We’ve seen several different 2-in-1 form factors in the last years, and among them, the “Yoga” format, with the 360 degree convertible screen, has gotten the most traction.
The Aspire R 13, code name R7-371T, is not like any of the other 2-in-1s. In fact, it’s an atypical convertible, as its screen flips inside its own frame and leaves room for more use-modes than the Yogas. However, the frame does not stretch around the entire display, but only around it’s lower half, which is an unique and rather odd form factor.
That aside though, the Aspire R 13 is a top-tier ultrabook and shares many traits with Acer’s top of the line, the Aspire S7. Among others, it’s available with both Haswell and Broadwell hardware, it offers a high quality touchscreen, it features a Gorilla Glass covered lid and a weird keyboard layout. The R13 is somewhat cheaper than the S7 though, starting at $899 at the time of this post, and the price, features and the convertible form-factor are its strong selling points.
Disclaimer: For this test we have a Haswell powered version of the Aspire R 13, but the Broadwell have recently started to pop-out in stores as well. It came from Acer for the purpose of this review and was sent back afterwards. The post contains my impressions while using it on a daily basis for about 2 weeks.
This is the Acer Aspire R 13, a 13-inch convertible with an atypical form factor
The specs sheet
|Acer Aspire R 13 – R7-371T|
|Screen||13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell Core i5-4210U CPU|
|Video||integrated Intel 4400 HD|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3 (non-upgradeable)|
|Storage||256 GB SSD (80mm M.2 SATA)|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||2xUSB 3.0, 1xUSB 2.0, SD card reader, HDMI, Kensington Lock|
|Battery||4 Cell 3220mAh 48Wh|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||343 mm or 13.5 in (L) x 230 mm or 9.1 in (W) x 18 mm or 0.71 in (H)|
|Weight||about 1.49 kg (3.3 pounds)|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, 2-in-1 form factor|
The configuration tested here is available in stores for $999, but Acer also has a $899 model available, with a 128 GB SSD and a few other different models, including Broadwell configurations and options for a higher-resolution display. See the Price and Availability section towards the end of the review for more details.
Design and exterior
Two ideas flashed into my mind from the moment I got the Aspire R13 out of the box: this thing is odd and rather large, and the main reason for that is the hinge mechanism. It’s something completely unique that borrows from the approach Dell took with the XPS 12, with a display that rotates horizontally inside a full-frame. On the R13 the frame only stretches across the screen’s lower edge and across the lower-half of its laterals. That’s why the R13 might feel appear like an unfinished product, with its lower side larger than the top. In reality though, once you get past the initial impression, you’ll find that this form factor actually works.
In fact, it offers more usage modes than a Yoga. Besides the classic Laptop, Tent, Stand and Tablet, you also get a few modes in between, with the screen levitating above the keyboard, in what Acer calls an Ezel mode. They actually advertise 6 different use modes, depicted in the image below.
The R13 is a versatile device that can be used in a multitude of modes
That aside, the hinge is solid and feels reliable, despite it’s rather fragile appearance. Actually rotating the screen takes a bit of effort, as the rotating mechanism puts a bit of a fight each time, which I also consider a sign of sturdy craftsmanship. And you won’t be able to lift the screen with a single hand, since the hinge is a bit stiff, which was required by the fact that the entire screen-ensemble is heavier than on a standard 13 inch laptop.
In fact, this laptop is top heavy and doesn’t sit completely flush on the desk if you lean the screen back past 120 degrees. The front-right corner is lifted in the air by fractions of a millimeter, but enough to cause bumping noises each time you’ll put your hands on the palm-rest. I can’t say if that’s an issue with all devices or just with the battle-worn model tested here, which has seen a lot of press-action and hasn’t been treated nicely, but it’s something to keep in mind.
All these aside, you should know that R13 is not made of metal, probably in order to keep its weight down (3.3 lbs, due to the convertible screen). In fact, the entire case, frame and the hinge are made of plastic, while the upper lid cover is dressed in a layer of Gorilla Glass 3, which also resides on top of the panel itself. The hinge mechanism feels a lot like metal though, but that’s only because of a metallic coating that was sprayed on it.
