to collect it for repair. I will further update when I know the outcome. The customer support so far has been pretty good; I only called them yesterday and they're having it collected today, but that is the company it was bought from and not Acer themselves.
*FURTHER UPDATE - October 2006* It turned out that the power pack was faulty, which was causing the machine to do strange things! It was replaced no problem and I had my computer back within the week.