Acer’s Rugged Enduro N3 is a Glimpse Into Another World

This laptop can handle dust, water, and your 20-year-old serial technology

There is another world, one that has one foot in the 21st century, while keeping the other firmly planted in 1990s computing.

Acer Enduro N3
Acer Enduro N3.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

I got a glimpse of this technology Upside Down when I looked at Acer’s new Enduro N3 ruggedized laptop. It’s part of a whole new line of semi-and full-ruggedized portable technology from the Taiwanese technology company.

Mostly unremarkable, the 14-inch portable is the thinnest and lightest IP53-rated laptop on the market (it also has MIL-STD 810G rated for impact-resistance). The IP rating means it’s is mostly sealed off from dust and water splashes. It can handle some extreme temperature variations, and Acer included its patented Aquafan technology that can expel moisture from the laptop.

Alongside any other modern, consumer laptop, the 4.6 lb. and almost 1-inch-thick Enduro N3 chassis appears neither thin nor light. Still, in the world of semi-ruggedized laptops, it’s a breakthrough, especially for businesses.

Acer Enduro N3
Acer Enduro N3 runs a 10th Gen Intel Core i5 (configurable to a Core i7).  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Examining the portable for the first time, I marveled at all the sealed ports, covered with weatherized flaps that snap into place to seal them off from the elements. However, it’s in those ports where old school clashes with modern. On one side, I found an SD-card slot, one USB-C port, two USB-3 ports, HDMI, and even a full-sized RJ-45 Ethernet port (most consumer laptops are now too thin to support this).

Acer Enduro N3
The Acer Enduro N3 has a mix of old and new ports. Here we see, from left-to-right, Ethernet, VGA, and HDMI.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Next door is a classic, VGA-style display port. That was surprising, as is the inclusion of a smart card slot. However, on the other side of the laptop, I was in for a real shock: there’s a serial port. I have not seen a serial port on a new computer in a decade. In case you forgot what they look like, they’re about an inch wide, narrowing a bit toward the bottom and a half-inch deep with five pins on the top row and four along the bottom. Early mice, custom input devices, and modems all used the port.

Welcome to Industry

Here, my friends, is an illustration of the chasm between the needs and applications of consumer technology users and business. As Acer told me last week, there are many legacy customers in manufacturing and industrial businesses, including some that work with the Federal Government, that continue to use old equipment that requires a serial interface.

Acer Enduro N3
Hello, serial port.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Serial port use in 2020 is still more common than I thought. In a 2019 Quora discussion on the topic, participants explained that the port is still used on boats, legacy communication and radio equipment, old printers, plotters, and drum scanners, and even in some audio devices from companies like Yamaha. Since many of these devices must often interface with newer equipment, there’s a thriving business around serial-to-USB and other modern interface adapters.

Not Just the Port

Returning to the Acer Enduro N3, I also noticed that the workman-like laptop also lacks a touchscreen. The system is running Windows 10, a platform designed for, at least, pen-input. Why, I wondered, didn’t this $899.99 system at least have a touch screen? Acer told me there simply isn’t a lot of demand on the commercial side for touch-screen devices (interestingly, Acer is also rolling out a line of ruggedized touch-screen convertible Windows 10 systems and even Android tablets, ostensibly to the exact same markets).

Acer Enduro N3
The Enduro N3 can take a splash.   Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

While I contend that commercial and industrial customers don’t want touch screens because they’ve never used one, I do understand their need for simplicity, compatibility, and especially reliability.

Systems like the Enduro N3 will often be tasked with a single job in a relatively unforgiving environment. This laptop, for instance, might be used on a construction site to manage work orders and schedules. It doesn’t need a touch screen but must interface with on-site equipment (Serial port!) and should be able to last a day on the job without the need for a power cord that could get tangled up in dangerous gear.

The good news is the Acer Enduro N3 is rated for up to 15 hours of battery life. I did an anecdotal video-playback rundown and found that it lasted almost that long. My test unit is a pre-production device, so I wasn’t allowed to run benchmarks on the 64-bit, Core i5 system and its 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage.

Acer Enduro N3
The Acer Enduro N3 has a spacious keyboard, nice-sized trackpad and a fingerprint reader. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

I also noticed that while the laptop has a fingerprint reader, it doesn’t offer facial recognition. There is a small camera above the full-HD, Gorilla-Glass-covered screen, but it’s not paired with an infrared imaging device. I don’t understand why commercial and industrial workers wouldn’t want the ease of unlocking with their face, through Windows Hello, as opposed to using a finger (also through Windows Hello), which might be covered with a glove when they pick up the laptop.

Overall, this is a workman-like laptop with a decent and spacious keyboard, and large, responsive trackpad. The understated design won’t draw any looks on the construction site, but it should quietly get the job done, which I guess is the point.

The system starts shipping in August.