If you’re after a compact laptop with a 360-degree convertible display and only have around $250-$300 to spend, the Acer Aspire R 11 (also known as the Aspire R3-131T) should definitely be on your list.
I told you a few things about it in a previous post, but in the meantime I actually got to spend a few days with a pre-release model (the R 11 is not yet available in stores at the time of this post) and I’m going to share my findings in the following paragraphs. Although not a final unit, the sample I tested is identical to those you’ll be able to buy soon enough. There might be some potential improvements in terms of performance and battery life on the retails models, but these aside, all the other aspects will remain the same.
This laptop has two major assets on its side: the hardware and the price. There are a few other affordable 2-in-1s out there, but $250 would only buy a 10-inch detachable with Intel Atom hardware right now. The Aspire R11 offers a larger 11.6 inch display and it’s built on Intel’s Braswell plastform, which is still fanless, but overall speedier than the available Atoms (including the latest CherryTrail series). We’ll talk about these and the laptop’s other important aspects in the article below.
The specs sheet for the Acer Aspire R 11
|Acer Aspire R 11 (R3-131T)
|Screen||11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 px resolution, TN, touch|
|Processor||Intel Braswell Pentium N3700|
|Graphics||Integrated Intel Gen 8-LP Graphics|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3|
|Storage||1 TB 2.5″ 5400 rpm 7 mm HDD (Western Digital WD10SPCX-21KHST0)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (Intel 3165 Dual Band), Bluetooth, Gigabit LAN|
|Ports||1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, HDMI, SD card-reader, headphone jack, RJ45|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||298 x 213 x 21 mm (11.7” x 8.4” x 0.83”)|
|Weight||1.5 kg (3.48 lbs)|
|Extras||non-backlit keyboard, available in Blue or White|
We have the higher-specced version of the Aspire R11 here, but Acer will offer some lower-end configurations as well. You’ll find them mentioned in the “Price and availability” section.
The model tested will not sell for $249, but the base versions with lower specs will start at $249.
Design and exterior
The Aspire R11 is rather bulky and heavy for an 11-inch mini laptop, weighing almost 3.5 lbs and having a large footprint, as you can tell by the bezel around the screen. These are some of the sacrifices Acer had to make in order to keep this affordable.
The build quality is good though and the machine feels nice in hand, sturdy. The lid cover for instance barely bulges even when pressing it hard, while the keyboard area shows little flex.
The R11 gets a 360-degree convertible display and this form factor puts significant stress on the hinges. Still, I have nothing to complain about them, at least not after the few days I’ve used the notebook. These hinges are made out of plastic, but at the same time move smoothly and are sturdy enough to keep the display in the exact desired position. I had no problems lifting the screen with a single hand up to about 90 degrees, but the hinges get stiffer after this point and you’ll need to use both hands to tilt it back further.
The Aspire R11 is a convertible 2-in-1 and as a result can be used as a regular laptop, as a tablet, or as a stand/tent. The display tilts and folds on the back and the keyboard remains exposed under the body in tablet/stand modes. It’s only active in Laptop mode and automatically turned off in the others though, like on all the other devices built on this form-factor.
The machine is also fairly good looking, albeit that’s subjective, but I for one really liked the Blue version I had for this quick-test. A White one will be available as well. The entire outer case is made out of a soft matte plastic with a dimpled texture, while the fairly roomy interior is made from a simpler, rougher, black plastic that spreads around the screen as well. These aren’t premium materials, but will handle hassle well, won’t scratch easily and won’t catch dirt or fingerprints, so overall I have little to complain about them or this laptop’s overall build quality.
Except for one thing: the rubber feet on the belly are proper sized and Acer even put a small feet in the middle which helps with the flex, but they are also rigid and actually lack grip, which will cause the laptop to slide out too easily on a desk. That’s a minor detail, but something to keep in mind.
