Sony, which no longer makes laptops, took the bottom spot in our brand evaluation last year. This year, Acer fell one spot to take that dubious honor. The company didn’t fare well in reviews or tech support, and it underwhelmed in the design department. There are some bright spots, such as decent value and selection, a solid Chromebook lineup and a willingness to take chances on 2-in-1 hybrids. But overall, Acer has the most room to improve.
Of the 11 Acer notebooks we reviewed last year, nine of them — including the Acer Chromebook 13 — received a rating of 3.5 stars, but none earned a higher score. Dragging down the company’s point total in this category was the Acer Travelmate X313 (1.5 stars), an unfortunate hybrid laptop with short battery life and poor ergonomics.
With a C+ grade in this year’s Tech Support Showdown, Acer’s customer service proved to be mediocre. The phone representatives provided satisfactory answers, but we wish the company hadn’t tried at length to sell us a new warranty policy. We liked the thorough website and online chat option but were disappointed by the lack of social networking help.
The Aspire S7 can still turn a head or two. Acer’s masterful combination of aluminum and glass makes for one of the prettiest notebooks on the market. However, we’d like to see a color other than white.
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For better or worse, Acer isn’t afraid to take risks when it comes to its hybrid machines. The Aspire R13 combines the adjustable display of the Aspire R7 with the rotating-display design of the Dell XPS 12. However, the overall aesthetic looks a little unfinished and clunky. There are also plenty of yawn-inducing designs, including the Aspire V3-111P, Aspire E15 Touch and Chromebook C720P. They’re pretty solidly built but very plain and decidedly B Team.
Acer’s keyboards and touchpads are as varied as its notebook lineup, with some models providing comfortable, accurate results and others feeling flat. While the keyboards on the Aspire E15 Touch and Aspire Switch 10 offer deep travel and a snappy feel, other models, like the Aspire V3 and Chromebook C720, suffer from cramped, shallow keys. Most of Acer’s touchpads offer accurate navigation, but the Aspire E1-510P has a stiff click bar, while the lame Travelmate X313-M has no pad at all.
Across our Acer reviews, the same complaints reared their heads again and again. Most Acer screens are not very bright or colorful. The displays reached an average brightness of 226 nits and a color gamut of 68 percent, both of which are well below category averages. There are standouts, of course, such as the Aspire S7, which offers a gorgeous 2560 x 1440-pixel resolution and amazing colors. The Aspire Nitro V15 has a sharp 4K display and shows 97.8 percent of the sRGB color gamut, but it suffers from a below-average brightness of 212 nits. Most models, however, are more in line with the Aspire E14, which couples low resolution with inaccurate, dull hues.
Acer’s recent innovations have been mostly subtle but still include some significant steps forward. The company’s Aspire R13 hybrid certainly raised our eyebrows, with its unique, rotating Ezel Aero Hinge that allows for a whopping six use modes — more than just about any other convertible we’ve tested.
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Acer’s Chromebook 13 stands out among Chromebooks, as the first of its kind to sport a speedy Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. The company’s V Nitro series already offers a compelling mix of looks and performance for gamers, and the V 17 Nitro will soon sport Intel’s RealSense 3D camera for motion-based gaming and rich 3D scanning.
Louder isn’t always better. Averaging 87 decibels, most of Acer’s notebooks pump out plenty of sound, but quality suffered on machines such as the Acer Aspire Switch 10, whose audio was flat. Some models come with Dolby Digital Plus, which lets you choose from multiple sound profiles to customize what you hear.
Acer sells 15 laptops, but many of them aren’t available from its own Web store, or have just one configuration, such as the Aspire V7 and Aspire R14. Acer’s site also lacks a configuration tool, and with its frequent hit-or-miss availability for direct purchases, customers should probably look to retailers like Amazon or Best Buy as a first option.
When it comes to stretching your dollar, Acer features reasonable prices for higher-specced systems, charging an additional $100 to go from 8GB to 16GB of RAM on the Aspire V5 Nitro and $100 to move up from an Intel i5 CPU to an i7. Acer’s $1,300 Aspire S7 Ultrabook compares favorably to the Dell XPS 13, offering an i7 CPU that the Dell doesn’t have.
Acer’s Cloud app and the Clear.fi software suite have been replaced by the company’s Build Your Own Cloud (BYOC) software, which comes with all Acer notebooks. BYOC is different from Dropbox in that you directly access your device’s hard drive remotely. This means that the storage you get is pretty much up to you, and typically much more than cloud services offer for free.
Acer’s new abApps are pretty nifty. They include abPhoto, abMusic, abFiles and abDocs to share pictures, music collections, remote files and Office documents, respectively, across devices. Touch notebooks ship with Acer TouchTools, including AccuFinger for more precise control of things like spreadsheets, and Screen Grasp for convenient screenshot editing.