Starting Configuration Price
Ample memory and storage including SSD. USB-C port. Great battery life.
- Bottom Line
The Acer Aspire 5 is a 15.6-inch desktop-replacement laptop that gives you a lot for your $629, but tops it with something you should never settle for at this price: a 1,366-by-768 non-IPS screen.
There's a lot to like about the Acer Aspire 5 (starts at $399, $629 as tested). You get a 15.6-inch low-cost desktop-replacement laptop with a peppy Intel Core i5 processor, a generous 12GB of memory, a 128GB solid-state drive as well as a 1TB hard drive, and USB-C and Ethernet ports. The Acer's performance in our benchmark tests was sprightly, and its stamina in our battery-life test was downright impressive (nearly 12 hours). So are we recommending it? Not unless you leave it on your desk plugged into an external monitor all the time.
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The Aspire 5's screen is a deal-breaker—a low-resolution (1,366-by-768), low-quality twisted nematic (TN) panel instead of the full HD (1,920-by-1,080), in-plane switching (IPS) display you should seek in an over-$600 laptop. Our Editors' Choice among budget desktop replacements, the Acer Aspire E 15, offers a better full HD (though not IPS) screen for $349. Even among 1,366-by-768 TN displays, we like that of the $199 HP Stream 11-y010nr more than the Aspire 5's, perhaps because the 15.6-inch size magnifies flaws that an 11.6-inch screen hides. The Aspire 5 may appeal to comparison-shopping consumers—"Hey, this one has 12GB of RAM versus that one's 8GB"—but we think they'd be happier with more modest specs accompanied by a superior screen, as offered by many other models in Acer's and other lineups.
Not to belabor the screen critique, but the glossy display is passable only when you're sitting smack dab in front of it, with the tilt adjusted just right. Even then, colors are pale and details are indistinct, though brightness is adequate. Try viewing it at the slightest angle, and dark areas wash out like photo negatives while text looks pixelated. The 720p videos we watched (there isn't enough resolution for 1080p) were smooth and stutter-free, but colors fizzled rather than popped.
Otherwise Looking Good
Fifteen-inch notebooks aren't ultraportables, but our test unit (model A515-51-51LZ) is certainly able to be carried if you have a good-sized briefcase or backpack. At 0.85 by 15 by 10.4 inches (HWD), the system is about the same size, if maybe a hair thinner, than its competitors; it weighs 4.85 pounds, slotting in between the HP Notebook 15 (ba009dx) and the Asus F556UA-AB32 (4.7 and 5 pounds, respectively).
Finished in black plastic with a crosshatched texture on the lid, the laptop announces itself with a silver Acer logo in the center of the lid and the Aspire name on the screen hinge. A chrome strip borders the base and touchpad. The system feels solidly built, with little or no flex in the screen corners and keyboard tray. Acer preloads plenty of software, ranging from the useful (the Dashlane password manager) to the commercial (eBay, Priceline, Amazon, WildTangent games).
Sound from the bottom-mounted speakers is fair—bass is largely absent and high notes are slightly tinny, but there's enough volume to fill a room and most instrumentals and vocals are clean and accurate. The webcam captures images with good contrast but fine details are fuzzed out.
Ports are plentiful. On the laptop's left side, you'll find a Kensington lock, a USB 3.0 port, a USB-C port, an HDMI port, an Ethernet jack, and an SD card slot (unfortunately, the type that leaves the card sticking two-thirds of the way out so you can't leave a card in place when stuffing the machine into your briefcase). Along the right edge are an audio jack, two USB 2.0 ports, and the connector for the AC power brick.
The backlit keyboard wins points for having dedicated (if small) Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys and loses points for its HP-style treatment of the cursor arrow keys—half-sized up and down arrows sandwiched between full-sized left and right arrows, in a row instead of an inverted T. Typing feel is crisp and quiet, with adequate travel and soft feedback. The touchpad responds well to gliding motions, gestures, and taps, though it takes a firm press on its lower half to produce a click.
A Potent Performer
The base model of the Aspire 5 costs $399 and comes with a Core i3-7100U processor, 8GB of memory, and a 1TB HDD. Our top-of-the-line unit has Intel's "Kaby Lake" Core i5-7200U, a 2.5GHz (3.1GHz turbo) dual-core CPU with Hyper-Threading, teamed with 12GB of memory and a 128GB Hynix SATA M.2 SSD plus a 1TB hard drive, giving the Aspire 5 above-average performance. The system's score in our PCMark 8 productivity benchmark was 3,286 points—higher than some Core i7 laptops we've tested, let alone the Aspire E15 (2,491) or the HP Notebook 15 (1,920). The likes of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are cake to this Acer.
You wouldn't want to do much video or photo editing on a 1,366-by-768 display, but the Aspire 5 crunched through our Handbrake video encoding benchmark in 2 minutes and 12 seconds compared with 2:54 for the Asus F556UA and 3:41 for the Lenovo Z50-75. The laptop's time in our Adobe Photoshop image-editing exercise was just over 4 minutes, versus a bit under 6 minutes for the Aspire E 15 and the Asus.
Its battery life could be the Aspire 5's best feature, as the laptop lasted nearly half a day—a real day, not a workday (11 hours and 54 minutes)—in our rundown test, easily beating its stablemate's 9:49 and the Asus' 7:31. Its worst feature apart from the screen would be its gaming prowess, as it lost to the humble Z50-75 in our Fire Strike Extreme subtest and managed only 10 frames per second, despite its low resolution, when running Heaven and Valley at top image quality. Like its integrated-graphics peers, the Acer is meant for casual and solitaire games, not the latest top-rated titles.
Are we being overly fussy, insisting that you should insist on a full HD and IPS display in this price range? Maybe, but we know that such a screen will make you a lot happier than having 12GB versus 8GB of RAM or a hard drive in addition to an SSD. For those willing to sacrifice some power and storage for a better display, the Asus F556UA-AB32 and the Editors' Choice Acer Aspire E 15 are both solid desktop-replacement alternatives, with their 1080p screens and under-$500 price tags.
By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Old Greenwich, CT. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
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