Solid media system, with one exception…
The nice thing about a 27-inch All in One with a few HDMI inputs is that it makes for a great console gaming screen. Also nice is the single HDMI out port, which allows for a down and dirty multi-monitor set-up. Not nice is the lack of a remote control, although the built-in webcam-based gesture controls (detailed below) are a welcome substitute. There are also plenty of iOS and Android apps that will function as a remote as well.
The sound quality of the 7600U is shockingly bad for an All in One. Music, games, and even Blu-Ray movies sounded consistently thin, bright, and tinny, and lacked any substantial low-end bass response.
Even after adjusting all of the settings, both real and virtual (Acer has included a virtual surround sound emulator), I still couldn't get this system to produce a level of quality sound that I could imagine myself living with on a permanent basis. Sound quality here pales in comparison to just about every other All in One I've ever tested.
Bloatware, interesting webcam gesture interface
Apparently buying a Windows 8 system means that we all now face twice the amount of pre-installed bloatware as before.
Acer has loaded the Aspire with a number of apps both in the Win8 shell as well as the desktop interface. Some of these are useful—Evernote, Hulu, Skype. Many are not—TuneIn Radio, Cha-Cha, a proprietary cloud-based storage solution named AcerCloud, and more.
The most interesting piece of pre-installed software on this system is called PointGrab, which allows you to operate the OS with your hand. The app opens up the webcam, which automatically detects your hand (depicted by a green "X" that appears on your hand) and , more importantly, various gestures you make.
We've played with webcam-based gesture controls before - the Razer Blade gaming laptop had a very basic interface that allowed you to perform a few simple gestures. PointGrab goes far beyond basic. It essentially turns your hand into the mouse.
As an example, you can literally move the Windows pointer to an area or object on the screen, make a grabbing or clicking motion, and the end result will be a left click on the desired object.
We'd prefer a real remote control for operating from across the room, but PointGrab doesn't take long to get used to, and seems pretty non-intrusive as it's running on your desktop.
By far, the best thing about the Acer Aspire 7600U is its crisp 27-inch display. It's true that an IPS panel feels more appropriate at this price point (Apple's iMac has one), as does support for a higher resolution than 1920x1080. But it's a large, attractive screen, and that counts for something.
Additionally, the touch screen is responsive, both at the Windows 8 general interface level as well as the virtual keyboard, and the non-Win8 desktop. The ability to quickly recline this big 27-inch screen to a 30 degree angle (virtually flat) is very cool, and allows for the kinds of fast, touch-based sessions we frequently use these types of systems for.
We also like the PointGrab gesture-based interface, which is a little closer to the Kinect-style UI we think All in Ones should have. It's simple, but it works well. And every time it recognizes the palm of our hand, we feel a little rush of awe. (This said, over time we found ourselves not using it as much as we expected.)
How about the Aspire's design? Well, we're not totally sold. Several of our friends and family liked the airy design. Several thought it looked dated. We'll call the aesthetics a wash. At the very least, it's a conversation starter, and you can't say it's ugly. Even if it feels impossible to compete with Apple's sense of style, we're happy to see manufacturers take chances with the industrial design of their systems.
Our biggest problem with this system is that it just isn't fast enough. The 7600U's lack of pep is immediately noticeable upon start-up. And not just by us—friends and family who used the system all had the same reaction. "Is something wrong with this system? It feels slow."
When civilians are saying this, you know you have a problem. When you look at a system's specifications and grow concerned, you also know you have a problem.
For $1,900, you should get a lot more in terms of performance and components. This isn't just idle speculation. Apple and Dell have released systems in the same price range with finer parts. Consider Apple's $1,799 iMac:
Now look at Dell's XPS One 27, which also costs $1,799 in this base configuration:
In both cases, $100 less gets you a faster processor and a better display, with other faster options also available on each side. The quad-core processor is the real kicker because of the advantages it affords in video processing and multi-tasking environments.
Aside from the price-performance concerns, there are way too many unpolished and mid-range features here for such an expensive system. The awkward keyboard. The non-responsive power button.
The 7600U is good for media, and you can play games on it. If it was a $1,300 system, this would be a far more positive review, but at $1,900 it costs too much for what you get.
In terms of mid-high-end AIO design, it seems like Acer is still caught in the old AIO mentality from 3-4 years ago, which unapologetically emphasizes clever aesthetics and design over performance.
Modern PC buyers are smarter than this now, particularly given the amount of time Microsoft has spent emphasizing the performance advantages of Windows 8.
Finally a real-world test. Whenever we test and review an All in One, we place it front and center in the corner of our living rooms. For many of us, our significant others' reaction to the system is an important part of the process. In the case of the Acer PC? Well, they didn't care for the looks ("It's trying to hard."), and quite often they despised the performance. This doesn't count for everything, but it counts for a lot.
The good news for Acer is that the path of redemption is relatively straightforward: Upgrade the CPU and hard drive in this system at the same price, and it immediately becomes an above average buy. Upgrading the display panel to IPS and moving into the performance range of GPUs moves this rig into legendary territory.