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Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen
Attractive brushed-metal lid
Good battery life
Hamstrung by Windows 10 S
Looks metal, but mostly plastic
The Acer Aspire 5 is a budget laptop that looks like a much more expensive piece of hardware, with a slick, brushed metal lid, full HD 15-inch display, decent battery life, and enough power under the hood to handle your everyday productivity tasks.
The Acer Aspire 5 is another offering in Acer’s excellent line of budget-priced laptops. It features a beautiful 15.6-inch IPS display in 1080p, a slick, metallic design aesthetic, and it’s deceptively light for such an inexpensive device. The AMD Ryzen 3 3200U dual-core CPU running at 2.6GHz doesn’t exactly turn heads, but it is available in more powerful configurations if you’re willing to spend a little more.
We took an Aspire 5 for a spin, in the base configuration, to see how well it holds up in real-world circumstances. We tested things like battery life, how well the display works in a variety of conditions, whether the Ryzen 3 CPU could handle our daily workflow, and more.
The Acer Aspire 5 (A515-43-R19L) represents a significant improvement over Acer’s already impressive budget line of laptops. The build quality definitely reflects its budget price tag, with the bulk of the materials being plastic, but the brushed metal lid gives it a premium look and feel that sets it apart from the competition.
In keeping with the premium look, this laptop is remarkably thin and light for such an inexpensive device. It might be chunky and heavy compared to the ultralight 15-inch LG Gram, but that type of comparison is hardly fair. Compared to laptops in its own price range, the Acer Aspire 15 is a clear winner.
In keeping with the premium look, this laptop is remarkably thin and light for such an inexpensive device.
You’ll find a slimline Ethernet port, HDMI port, headphone jack, and two USB ports on one side of the device, and the third USB port on the other. All the vents, and the speaker grills, are located on the bottom.
Flipping the unit open, the bezel is exceptionally thin on the sides for a budget model, predictably thick on the top and bottom, and constructed from cheap black plastic. The screen is big and bright, and the keyboard is backlit, which is a nice premium touch. Our review unit wasn’t equipped with a fingerprint reader, but that is an option in more expensive versions of the Aspire 5.
Since the Aspire 5 comes with Windows 10 preinstalled, the setup process is fairly straightforward. You’ll have to provide some information, log into your Microsoft account, and you should be on the desktop and ready to start working in under 10 minutes.
The one caveat here is that the Aspire 5 is saddled with Windows 10 in S mode, which is a streamlined version of the operating system that will only run apps that you download from the official Windows Store. We’ll dig further into that down in the software section of this review, but suffice it to say that freeing yourself from the shackles of S mode adds some extra time to the setup process.
The Aspire 5 comes equipped with a full HD 15.6-inch IPS display that’s a significant improvement over other budget units that use 720p TN screens. We found the colors to be vibrant, the display to be exceptionally bright when cranked all the way up, and the overall picture quality to be sharp.
Viewing angles are great, which is to be expected from an IPS panel, allowing us to use the laptop in a variety of lighting conditions with no issues. Since the screen is matte rather than glossy, it doesn’t pick up much glare from sunlight or indoor lighting.
The Acer Aspire 5 is available in a variety of configurations, some of which are significantly more powerful than others. Our test unit came equipped with an AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor and a Radeon Vega 3 integrated GPU, which places some rather hard limits on what the system is capable of.
We found it to be perfectly capable of basic productivity tasks like word processing, email, web browsing, and even videoconferencing. The relatively slow processor, and integrated graphics, don’t really come into play unless you’re editing video or trying to play games.
Compared to laptops in its own price range, the Acer Aspire 15 is a clear winner.
In order to get a solid baseline, we downloaded and ran the PCMark benchmark. It achieved an overall score of 2,918, which indicates that it isn’t quite suitable for a true desktop replacement. The area it struggled the most in was digital content creation, where it notched a score of 2,182. That number was particularly affected by a poor rendering and visualization score.
It fared much better in other areas, with a score of 3,603 in word processing and a snappy 6,352 in app start up time. What all that means is that this laptop is more than capable of basic productivity tasks and capable of light image editing, but it will struggle if you need to edit video.
We also ran a few benchmarks from GFXBench, even though this laptop isn’t really designed for gaming. The first thing we ran was the Car Chase benchmark, which dragged along at just 19.28 frames per second (fps) The T-Rex benchmark performed better, at 85.26fps, showing that this laptop is actually capable of playing older, less demanding games.
The relatively slow processor, and integrated graphics, don’t really come into play unless you’re editing video or trying to play games.
When we tried the hands-on approach with Capcom’s Monster Hunter, we were unable to achieve anything higher than 18fps, even with settings turned down and a low resolution. We then fired up Borderlands 2, which is a much older game, and enjoyed a smooth 30fps at a slightly reduced resolution of 1280 x 720 and medium settings.
