Acer is a brand in transition. The company that used to be synonymous with value-priced notebooks turned a corner towards the end of 2012 with some shockingly beautiful hardware in its S7 series Ultrabooks. Acer has also made strides in the software department through such services as Acer Cloud. However, reviews continue to be mixed–who thought a mechanical port door was a good idea?–and support is just middle of the road, leading to a second-to-last finish in this year’s survey.
With the introduction of the ultraslim Aspire S7 and S5 notebooks, Acer took some real chances this year. Unfortunately, there were a lot of duds. Of the 15 notebooks we reviewed, three — the C7 Chromebook, the Aspire V5-571P and the Aspire V5-171 — earned scores of 2.5 stars or less. While cheap, the Chromebook C7 was a setback for the brand, with its netbook-like aesthetics and sad battery life. Despite the company picking up one Editors’ Choice award for the Aspire Timeline X 4830TG, Acer couldn’t make it out of the basement for this category.
Acer stepped up its game from last year’s last-place finish, moving up two spots. The jump is due in no small part to the 2.2-pound, 0.5-inch-thick Aspire S7-191, one of the year’s slimmest Ultrabooks (pictured). But while Acer has made progress in the high-end Ultrabook market, most of its value-priced notebooks have a boring aesthetic. Awkward port placements on the Aspire TimelineU M5 series and Aspire S5 also kept the brand from placing higher.
Over the course of this year, Acer keyboards were knocked regularly for offering very limited key travel. In particular, we noted a “less-than-stellar typing experience” on the V5-571. Still, many other machines allowed for swift typing with minimal errors. We generally approved of Acer’s touchpad sizes. The Aspire S5 won high marks for its palm rejection and multitouch gesture recognition. However, such notebooks as the Aspire V5-571 offered a poor touchpad experience, causing our cursor to jump around erratically. Despite that, Acer’s keyboard and touchpads were far more responsive than previous generations, which resulted in a one-point jump over last year’s score.
Acer rolled out its Customer Insights Group and Customer Experience Team within the last year, which aims to answer user questions via the Web. Its Top Answers site feature made us really dig to get answers and Web chat gave us an incorrect response. However, Facebook yielded successful results. Answers by Acer allows users to pay for support ($19.99 for 15 to 20 minutes, $29.99 for 20 to 30 minutes). Phone support, unfortunately, was a mixed bag, leading to an overall middling score.
Acer has mostly stuck with glossy 1366 x 768-pixel displays, such as with the Acer Aspire M5-481PT-6488. On notebooks like this, we were turned off by the reflections and below-average brightness. On higher-end systems like the S7 series, we were wowed by the wide viewing angles and full HD resolution. Dolby Home Theater audio enhancement upped the sound quality on many of Acer’s notebooks, such as the Acer Aspire TimelineX 4830TG-6808.
In addition to a $199 Chromebook, Acer offers the budget-friendly $450 Aspire V3 and the luxurious $1,399 Aspire S7 Ultrabook with touch, along with plenty of price points in between. Acer is also one of the few laptop makers that sells an Ultrabook for less than $600 in the Aspire S3. The company’s lineup has no dedicated gaming system, but its $829 Aspire TimelineU M5 Ultrabook comes close. Acer notebooks are available at multiple online outlets, as well as at Walmart and Best Buy. Acer.com sells a small subsection of its notebooks online, but you can’t configure to order.
Acer certainly isn’t shy about being first, even if it doesn’t always pan out. A great example is the Acer Aspire S5, an Ultrabook with a unique, motorized MagicFlip door that revealed many of the ports with the push of a button. While nifty, this design decision ultimately made more work for users. The Aspire M5 delivered discrete graphics inside an Ultrabook for a very affordable price, while the Aspire S7 was a marvel of engineering, offering a full HD touch experience inside a breathtakingly gorgeous and thin design.
Among other programs, Acer’s Windows 8 systems ship with Encyclopedia Britannica, but that requires a paid subscription. Acer typically loads its offerings with a 30-day trial of McAfee Internet Security Suite, which will throw an annoying and steady stream of pop-ups at you if you don’t activate it. Helpfully, Clear.fi Media and Clear.fi photos allow you to stream content to other DNLA-compliant devices. What separates Acer from the pack is Acer Cloud, which lets you access files and stream media on an Acer PC from Android devices. (iOS support is coming soon.)
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