If you only have about $600 to spend for a brand-new Broadwell powered 2-in-1 laptop, the Acer Aspire R 14, also known as the R3-471T in some regions, should be on your list.
The affordable price is its main selling-point and that’s why you should not expect it to perform or look like a premium ultrabook. But those $600 will actually get you a 14 inch convertible touchscreen, an Intel Core i5-5200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, a large battery and a decent keyboard, which are not bad in this price-range.
The R14 is meant to compete with the likes of the Lenovo Flex 3 14 or the less widespread Asus Transformer Book Flip TP400LA and it’s already available in stores around the world.
Disclaimer: The version tested here is a media-sample that came from Acer for the purpose of this review, and the article contains my detailed impressions after using it for about 14 days. It was sent back to Acer after the test period.
This is Acer’s R 14, one of the most affordable Broadwell powered 2-in-1s available these days
The specs sheet
|Acer Aspire R 14 – R3-471T|
|Screen||14.0 inch, 1366 x 768 px resolution, TN, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell Core i5-5200U CPU|
|Video||integrated Intel 5500 HD + Nvidia GT 820M|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3 (4GB soldered, 1 DIMM with 4 GB)|
|Storage||1 TB 5200 rpm HDD (2.5″ 9.5 mm bay)|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit LAN|
|Ports||2xUSB 2.0, 1xUSB 3.0, SD card reader, HDMI, LAN, Kensington Lock|
|Battery||4 Cell 53.4 Wh|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||342 mm or 13.4 in (L) x 238 mm or 9.6 in (W) x 24 mm or 0.95 in (H)|
|Weight||about 2.01 kg (4.4 pounds)|
Just to be clear, the configuration we reviewed will retail for around $700, but Acer also has a $569 model available in stores, which still includes the Intel Core i5-5200U CPU, but settles for less RAM, a smaller HDD and no dedicated graphics. See the Price and Availability section towards the end of the review for more details.
Design and exterior
My first encounter with the Aspire R14 left with me with mixed feelings. The laptop has a plastic case, as I was expecting, with a glossy silver finishing on the hood and a matte rubbery material on the belly. Both the lid cover and the interior are actually made from the same kind of silver plastic, with some sort of pattern that mimics brushed aluminum and overall this laptop looks and feels decent. The craftsmanship isn’t stellar, as the laptop does squeak and crank if grabbed firmly, there’s some flex in the keyboard area and the shiny surfaces will scratch easily and attract smudges, but for a budget option, it’s not bad either.
On the other hand, the R14 is rather heavy and bulky. It tips the scales at about 4.5 lbs and it’s nearly 10 inches deep, which places it close to some of the portable 15 inch laptops available out there. In comparison, the 13 inch mid-range 2-in-1s weigh between 3.5 to 4 lbs and are more compact, thus easier to lug around. The increase is screen-size will probably attract some of you, but I’m not convinced the weight and size gains are actually worth it.
That aside, the R14 is a convertible and its screen flips back to 360 degrees. Two Yoga-like hinges keep the display-ensemble in place and while they are also made from plastic, feel fairly study. The keyboard remains exposed under the laptop, but is automatically switched OFF once the screen goes past 180 degrees, like with all the other devices built on this form-factor. As an extra detail, you’ll notice two rubber pads on the left and right sides of the interior, and they will work as feet when the R14 is in Presentation mode, but will also support the screen when the laptop is shut down.
Still, actually using the device in tablet mode isn’t very comfortable, again, because of the weight, and because Acer went with a lower-quality panel here, with poor viewing angles, but we’ll talk more about that in a bit. On the other hand, in the standard laptop mode, the R14 is competitive. You can easily adjust the screen’s inclination to your own liking, the inner space and palm-rest are spacious, the large rubber feet on the belly keep it well in place on a desk and there are also plenty of ports on the sides.