If you’re working on a budget, and you need a highly portable laptop that’s capable of handling basic productivity tasks, the Acer Aspire 5 has you covered. It’s remarkably light for a budget laptop, the battery life is fantastic, and it’s capable of multitasking through word processing, web browsing, and other apps without breaking a sweat.
The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable for a budget model as well, featuring decent travel, no mushiness, and a backlight. The deck does flex a little if you impose too much force on the keys, but not enough to trip you up during long typing sessions.
The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable for a budget model as well, featuring decent travel, no mushiness, and a backlight.
If you do a lot of work that requires a numeric keypad, the Aspire 5 technically has one. The issue is that the keys are squished to almost half-width, which might trip up your muscle memory when entering long number sequences.
The Aspire 5 features down-firing stereo speakers that produce sound that’s surprisingly loud and unsurprisingly muddy. There’s a bit of bass to be heard, which is more than we expect out of a budget model like this, but everything tends to get muddled together. We were able to turn the volume all the way up without any additional distortion, but the overall audio quality just isn’t that good.
A lot of laptops in this general size category end up eschewing the traditional Ethernet port due to space concerns, but the Aspire 5 manages to squeeze a slimline port into the thickest part of the body. If you need a wired connection, it’s there, and it works well.
The Aspire 5 is also equipped with an 802.11ac wireless card, so it’s capable of connecting to both 5GHz and 2.4GHz networks. We hooked up to our 5GHz network for a quick speed test, recording speeds of 233.79Mbps down compared to the 300Mbps we measured on a wired connection at around the same time. The 2.4 GHz connection is there as well, if you need it, although we only got about 18Mbps down when we tested that one.
The Aspire 5 comes with a 720p webcam that’s built into the bezel above the display. In our testing, we found it to be adequate for basic video chatting, but not exactly capable of much more. The picture is very grainy, and it tends to be either very dark or blown out with little in between. It’s there if you need it, but you’ll have to look elsewhere if you need fine details for whatever reason.
The battery in the Aspire 5 is a definite high point. During regular use, with medium settings and Wi-Fi turned on, we managed to squeeze more than seven hours out of the battery. Heavy use—including watching a lot of online videos—cuts that down a bit, but this is a budget laptop that you can count on to last through a full workday if you’re careful.
The biggest problem with the Aspire 5 is that it comes with Windows 10 in S mode. If you aren’t familiar, S mode is a streamlined version of Windows 10 that’s supposed to be easier to use and more secure. You can only install apps that you download from the official Windows store, and some other functionality is lost as well.
For a lot of business users, Windows 10 in S mode will be a dealbreaker. The good news is that it really doesn’t have to be. While it is a little bit of a hassle, you can switch Windows 10 out of S mode for free, effectively unlocking Windows 10 Home without any additional cost. Also, if you absolutely need it, you can also opt to pay for an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.
In the configuration we tested, the Acer Aspire 5 has an MSRP of $349.99, and the more expensive configurations get up into the $500 range. Priced at or below the $349.99 mark, this laptop is a steal. The more expensive versions are more capable, and worth looking at if you need to edit video on the go, but the competition gets a lot sharper up at the $500 mark.
In the $350 range, you’re firmly in the budget market, and not too far divorced from Chromebook territory. While it’s true that this laptop does come with Windows 10 in S mode, that’s an easy fix, and then you’re left with a fully functional Windows 10 laptop that looks and feels like a much more expensive device.
The Acer Aspire 5 isn’t exactly a powerhouse, but it wipes the floor with the competition. Few laptops in the budget sub-$400 price range can compete in terms of design or style, and it wins in terms of performance as well in most cases.
Compared to the HP Notebook 15, which typically sells for about $300, there’s literally no reason not to spend that extra $50. The Aspire 5 benchmarks significantly better in every test, comes with an 802.11ac wireless card, and has a better display. In terms of design, they don’t even look like they’re from the same era.
The Lenovo Ideapad 320 is another 15-inch budget laptop that’s available for a little less than the Aspire 5, but it loses in every possible category, including benchmarks, display, and battery life.
We really like the Acer Aspire E 15, another of Acer’s budget models, but the Aspire 5 wins there as well. The Aspire E 15 has an MSRP of $380 and is typically available for less than that. It has a better battery life than the Aspire 5, and a fantastic keyboard with a full-sized numeric keypad, but the Aspire 5 beats it in terms of performance, size, and weight.
A great little laptop that makes compromises on performance.
The Acer Aspire 15 is a fantastic choice if you’re working on a tight budget, but you don’t want to compromise on screen size or quality. This 15-inch laptop has a beautiful display, a sleek, metallic design aesthetic, and it’s significantly lighter than other devices available at this price point. It definitely compromises on performance, with a lackluster CPU and integrated graphics, but you won’t find much better in the budget category.
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