Acer’s Aspire S7 Ultrabook squeezes a WQHD display and snappy Haswell performance...
Acer Aspire V5 Touch Review
Well, you release one flash new operating system with a touch-friendly interface and suddenly touchscreen laptops are all the rage. We’ve recently seen the Asus VivoBook S400C, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11, the Asus Taichi and the Dell XPS 12 all get in on the Windows 8 action.
Clearly, this is the time to get on board with dirtying up your computer’s screen, even if you don’t have a tablet.
The Acer Aspire V5-571-323b4G50Mass (to give it its full title – you’ll forgive us if we start referring to it as the V5 Touch, we trust) brings the touchscreen shenanigans to a lower price point – around £400 (about AU$603/US$628) – than many of those other laptops. Though it’s certainly not cheaper than all – the diminutive Asus VivoBook S200 just about beats it on price.
What you get is a spacious 15-inch widescreen display, replete with 10-point multi-touch for interacting with the provided copy of Windows 8. It also offers a keyboard and multi-touch trackpad for some old-school controlling, but there’s little here that makes it stand out for the price when you pull away from that touchscreen, so it’s definitely the focus.
The laptop is powered by an Intel Core i3 processor, with 4GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive.
The Acer Aspire V5 Touch is reasonably thin, but it doesn’t count as an Ultrabook, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it lacks the requisite solid-state drive for fast boot time, while also being just a tiny bit too thick and having a processor that doesn’t qualify – its Intel Core i3 CPU lacks some features that Intel requires for the Ultrabook spec.
As we say, though, it’s fairly svelte for a standard home laptop, which makes its weight all the more deceptive – at 2.6kg (5.7lbs), the heft rather catches you by surprise the first few times you pick it up. This might be portable from a thickness point of view, but it’s not a weight you’ll want to be carrying everywhere.
Looks-wise, the silver plastic is fairly non-distinct. It lacks the flair and friendliness of the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, but it doesn’t look too nasty or cheap (although our review model had picked up some very noticeable scratches on the lid, so that’s something to watch out for).
The silver body with black screen bezel and keyboard will inevitably invite comparisons to the MacBook Pro, but the way the display rounds off in the corners and curves off at the edges actually reminds us a lot of the Nokia Lumia 920.
As far as build quality goes, it definitely feels budget. Most panels will flex when any pressure is applied (such as picking it up), but the way it’s actually put together seemed solid enough to us – there’s a little give, but it doesn’t feel like it’ll fall apart.
There’s a decent array of connectivity (which we’ll detail in the next section), despite it being a budget machine. As we’ve said, the key thing to look out for here is the touchscreen, because even its budget status is having pressure applied from above, with the likes of the Asus S56CA coming close to it on price while managing to be an Ultrabook – with all the advantages that entails.
The Acer Aspire V5-571 Touch has not been designed to be a cutting-edge laptop. This is abundantly clear from its specs list, though that’s not to say it’s completely stuck with lemons inside.
The processor is one of Intel’s newer parts, but it’s based on an older design. The Intel Core i3-2365M CPU is actually a Sandy Bridge-based chip, an architecture that was supplanted by the newer Ivy Bridge range. This means it’s a less advanced chip, but is also likely cheaper to produce, making it good for budget laptops.
The Intel Core i3-2365M itself is a dual-core chip running at 1.4GHz. It doesn’t feature Intel’s Turbo Boost feature for automatic overclocking, but it does include HyperThreading, meaning that those two cores can appear as four virtual cores, speeding up some tasks.
CPU enthusiasts might be interested to note that this new Core i3 chip is manufactured at 32nm, rather than the 22nm of Ivy Bridge, making it not only physically larger than a comparable chip on the more advanced architecture, but also less power-friendly.
Indeed, this CPU is rated at a power draw of 17W, which is the same as the more powerful Ivy Bridge Intel Core i5-3217U used in the only slightly more expensive Asus S56CA.
Basically, this chip is a quick and dirty way to put something with Core i branding into a low-priced laptop. It’s compromised in raw power and energy usage compared to higher-priced laptops, but should be powerful enough for simple Windows 8 usage.
While we’re at it, though, we should note that the fact that the CPU is based on Intel’s last-generation platform means that its GPU is as well. The graphics core is an Intel HD 3000 unit, which makes it notably less powerful than the HD 4000 GPU in Ivy Bridge chips.