In fact, the IO consists of two USB 2.0 and only a single USB 3.0 slot, an HDMI and a LAN port, as well as a card-reader and a Kensington lock. There’s no VGA output, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem these days, when most TVs and external monitors do offer HDMI connectivity. There are also some discrete status LEDs on the front-lip, while the cooling exhaust is placed on the left edge, which could be an inconvenience for left-hand users, but will be appreciated by righties.
Last but not least, the belly lacks a service bay or an easily removable battery, like most other modern ultraportables, but houses plenty of air intake-cuts and the two speakers placed near the front-rubber feet. The entire back panel is hold in place by Philips PH000 screws and it can be easily taken apart if you want to access the internals.
Let’s get back to that display though. Acer went with a 14.0 inch 1366 x 768 px TN panel, and that’s bad by today’s standards. The contrast and even the brightness are below average, while the viewing angles, gamma and color accuracy are in no-way on par with what a modern IPS panel offers.
In fact, the screen is this laptop’s biggest culprit, despite the fact that I am somewhat biased here, as I’m consistently using higher quality displays and have gotten used to them. If you’re coming from an older mid-range laptop, you’ll probably find the one on this machine not utterly bad. Regardless, Acer should have done better. If the competition can offer FullHD IPS panels on similarly priced laptops, so should they. Check out the numbers below for more “exact” details on this panel.
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUO293C;
- Coverage: 62% sRGB, 44% NTSC, 46% Adobe RGB;
- measured gamma: 2.5 ;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 213 cd/m2;
- contrast at max brightness: 290:1;
- white point: 7200 K;
- black on max brightness: 0.73 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 10.74 uncalibrated, 3.63 calibrated.
That aside, the R14 gets a convertible touchscreen and as I mentioned above, the hinges are pretty strong. The screen’s ensemble on the other hand is not and that’s why touching the display towards the edges (and you’ll do a lot of that if you use Windows 8 gestures) pushes small ripples and waves into the touch-layer, which are also caused if you gently push into the lid-cover. These shouldn’t pose reliability problems on the long term if you’ll treat the machine nicely and make sure not to put heavy objects on it or poke the display frenetically. But it’s something to keep in mind.
Keyboard and trackpad
The Aspire R14 is not the ideal laptop for a heavy typist, although its keyboard should be alright for casual use. Acer went with a standard, simple layout; it took me a while to get used to the extra row of keys on the right side, next to Enter and Backspace, but actually having keys for Home/End and PgUp and PdDn will prove useful.
The keys are properly sized and spaced and their stroke is fairly-deep for an ultraportable. However, the feedback is a bit lacking, as they pose shallow resistance which leads to occasional miss-hits. On top of that, the keyboard rattles rather annoyingly, which you might find disturbing if you appreciate quieter ones or if you’re going to do a lot of typing in quiet environments.
These aside, I should also mention that this keyboard is not backlit, which is however no surprise for a laptop in the $600 price segment.
With those out of the way, let’s turn our attention on the trackpad. It’s not very spacious, but it’s large enough. It’s made of plastic, has a nice tactile feedback and it’s quite accurate and responsive most of the time. I’m mostly a “tap” user and despite the fact that taps are noisy to perform and cause minor vibrations into the laptop’s body, I cannot complain. If you’re a “click” kind of user though you might not be as happy, as the click areas are rigid and clunky.
I’ve noticed a few buyers are complaining about the trackpad’s occasional lack of response, but I’ve encountered nothing of that sort during the days I’ve been using this laptop. That could mean Acer addressed the issues on the Broadwell update, or I just got lucky with my sample. No way to tell for sure though.
Hardware and performance
There’s punchy hardware inside this machine: an Intel Core i5-5200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, Nividia GT 820M graphics and a 1 TB HDD. The latter has a severe impact on the machine’s everyday performance and responsiveness, since it’s not paired with a caching SSD, but that can be addressed by upgrading it with an SSD later on, if you want to.