Anyway, let’s move on and turn our attention on the IO. Most ports are lined on the right edge (yey!), where you’ll find a full-size RJ45 slot and HDMI connector, as well as two USBs (one USB 2.0 and the other USB 3.0) and the headphone/microphone jack. On the left there’s the DCIN (I would have preferred to have it on the right as well), the power button and the volume rocker.
The card-reader is placed on the back and is protected by a plastic cap. A regular SD card will fit perfectly flush inside, an aspect you’re not going to find on most other devices in this class.
Bottom point, the Acer Aspire R11 is surprisingly well crafted for a cheap laptop, but Acer only uses plastic for the entire case and had to somewhat sacrifice portability, making the R11 heavier than most other 11-inch convertibles and heavier than many 12 and 13 inchers as well. It tips the scales at 3.5 lbs, but at least it’s well made and includes proper IO, which are probably more important than the overall weight in the sub $300 price range.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard and trackpad occupy most of the laptop’s interior. Acer put a full-size keyboard on this device with a standard layout. The keys do feel mushy though, which is a problem with most of the other keyboards Acer puts on their affordable laptops. The keys aren’t firm-enough and that means you’ll need to press them harder and usually hit them in the exact middle to make sure they register strokes. The travel distance is decent for the class, but the lack of a distinctive pressure point and the the lack of firmness drag the experience down.
Now, keep in mind I type for a living and my requirements from a laptop keyboard are far greater than what the average buyer would want.
That being said, most of you will probably find this keyboard decent, but if you require the best typing experience on an affordable mini laptop, you’re not going to get it here.
As a side note, the keyboard is not backlit, but you weren’t expect to get one at $250 anyway, were you?
Moving on, the trackpad is proper sized and although made out of plastic, felt nice and smooth to the touch. It handles taps, swipes and gestures well and overall performs better than many trackpads included on higher-end laptops. Acer nailed it with this one!
Well, the screen is my only major nit with the Aspire R11, although it’s exactly what I was expecting from a laptop in this price range.
Acer went with an 11.6 inch display with 1366 x 768 px resolution and a TN panel. And that comes with multiple shortcomings: poor brightness, contrast, blacks, color reproduction and viewing angles. The numbers below speak for themselves.
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics B116XW01;
- Coverage: 58% sRGB, 41% NTSC, 43% AdobeRGB;
- measured gamma: 2.4;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 214 cd/m2 on power;
- contrast at max brightness: 100:1;
- white point: 7500 K;
- black on max brightness: 2.22 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 9.84 uncalibrated, 3.36 calibrated .
Calibrating the screen does address the colors and the skewed White Point to some extent, but at the end of the day there’s still so much you can get from such a panel.
On the other hand, the truth is you’re not going to find anything better in the Aspire R11’s price range and competitors actually sell more expensive 11-inch 2-in-1s with the same kind of crappy screens. That’s not going to change the fact that the screen the screen is bad by today’s standards and you’ll have to be sure you can live with it.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
The hardware is what sets the Acer Aspire R11 apart from its competitors, at least at launch, as it’s one of the first laptops built on Intel’s Braswell platform to be released this year.
We’re not going to get in depth here, but in very few words, Braswell is a fanless platform designed to offer good balance between speed and efficiency and sits somewhere between the lower-end Intel Atom (BayTrail-T or CherryTrail) platform and the higher end Intel Core M hardware, both in terms of speed and price.
That means Braswell machines are mostly made for light-use, for daily activities such as browsing, watching videos, editing documents and so on. It will handle multitasking better than the Atoms and will make its way on notebooks with larger displays. The Atom is mostly reserved for 10-inch 2-in-1s (or smaller), Core M is meant for more premium devices, while Braswell is created for affordable mini-laptops like this one.
In our case the Aspire R11 is motorized by the Intel Pentium N3700, the fastest Braswell CPU announced so far, paired with 8 GB of RAM and a 1 TB HDD. The latter is a bottleneck for this system and if you’d replace it with an SSD you’d be able to greatly speed up performance.