Some of you might consider the R13 less appealing, less of a premium device, especially since there’s no metal on it, and there’s some truth in that. This isn’t the most beautiful device out there and the dark-gray color theme isn’t helping its cause either. It can’t match the looks of the Macbook Air or the Dell XPS 13 and lacks the sexiness of the Aspire S7. I for one was mostly happy with it, although I’m definitely not a reference, as the design is not high on my list of priorities. The gray finishes do show smudges and fingerprints easier than the white and silver theme of the S7, which means you’ll actually have a harder time keeping this thing clean. Or at least maintain the appearance.
Aesthetics aside, the Aspire R 13 is a fairly practical laptop. The interior is spacious, it doesn’t have sharp edges (except for the ones on the screen, which are still not that fierce) and corners and the IO offers a fair selection of ports, with two USB 3.0s and one USB 2.0, Full-size HDMI and a card-reader. There’s no miniDP though, which would have allowed to connect a high-res external monitor and Acer doesn’t bundle it with the Acer Convertor Port adapter available on the S7. On a positive side though, the status LEDs were moved on the front edge and are less intrusive, there’s a protective sleeve included in the pack and the cooling vents remain on the laptop’s rear and push air away from the user.
Speaking of that, it’s funny that Acer kept two cooling grills here, cause unlike the S7, the R13 has a single fan inside, thus the other cut is used as a passive intake, alongside the grill on the belly. A belly that’s made from a rubbery plastic and offers room for some small rubber feet, the two speakers and no service area. Much like all the other ultrabooks available these days, you’ll have to pry open the underbelly to get access to the internals and you’ll need a Torx T5 screw-driver for that.
Once in, you’ll notice the single fan (larger than the ones used on the S7), the easily accessible M.2 80 mm SSD, the Wi-Fi module and the fact that the RAM is soldered on the motherboard, while the battery is hold in place by screws and should be fairly easily replaceable if needed. I found it a bit odd that there’s at least an inch of space between the actual radiator and the cut towards the exterior, which kind of suggest a sloppy internal layout and actually anticipate a faulty cooling system. More about that in a bit.
Our model comes with a 13.3 inch 1920 x 1080 px IPS touchscreen. It’s bright and sharp, it offers great contrast and accurate colors, alongside the nice viewing angles associated with IPS panels. In other words, it’s pretty good, as proven by the numbers below, although the gamma and the overall brightness distribution could be improved.
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics QOUD302D;
- Coverage: 77% sRGB, 56% NTSC, 59% Adobe RGB;
- measured gamma: 2.5 ;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 285 cd/m2;
- contrast at max brightness: 790:1;
- white point: 6600 K;
- black on max brightness: 0.39 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 1.10 uncalibrated, 0.70 calibrated.
That’s why this AUO panel is not as good as the 2560 x 1440 px IPS Sharp panel Acer bundles on the top-tier configurations, the same screen they put on the premium versions of the Aspire S7.
The touch responds accurately to taps and swipes and its surface is covered in Gorilla Glass 3, which leads to glare and reflections in bright light, like with all touchscreens.
The R13 offers a digitizer w/ pen support
As a side note though, the Aspire R13’s screen also includes a digitizer layer and Acer’s Active Pen technology, which means you could use the Acer Active Stylus (not included with the laptop, sells for $50) to takes notes, sketch or draw on the screen. The digitizer should support 255 pressure levels and I haven’t personally tested it, since it did not came with this review unit, but those who did were not that fond of its performance. So if you’re interested in a 13 incher with a digitizer and consider this Acer, you might want to dig deeper into this matter.
I should also mention that out of the box, this laptop comes with fonts scaled to 150%, which can cause certain interface elements to look blurry. Switching to 125% scaling (or 100%, if you can live with the tiny icons and interfaces) fixed those issues for me and in fact those are the same settings I’ve been using on the XPS 13, since that one also features a 13.3 inch FHD screen.
Acer Active Pen technology
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard on the R13 is nearly identical to the one on the S7, with the same key design and dreaded layout. Acer went for an atypical arrangement and left the 6th row of Function keys out, and instead combined the numbers and F keys together. That also lead to other changes, like the CapsLock and ~ combo, the Delete key placed near Space or the complete omission of a right CTRL key, and all these will require time to get used to.