Speaking of upgrades, the internals are accessible once you pry open the plastic shell on the back, hold in place by more than a dozen of Philips PH000 screws. Take it apart and you’ll be able to access the memory slot (4 GB of RAM are soldered on the motherboard and there’s one available DIMM that can take an up to 8 GB stick), the storage bay (2.5″ 9.5 mm), the battery (which is screwed to the chassis, not glued) and the Wi-Fi module. From the looks of it, you’ll actually have to remove the Wi-Fi module in order to get the HDD out of its slot.
As a side note, you need to be careful with that back panel, it has a few stubborn plastic clips (one near the front LEDs and one near the side-vent) and the laptop’s inner plastic frame seems really fragile and could crack if you use too much pressure. Use some plastic pryers or an old credit card to have the two parts come apart.
Back to the performance, as long as you look past the HDD, this Aspire R14 is pretty fast, both in benchmarks and in daily use.
- 3DMark 11: P1401;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 50242, Cloud Gate –4956, Sky Driver – 2992, Fire Strike – 847;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – -;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 27.25 fps, CPU 2.86 pts, CPU Single Core 1.12 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 34.94 fps, CPU 261 cb, CPU Single Core 105 cb;
- X264 Benchmark 4.0: Pass 1 – 86.95 fps, Pass 2 – 16.30 fps.
It will handle well all sorts of browsing and streaming activities, it will run 1080p and 4K video content, it’s good enough for office activities and light photo/video editing and it can tackle some games as well, as long as you’re fine with sticking to Medium-Low details. As an important note though, Acer puts a fair amount of bloatware on this machine and getting rid of it will have a beneficial impact on performance. Out of the box there are about 110 processes running in the background, and after the clean-up only about 70 remained. Those abDocs apps, the Acer nraded Software, Ebay, Spotify, McAfee and others should be uninstalled, as well as the CyberLink suite if you don’t plan to use it.
That aside, the Nvidia 820M chip is only marginally more capable than the Intel HD 5500 chip integrated withing the Broadwell processor, but it still boosts gaming results by 10-30% (compare the numbers below with those I got on the i5-5200U powered Dell XPS 13). That’s important because the R14 is offered with or without the Nvidia chip and you should know what to expect from both variants in terms of gaming abilities.
|13 x 7 Low||13 x 7 High|
|Dirt 3||66 fps||28 fps|
|Tomb Raider||59 fps||22 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||39 fps||27 fps|
However, the Acer Aspire R14 is not a gaming laptop, that’s why it’s gaming abilities are still limited. Check out this post if you’re interested in ultraportables that can actually tackle modern games properly.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
There’s one fan inside the laptop and it’s active and audible pretty much all the time, although it will occasionally turn OFF when the laptop sits idle. The spinning HDD’s cracking is another noise-source you’ll hear in quiet rooms. Once you start pushing the R14, the fan will ramp up and become louder, but even at max speed the speakers tend to cover it well enough when watching a movie or playing a game.
At the same time, both the internals and the laptop’s body remain fairly cool under daily use, partially because the chassis is made from plastic, which is better at keeping heat at pace, and especially because there’s plenty of room inside and enough cuts on the belly for the cooling system to work properly. Just make sure you’re not covering those grills on the bottom when performing demanding tasks, cause in this case the temperatures will go up by a fair amount. In fact, the top-right corner of the laptop’s bottom side, as well as the area on the interior, on top of the keyboard, will reach temperatures of above 40 degrees, which can get unpleasant in a warm environment, cause sweaty hands and prevent lap-use.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube video in IE for 30 minutes;
*Gaming – Need For Speed: Most Wanted on High for 30 minutes
Notebookcheck.net have also reviewed the R14 and are reporting a much noisier fan, as well as higher case temperatures around the exhaust grill, but that was not the case with my test unit. In fact, the laptop remained mostly quiet with daily use, and only a game or Premiere would actually cause the fan to spin faster.