As a result of having a HDD inside, the laptop does take a bit longer to boot up, resume from sleep and especially load-up certain programs. I found this latter aspect the most annoying, as sometimes I had to wait several seconds for the browser or other programs to launch and when they did launch, I still had to wait a few extra seconds for them to initialize properly. I expect these delays to go away on the final release models, as the platform is fairly capable and should be able to handle such daily tasks easily, even when paired with a slow HDD like in this case.
Of course, there are ways to boost up performance if you buy one of the lower-end configurations that will be available, as the hardware inside the R11 is upgradeable. You can for instance get a version with only 4 GB or 2 GB of RAM and then replace the DIMM with an 8 GB one. As you can see from the pics below, there is a metallic shield on top of the DIMM, you need to pull it gently and it will easily come out of its slots.
The included storage can be swapped for an SSD (there’s a connecting ribbon going on top of it, you’ll need to disconnect it before you get access to the HDD). Just make sure you pick something compatible with the 2.5″ 7 mm standard. Upgrading the HDD to an SSD yourself could void warranty in some regions, so make sure you ask the local Acer representatives about that. BTW, the Wi-Fi module is also replaceable, in case you’d want a faster one.
These aside, if you’ll get this notebook you absolutely need to get rid of the many programs pre-installed on it. There are almost a dozen of Acer apps and all sorts of other software like McAfee, an Office Trial, Spotify, some Cyberlink video and photo editors, etc. Some of them could be useful, like PowerDirector if you plan to do some quick video editing or Dropbox (Acer includes 15 GB of free storage for 3-months), but most of them need to go and will help speed up the laptop when uninstalled.
I also ran a couple of benchmarks on this machine and the results are listed below. Keep in mind Braswell is not yet shipping, so drivers are still in their early stages, which means these numbers should improve on the final release products. Even so, I’m seeing a significant jump over the previous Pentium N processors, especially when it comes to graphics.
- 3DMark 11: P512;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 22350, Cloud Gate –2077, Sky Driver – 907, Fire Strike – 196;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – TBA;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 10.83 fps, CPU 1.77 pts, CPU Single Core 0.46 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 12.93 fps, CPU 139 cb, CPU Single Core 38 cb;
- Octane 2.0: 8555;
- X264 Benchmark 4.0: Pass 1 – 44.66 fps, Pass 2 – 8.50 fps.
I even tried playing a couple of games, but the recent titles are not going to run smoothly on this laptop, not even on very low details and 13 x 7 resolution. Don’t expect to run games like Need For Speed: Most Wanted, Tomb Raider or Bioshock Infinite, but some simpler and especially older titles like WOW, Minecraft or Age of Empire 2: HD Edition will run well enough, if needed.
Anyway, I’ll soon publish a more detailed post on Braswell and how it compares to the other fanless platforms available at this moment, stay tuned for it if you’re interested in this platform.
In the meantime, I should also mention that I noticed no signs of throttling or any performance drops in any of the test and apps tested, which is a great news for the platform and is at the same time one of the benefits of having a thicker laptop to cram the hardware in. The case does heat-up under load though and even in daily use, as you’ll find out from the next section.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
In daily use the laptop’s back often goes above 35 degrees Celsius, which is not that bad for a fanless platform, but at the same time barely makes this hybrid comfortable to use on your lap in these hot summer days. Barely! Daily use means browsing, watching videos and so on.
Load up some games or maybe the video editor and the heat ramps up. The internals reach temperatures of around 80 degrees Celsius, while the back case gets close to 50 degrees, which is far from comfortable anymore. The heat spreads out to the laptop’s interior as well, with the upper half of the keyboard getting especially hot, and this will cause unpleasantly sweaty hands.