That aside, typing on R13 is a fairly enjoyable experience, as the keys are properly sized and offer good travel and response for a laptop as thin as this one. I’ve seen a few users complaining about missed strokes when not hitting the keys in their exact middle, but for me that hasn’t been a problem. The layout though definitely is, although I think a regular user who does not type for a living and have as high expectations as I could get used to it.
The keyboard is backlit and Acer went for dark gray keys with a White/Blue writing, and this color-theme is actually a lot more visible when the illumination system is active than on the S7, where the writing on each key was barely distinguishable in most cases. I did notice a high-pitch noise coming from the keyboard only on the max-brightness setting and I’ve seen other buyers complaining about it as well, so it’s not such an isolated case. Switching to the first level of illumination kills the buzzing, but the whole thing is still annoying, especially since the LEDs aren’t very bright on this laptop.
As for the trackpad, it’s smooth (but a bit harsh to the finger, I could say) and fairly large, it’s precise and offers decent support for gestures (no Back and Forward in the browser, but most others work fine).
However, this is not a Synpatics Touchpad, but a Precision unit from Microsoft (if I’m not mistaken), which means it does not work with the Synaptics drivers and you’ve got very limited adjustment options, in case you’re not satisfied with how it works out of the box. In fact, I’ve seen several buyers complaining that it’s too fast and thus can get jumpy in certain cases, but that didn’t bother me. In fact, very little bothered me about this trackpad, aside for the slightly abrasive surface.
Hardware and performance
Out unit comes with an Intel Core i5-4210U processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD and Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics, which is a platform I’ve reviewed countless times before, so we’re not going to get in depth here.
I will tell you that the laptop is able to handle everyday tasks well, but also multimedia content, light editing software and some older games, to some extent. However, in order to make the best out of it, you need to take care of the preinstalled bloatware, as there are about 20 pieces of software that should not reside on your laptop, starting with all the Acer apps, continuing with the eBay, Spotify or McAfee apps and ending up with the CyberLink suite, which you should only keep if you plan to edit videos.
I ran a couple of benchmarks on this laptop and the results are below:
- 3DMark 11: P979;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 54605, Cloud Gate –4099, Sky Driver – 2494, Fire Strike – 581;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2146;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 18.70 fps, CPU 2.57 pts, CPU Single Core 0.65 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 20.34 fps, CPU 209 cb, CPU Single Core 86 cb;
- X264 Benchmark 4.0: Pass 1 – 86.95 fps, Pass 2 – 16.30 fps.
I’ve also put the laptop through a couple of casual activities and you can find details about performance and temperatures in the pictures below. It’s worth noting that throttle can occur when running games, as the CPU’s frequency drops quickly to 1.2 GHz in these conditions, with rare bursts to 2.6 GHz. I blame the poor cooling system for that, as you’ll find out from the next chapter.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
The laptop remains fairly cool and quiet in everyday use. The fan inside is barely, barely audible, but it’s active pretty much all the time, even when the computer sits idle for a while, unlike with the S7. It’s hardly going to be an issue, unless you’re in a completely quiet room, but since many other devices remain fanless under light load, the R13 looses a few points here.
The body temperatures aren’t spectacular, as certain spots go beyond 35 degrees with casual tasks like running video content from Youtube. In fact, the S7 with its smaller footprint and metallic body runs slightly cooler.
Under serious stress the fan doesn’t ramp up much and doesn’t get noisier, but it doesn’t do a great job at cooling the laptop either, as you can judge by the temperatures displayed in the pictures below. Certain spots actually go beyond 50 degrees C when running games or other very demanding apps, which almost never happens in my tests. So in a few words, Acer’s single-fan cooling solution needs a serious redesign. Hopefully we’ll see better thermal and acoustic performance from the Broadwell updates, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube video in IE for 30 minutes;
*Gaming – Need For Speed: Most Wanted on High for 30 minutes
Our version of the Aspire R13 came with an Atheros Wi-Fi N capable module which proved to be fairly potent as long as I kept the device in fair proximity of the router. That’s why downloads speeds of 120 Mbps were obtained right next to it, but at 30 feet with two walls in between that dropped to 30 Mbps, while the signal’s strength dropped to only 3 bars and it gets even worse further away. So if you have a small home, the R13’s wireless won’t disappoint, but in a larger place with shady signal it will struggle.
