This article originally appeared in issue 85 of Linux User & Developer.
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Operating system Tested: Ubuntu 9.10
Processor: Intel Core2 T4400 2.10GHz
Hard disk 160GB
Dimensions 383 x 250 x 26-37mm
Buying a laptop is not an easy task – it often means looking for specs you need now and specs that could offer some functionality down the road. For a Linux developer interested in touch computing, the Acer 5738 represents an interesting option for developing touch-screen apps and working with eventual touch versions of Linux distros. Today, the 5738 is intended for use with Windows 7, but it is easy to configure the system for a dual-boot and use any recent distro.
The Acer Aspire 5738 is essentially a standard laptop equipped for basic computing and development work that happens to support touch. The system uses a dual-core 2GHz processor and came equipped with 4GB of RAM. One of the most impressive specs on this laptop is the weight – at only 2.6 kilograms, it feels portable enough to carry around all day while still benefiting from the fast processing speed and desktop-like performance. The all-grey design lacks some of the pizzazz of a Toshiba or Sony laptop and makes it look like it was designed more for an office setting than home (which is a good thing). The trackpad was unfortunately one detriment to an otherwise well-designed laptop – running Ubuntu 9.10, we found the trackpad would slip slightly and was not quite as precise as we would like for detailed work, although we solved that problem quickly by using an external mouse. The 15-inch display on the 5738 is remarkably bright and clear thanks to a technology called CineCrystal, which made movies pop.
Another slight annoyance: we were not able to get the 5-in-1 flash card reader to work using some standard SD cards that have worked fine on other Linux laptops. We noticed that other Linux users posting in Acer forums had similar issues. Sound was not as explosive as we’d like when testing Unreal Tournament and other games that normally provide a prime sonic experience. We also tested a video from across the room in a group setting (basically a business presentation) and the Acer 5738 was not loud enough and a bit distorted, so we had to switch to external speakers. Many laptops – other than Apple MacBooks and some Sony models – suffer from this same ailment.
The main reason to consider this laptop is not necessarily for the trackpad, flash reader or audio. It is an experimental system that provides a multi-touch screen that works well for developing apps. We experimented with installed beta versions of Ubuntu that did not support touch technology, but also contacted Synaptics about drivers for Linux and were told this could be a possibility in the next year or so. For now, the touch features are strictly in the domain of Windows 7 – at least according to our own research and in talking to a Ubuntu representative.
That said, Ubuntu 9 worked flawlessly on this laptop and ran quite fast thanks to the dual-core processors and higher-than-normal RAM allocation. For developers, the system represents a forward-looking laptop that could well provide the hardware required for testing touch applications, especially for creating kiosk applications or for contributing to a Ubuntu touch-screen version at some point.
Not without its flaws, but it’s light and powerful enough. We’ll have to wait for a touch-screen version of Linux to make the most out of it.