Finishing second to last, Acer simply didn’t do enough in the past year to move up in our survey. The biggest culprit was the reviews category, where the brand fell flat against the competition (with the exception of its premium Ultrabook). Fairly good tech support and a wide range of options are among Acer’s strengths, but its keyboards and preloaded software didn’t wow.
Acer’s laptop reviews ran the gamut this year, but the company’s showing wasn’t good enough to keep it out of the basement in this category. Four of its notebooks, including the Editor’s Choice-winning Aspire S7, received a 4-star rating. However, six systems received a 3-star rating (good, but not as good as the competition). Worse, two of its Aspire V5 machines ended up on the not-recommended list, owing to their short battery life.
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Acer has been improving steadily in the past few years in the tech support category. Most recently, the company added a new Acer Community portal on its website that lets users help each other. But if Acer wants to crack the top tier, the brand will have to work on its social media tech support and its phone representatives’ education.
Acer is capable of making some truly lovely notebooks. The best example is the 3-pound, 2.7 x 8.8 x 0.51-inches Acer Aspire S7, with its scintillating white aluminum chassis and Gorilla Glass lid. The company continued to push the envelope with the Aspire R7 and its innovative Ezel Design that lets users adjust the display to various angles. However, Acer continues to jump the shark with weird button placements as seen on the Aspire V7. And the company still slaps together a few cheap plastic notebooks like the Aspire V3-551 and C720 Chromebook.
Acer most often equips its laptops with solid, if unexciting, keyboards that allow users to type comfortably. However, some of its budget systems, such as the Chromebook C720p and the Aspire V5-122P, suffer from poor build quality and shallow travel. The company’s touchpads are also inconsistent, as some systems we tested were very responsive and others (such as the Aspire V3-722G) had trouble interpreting some gestures. The highly publicized Aspire R7 convertible provided one of the worst typing and navigation experiences of the year by placing the touchpad above the keyboard and providing no palm rest at all.
Known for its budget-friendly systems, many Acer laptops we reviewed delivered dim displays with narrow viewing angles and shallow audio, resulting in a last place finish for this round. In several cases, such as with the mid-range Aspire M5, our criticisms included tinny audio that falls flat at full volume. Still, Acer notebooks pump out sound louder than your average notebook (84 decibels) at a blaring 89 decibels.
While we appreciate the 1080p display on Acer Aspire R7, Aspire S7 and Travelmate P645, audio sounded muffled coming from the flagship S7′s bottom-mounted speakers. The displays on Acer’s laptops were also generally dimmer than your average notebook (242 lux), measuring just 203 lux during our light meter test.
Acer attempted a very interesting design scheme for one of its hybrid notebooks, but it fell flat in the usability department. The Acer R7, with its floating Ezel Hinge, features three display modes, including Pad, Display and Ezel. The decision to move the touchpad above the laptop’s keyboard, however, was a turnoff. We did like Acer’s Aspire S7, which features a Gorilla Glass coated lid.
From Chromebooks to hybrids and everything in between, Acer offers an extensive range of aggressively priced laptops. The Aspire E1 is a solid system with Intel Pentium power that costs just $399, while the Aspire S7 (392-6411) is an excellent Ultrabook for $1,499. Acer also offers the C720 Chromebook for just $199 ($299 with touch), so even the most cash-strapped can get a decent laptop. You can find Acer notebooks at a slew of retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, CostCo and Newegg. Too bad you can’t get a new Acer laptop running Windows 7, nor can you configure an Acer notebook’s specs online.
As with last year, Acer’s 2014 software retains a focus on helpful essentials. Newer notebooks, such as the Aspire S7, pack Clear.fi Photo, Clear.fi Media and Docs for easy file management. The impressive Acer Cloud app allows you to share your laptop’s content with your smartphone or tablet. Plus, business machines such as the TravelMate P645 offer useful programs such as ProShield for advanced security and Office Manager for viewing all laptops on your network.