The Acer Aspire 5536 is an attractive unit, with a glossy blue lid and rounded edges. Its 15.6-inch screen makes it a mid-weight laptop at 2.8kg — not too bad, but still not something you want to lug around all day.
A full-size keyboard with a separate numeric keypad is the order of the day. The low-profile keys are similar to the "chiclet" style favoured by Apple and Sony, but the wide, flat key tops sit above the keyboard tray rather than poking through holes in it. Fluff, crumbs and other desktop detritus will probably accumulate in the empty space beneath the keys, but the design looks great and works well. The keys have a solid, positive action, without a hint of flex.
Unfortunately, the 5536's trackpad has an irksome design — it's simply a shallow area in the wrist rest with nothing to separate the touch-sensitive area from the flush-sitting buttons. As a result, it's easy for a button-pressing finger to stray onto the trackpad, leading to the mouse cursor jumping around. It's not a huge problem, but it's an annoying one, nonetheless.
The 5536's 1366x768 native resolution screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio, rather than the more common widescreen-laptop aspect ratio of 16:10. The supposed benefit is that this eliminates the black borders when watching widescreen movies. It's important to note, however, that this only applies to movies presented in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Many movies are presented in the even wider 2.20:1 aspect ratio, and these will still have black borders at both the top and bottom. The 5536's screen is bright and clear, though, and the LED backlight means that it's evenly lit. It is glossy, however, so it can be overly reflective in certain conditions and won't suit everyone.
The Dolby Home Theater branding might suggest that the 5536 would offer excellent audio, but the sound quality is little better than on any other laptop we've reviewed. There's no bass-enhancing tube at the rear of the 5536, and so the speakers sound rather tinny, although they're fine for the odd spot of music.
Purring under the hood of the laptop is a 2.1GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 QL-64 CPU, 3GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 3200 GPU, with a 320GB hard drive. This lead to a PCMark05 benchmark score of 3906, indicating that the Aspire 5536 can ably cope with the kind of programs that home users are likely to run, from word-processing to video-editing apps.
The 3DMark06 score of 1299 means it's only good for 3D gaming if you keep resolutions and detail settings low.
Battery life doesn't differ much between the laptops either. The 5536-643G50Mn lasted for 59 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test and three hours and 14 minutes in the less-demanding Reader's test. This should equate to over two hours of typical use with Wi-Fi enabled. That's not great, but it's enough for catching up on some work in the garden without reaching for the mains extension lead.
The Acer Aspire 5536 is a little light on battery, but it's a good all-rounder for anyone seeking an affordable laptop with a big screen and keyboard.