When it comes to RAM, the Acer V5 Touch comes with a healthy 4GB of DDR3 memory. This is fairly typical for something in this price range – you can get 6GB in machines that cost a couple of hundred pounds more, such as the Toshiba Satellite U840, but it’s not necessary for most home use.
If you wanted to do something like video editing, more RAM is always advisable, but when you consider the relative lack of power in the Acer V5 Touch’s CPU, the amount of RAM is unlikely to be the biggest performance bottleneck for intensive tasks.
The 500GB hard drive is fairly standard – it’s a 5400rpm unit, which is typical for laptops. The amount of storage here is nothing to sniff at, offering plenty of space for movies and music.
There’s no SSD – even a small one for the operating system – here, so you won’t get the fast wake and boot times that Ultrabooks give you. It’s shouldn’t be a surprise, since this isn’t an Ultrabook, but we’ve got so used to seeing them on everything – even on the only slightly more expensive Asus S56CA – that we do expect to see them everywhere these days.
The 15.6-inch screen offers a resolution of 1366 x 768, which is again absolutely typical for this kind of laptop at this price. It’s multi-touch, though, so you can get hands-on with Windows 8 and its chunky new interface.
When it comes to connectivity, you’re well catered for. There’s a DVD drive (but no Blu-ray), two USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port, and HDMI output and a weird proprietary LAN/VGA combo port – the adaptor enables you to plug in either of these without the ports taking up space. There’s also an SD/MMC card reader on the front
The wireless connectivity is provided by 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
You get a bunch of apps with the Acer Aspire V5 Touch. Lovefilm, Netflix, Cut the Rope, iCookbook, Skitch, Evernote, 7Digital, Kindle, Spotify and some Acer media apps. Oh, and McAfee, because a world without annoying pop-ups is unthinkable.
It’s nice to have so many useful apps here out of the box, we have to say. Bloatware is nobody’s friend, but we wouldn’t call most of this bloat – for a home PC, these are exactly the kinds of things you’ll want to pick up anyway, so good on Acer for including them.
Cinebench R10: 4743
3D Mark 06: 1590
Battery Eater 05: 2h 2m
Well, these aren’t super-healthy numbers for the Acer Aspire V5 Touch, we have to say. From the specs page, you might have gathered that the processor was going to be a bit behind the curve, and indeed that’s the case.
The benchmark score puts it at about two-thirds the power of the Asus S56CA, which is only slightly more expensive. It’s subsequently less than half as powerful as the likes of the Asus Zenbook UX32A, which costs about £200 more.
What does this mean? Well, we’re basically talking about something that’s fast enough. General Windows 8 use is slick, and the new interface scrolls without stutter.
It’s more a case of some apps taking a long time to load once you’ve selected them. The lack of power does mean that intensive tasks such as exporting photos or editing video will be a pain, but the Acer Aspire V5 doesn’t feel like it’s struggling day-to-day – there’s just some extra waiting.
Having just a regular hard drive does mean it’s slower to wake than an Ultrabook such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U310. But again, it’s actually not too bad. We found it typically took about 10-11 seconds to come on from sleep, which is about twice what you’d expect from a cheap Ultrabook, but not too terrible overall (of course, our machine is new and clean – the wait may increase over time).
With HD 3000 graphics, this is one of the laptops least suitable to be a gaming machine that we’ve seen. The score in 3D Mark tells you what you really need to know – the score just over a third of what you’d get from an Ivy Bridge chip (the low-end Ivy Bridge i3-3217U chip gets a little over 4,000 in benchmark tests).
That said, it too is fine within its limits. The pre-installed copy of Cut the Rope is perfectly smooth. OK, the game runs that smoothly on weak smartphones too, but the point is that if you like simple casual games, the Acer Aspire V5 Touch is still plenty powerful.
If you pick up the new graphical hotness from Steam, don’t expect to enjoy the results. But, as a baseline, it’s just about at the minimum spec to run the new SimCity game.
Before we move onto the more disappointing elements of the Acer V5 Touch, let’s finish with the other good parts. The trackpad is one of the best we’ve used at this price – it’s smooth, easy to click and gestures are easy to invoke intentionally and hard to do accidentally. Spot on.