That aside, Acer went with an Atheros AR9565 Wi-Fi N chip which can’t exactly match the speeds of the faster solutions available these days. As a result, I was only able to get download speeds of up to 60 Mbps with this R14 near my router, while other units can push to 110-120 Mbps in similar conditions. But at least the signal-strength and the speeds remain consistent when going further away from the router. So in conclusion, unless you’re heavily downloading stuff of the Internet, you should be alright with the laptop’s Wi-Fi performance. Otherwise, just turn to the Gigabit Lan wired solution also available.
Before we get to the next part, I do have to mention the speakers and webcam. There are two speakers, placed on the laptop’s belly and they’re decent for a laptop in this class. They have the volume to cover an average-sized room, but the audio quality is somewhat washed out, tiny. As for the webcam, it does provide rather noisy images, but it’s usable in a properly lit room.
There’s a 4 Cell 53Wh battery inside this laptop and on the tested configuration it’s going to be good enough for between 6 to 8 hours of daily use. The numbers below will tell you what to expect, based on how you’ll be using the machine (the screen is manually set to 60% brightness in most situations, which is about 120 nits).
- 3.8 W (~14 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 6.5 W (~8 h 15 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.5 W (~8 h 15 minutes of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.5 W (~7 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in VLC Player, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 8.5 W (~6 h 15 min of use) – heavy browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
Acer bundles the laptop with a 65 Wh charger and a 10 to 100% charge will take around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Price and availability
As I mentioned in the beginning, the Acer Aspire R 14 starts an under $600 at the time of this post.
To be more precise, the Aspire R3-471T-56BQ has an MSRP of $599 and includes an Intel Core i5-5200U processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 500 GB HDD and Integrated Intel HD 5500 graphics, while a Core i3 configuration sells for a little under $500. Follow this link for up-to-date info on prices and configurations at the time you’re reading this post.
The model we reviewed here will sell for around $850 (or 800E in Europe), with 8 GB of RAM, a large 1 TB HDD and the Nvidia 820M graphics, and unless you really want the dedicated graphics, it’s going to be cheaper to get the base model and use the saved money to buy an SSD and extra RAM, then just upgrade those yourself (or pay a specialized service to do it for you).
There aren’t many 14 inch 2-in-1s out there. The Lenovo Flex 3 14 is the only other laptop that comes close to this Acer, with a start price of $549 and Core i5 configuration scheduled to sell at around $650 (these are my predictions, since the Flex 3 series is not yet available in stores at the time of this review), which makes it more expensive than this Acer Aspire R 14.
In fact, for the money, you’re not going to find another convertible with a similar configuration right now. But Acer had to cut many corners in order to get this in stores so cheap. Perhaps too many, some might say.
My biggest gripe is with the screen that relies on a poor TN panel, a reminiscence of the past. As long as you watch it heads-on it’s not THAT bad, but it makes very little sense to have a TN panel on a 2-in-1 that could be potentially used as a tablet as well. On the other hand, the R 14 is rather bulky and heavy, which meant I’ve used it mostly in laptop mode and only occasionally experimented with the others.
The R 14 is far from perfect, but it’s at the same time the only Broadwell Core i5 powered 2-in-1 available for under $600 at the time of this post
At the end of the day though, when we look at the greater picture and past these issues and the other minor inconveniences, like the rattling keyboard, single USB 3.0 slot or the fact that the laptop gets rather hot under load, the Acer Aspire R 14 is definitely not a bad machine. If you can afford to pay $800 or $1000 or more on a 2-in-1 there are clearly better options out there, but if $600 is all you’ve got, well, you’re not going to find the same features in many other places. In fact, I haven’t found them at all at the time of this review and I’ve looked through all the available Broadwell laptops.
With that in mind we’ll draw the line here. The Aspire R 14 is an interesting low-budget ultrabook with a 14 inch screen and Broadwell hardware, but it definitely has its flaws, so make sure you understand them before ordering. Our list of 14 and 15 inch ultrabooks could helps you locate other options, and if you have any questions or anything to add to this post, go wild in the comments section below, I’m around to reply and help out, if possible.