Now, it’s true all the fanless devices I’ve tested so far do heat up under load, but this is one of the hottest among them all. Not sure if that’s what we should expect from Braswell or this is just an isolated case, we’ll just have to wait and see. Acer aren’t always good at thermals (the Aspire R13 comes to mind as another negative example) so hopefully other Braswell implementations will do better.
Now, the hardware is fanless, thus quiet. However, there is one annoying noise source: the HDD, whose continuous humming hinders the noiseless experience. That’s one more reason to replace it with an SSD, if the performance gain wasn’t enough.
Connectivity wise, there’s Gigabit LAN on this thing, if you ever have to connect to the Internet via wire, but also Bluetooth and Wireless AC. The Intel Dual-Band 3165 AC adapter Acer chose for the Aspire R13 is not very fast, not even next to the router, so if you need download/upload speeds you’ll have to rely on the wired network.
It’s good enough for daily activities though and I had no problems streaming 4K content of Youtube or downloading certain applications. The laptop is also capable of maintaining strong signal and speeds in places many other devices struggle (I test it at 30-feet from the router with 2 walls in between, but it performed pretty much the same at 45-feet from the source).
Last but not least, the speakers on the Aspire R11 are loud and tiny at the same time. I’ve kept them below 70% most of the time, but the sound quality is average at best. The chambers distort at higher levels and push out vibrations through the case, but since you’re probably not going to keep them at high volume anyway, that shouldn’t be that much of an inconvenience.
Acer crammed a 50 Wh battery inside the Aspire R11, larger than anything else you’ll find on an 11-inch 2-in-1. That, paired with the Braswell hardware, translates in anywhere between 7 to 9 hours of daily use on this notebook, as you can see from the rows below (the screen is manually set at 60% of its brightness, which is about 120 nits).
- 4 W (~12 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 5.8 W (~8 h 40 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.5 W (~9 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.5 W (~9 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in VLC Player, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.2 W (~7 h of use) – heavy browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.3 W (~8 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Chrome, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON.
The laptop is paired with a very compact 45 Wh power-brick and a full charge takes a little over 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The charger gets a long cable, but the DCIN is placed on the notebook’s right edge, which isn’t as convenient as having it on the left. On top of that, the Power Button is in its close proximity and at times I accidentally pressed it and put the computer to sleep when trying to unplug the charger. A small detail, but something Acer should improve on future models.
Price and availability
The Acer Aspire R11 will be available in stores in late June in Europe and later in July in the US and other regions.
So far, we know that the version tested here, with 8 GB of RAM and a 1 TB HDD, will retail for around 399 EUR ($399 in the US), while the base model will start at $249 in the US, but I don’t know for sure what kind of configuration will be offered for this kind of money (I’d expect 2 GB of RAM, a small amount of storage and a 32-bit version of Windows).
Acer had to cut quite a few corners with the Aspire R11. The poor screen with a TN panel is the major gripe, but the mushy keyboard, heavy body and high-case temperatures are some of the other nits that you have to be aware of.
However, I believe many of you will live with these just fine, considering the overall bundle you’ll be getting for under $300.
That means the Aspire R11 is not a device for everyone and you could definitely find something better if you’re willing to spend more, but if you only have around $300 or less and look for a well built 2-in-1 mini-laptop with long battery life, a good selection of ports and the speed to handle well casual activities, there’s nothing better right now.
There are alternatives in stores, like the HP Pavilion X360, Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 or the Asus Transformer Book T200, but they are all more expensive and either pack older hardware with shorter battery life, or slower hardware than this Acer. There are also a few other 11 inch mini-laptops you could consider and quite a few fanless machines as well, so you’re not without options.
But at the end of the day, if you’re fine with the Aspire R11’s shortcomings, it’s going to be a great pick for the money. Great as a secondary computer or an inexpensive laptop for your kids, for instance.
With than in mind we’ll bring this post to a halt. Thanks for sticking by till the end and I’m looking forward to your opinions and questions about the Acer Aspire R11 in the comments section below.