The touchscreen also works perfectly. It’s responsive and smooth, and isn’t too bad for picking up fingerprints. The actual display is pretty middling – again not bad, and it’s easy to find a good viewing angle, but it’s hardly vibrant.
However (and now we move onto the bad stuff), Windows 8 at this resolution and at this screen size is not hugely pleasant to use. The desktop and its apps are reasonable (though hardly beautiful), but the new Start Screen and its apps look really blocky in the lettering and icons. It’s far from unusable, but it definitely isn’t ideal.
The keyboard is another low point. It’s backlit, which is good, but the keys are too soft, offering minimal feedback, and they wobble and rattle when you press them. The panel beneath flexes a lot, too, so every time you get serious about typing you can feel the body shifting under your fingers. It’s not a good way to type.
The Acer Aspire V5 Touch felt a lot heavier to use than you’d expect for its size, which we think is partly down to the weight distribution – it’s much heavier at the back than the front. It’s actually barely heavier than the Asus S56CA, but when you lift it from the front (which is what feels natural) it comes across as extra heavy.
So, if there’s lots of weight, you’d maybe hope that it’s being used to house big batteries. You’d be wrong, though.
The battery life of two hours and two minutes on our benchmark is not great, especially when you consider that this isn’t a powerful laptop. More powerful, thinner, lighter Ultrabooks often achieve a longer battery life, so this is a disappointment, though it stops short of being a total disaster.
One other small irritation for us was the Acer Aspire V5 Touch’s power plug – it comes out a bit easier than with most laptops. It doesn’t fall out, but if we got it caught on something, it seemed all too ready to disconnect. It’s not a problem we’ve had with any other laptops, so it surprised us. But it’s just something to keep an eye on, rather than a real problem with the machine.
The speakers are Dolby Advanced Audio Surround Sound and so on – in practice, what this means is that they offer impressive stereo separation for the sound, but it’s tinny and gets rough really quickly at any decent volume.
The touchscreen. That’s the crux of this laptop. The Acer Aspire V5 Touch exists pretty much entirely as a low-end touchscreen laptop, and its creation really seems to have been geared purely to that end.
For a small amount more, you could get the Asus S56CA, a Windows 8 Ultrabook with a more powerful processor and an SSD for fast boot/wake times. You’d even still get an optical drive with that model. But you wouldn’t get a touchscreen. Here, you pay a little bit less, you get a weaker processor/graphics combination but you get a touchscreen for Windows 8 – which isn’t something to ignore.
But it’s not our first choice for a touchscreen laptop priced at £400 (about AU$603/US$628). The Asus VivoBook S200 is a great 11.6-inch touchscreen laptop, which weighs half what the Acer Aspire V5 Touch does. Its big brother, the Asus VivoBook S400C is a 14.1-inch touchscreen laptop for around the same price, and it’s more powerful. If you want a bigger screen than that, the V5 is your man, but otherwise, we think it’s just a bit too middle-of-the-road.
As far as Windows 8 interaction goes, this is a top laptop. The trackpad is excellent, and the touchscreen works perfectly. It’s rather larger than your average touchscreen, of course, but if that’s what you want, it’s hard to fault. It all responds smoothly and works well.
The screen quality itself isn’t bad for a laptop of this price, though the resolution is a let-down.
The main thing here really is getting the touchscreen at this price. It’s good that Acer is offering the option, even if it takes a lot of compromises to get it there.
You can really feel the price-point groaning here. The lack of high-end power isn’t a problem in light use, but it does mean a bit more waiting around, and it means there’s not much room to get into something like video editing.
But the real issues are the low battery life and the soft, bendy keyboard. Both are easily improved on by other machines without spending much more money at all.
And the weight issue is an odd one, and annoying. It’s not that much heavier than comparable machines, but we noticed it much more in this, seemingly because of how it’s distributed. Little details like this are what separate the better laptops from the average, and it’s just another reminder of the sacrifices made for the price.
The Acer Aspire V5 Touch is a laptop of compromises. Low power, low battery life and a poor keyboard in exchange for a budget price and excellent Windows 8 support with a good touchscreen and trackpad.
It’s not the best touchscreen laptop for under £500 by any means – we’d definitely be inclined to go for one of the Asus VivoBooks. But if what you want is a 15-inch touchscreen Windows 8 laptop for the home, it’ll work. It’s just a shame about the horrible keyboard.
By Matthew Bolton, TechRadar