Two speakers are placed on the underbelly and they’re decent for a thin and light computer. They aren’t very loud though, peaking at under 80 dB at 50 cm away from the laptop in my tests, which means will struggle to fill a noisier room. But for indoor home use they should be good enough, and the sound coming out is clear, bur rather tiny and will actually cause some distortions at maximum volumes.
Last but not least we have the webcam, which is rather muddy and noisy, but will do the job for occasional calls, paired with the two microphones placed on the laptop’s front edge.
There’s a 4 Cell 48 Wh battery inside this laptop and on the tested configuration it was good enough for between 5 to 7 hours of daily use. The numbers below will tell you what to expect, based on how you’ll be using the machine.
- 4.4 W (~11 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, keyboard illumination OFF, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 7 W (~6 h 45 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination LVL1, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7 W (~6 h 45 minutes of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination OFF, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8 W (~6 h minutes of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in VLC Player, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination OFF, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 9.5 W (~5 h of use) – heavy browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination LVL1, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON
The battery does take a long time to charge, more than 3 hours, since Acer only bundled this machine with a 45 Wh charger. On top of that, the R13 gets the same wobbly and fragile charging tip as the S7, and the charger is placed on the right edge, which clutters that side even more.
Price and availability
As I mentioned from the beginning, there are a few different Aspire R13 configurations available in stores these days, and I’ll list the most important ones for you below:
- Intel Core i5-4210U, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, 1920 x 1080 px display – $899 (code name: Aspire R7-371T-50V5);
- Intel Core i5-4710U, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, 1920 x 1080 px display – $1199 (code name: Aspire R7-371T-79TB);
- Intel Core i5-4710U, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, 2560 x 1440 px display – $1299 (code name: Aspire R7-371T-76HR).
- Intel Core i5-5200U, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, 1920 x 1080 px display – $899 (code name: Aspire R7-371T-59ZK);
- Intel Core i5-5200U, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, 1920 x 1080 px display – $999 (code name: Aspire R7-371T-5009);
- Intel Core i7-5500U, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, 1920 x 1080 px display – $999 (code name: Aspire R7-371T-72CF);
- Intel Core i7-5500U, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, 1920 x 1080 px display – $1199 (code name: Aspire R7-371T-76UV);
- Intel Core i7-5500U, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, 2560 x 1440 px display – $1299 (code name: Aspire R7-371T-78UV);
- Intel Core i7-5500U, 8 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD, 2560 x 1440 px display – $1499 (code name: Aspire R7-371T-70KS).
You’ll notice that the Haswell and Broadwell models have a similar MSRP, but you will find the Haswell versions discounted online. Even so, it’s probably worth getting the Broadwell configurations for the longer battery life and faster graphics. Follow this link for up-to-date prices and potential discounts at the time you’re reading this post.
Since the SSD is upgradeable, the $899 i5-5200U should appeal to a casual buyer, while the $999 i7-5500U version is the better pick for those that need a faster processor. The higher quality 2560 x 1440 px display is only available on the $1299 configurations and while it does offer more vibrant colors and a superior brightness distribution, it’s not necessarily worth the high price tag imo.
The R13 is available in a multitude of configurations, with prices ranging between $899 and $1499
Drawing the line on this Acer Aspire R13 leaves me with mixed feelings. On one side I do appreciate the nice configuration and touchscreen with digitizer support or the decent battery life. But on the other, I’m having a hard-time actually recommending this product.
It’s advertised as a premium ultraportable, but it’s only 0.4-0.5 of a pounds lighter than mid-range laptops like the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 for instance, or even the Asus Transformer Book TP300, while it’s made out of plastic and isn’t very compact. And the thing is those models are $100 to $300 cheaper than Acer’s product, although they might not be available in that many configurations. The HP Spectre x360 matches it in terms of weight, but sports a metallic body, a more compact footprint and a larger battery, while selling for a $100 to $150 more.
The R13 is not for everyone, but it will cope well with a narrow niche of potential buyers
On top of those, the keyboard and the poor cooling performance under load speak highly against the R13, and despite the fact that there aren’t any other other major aspects to complain about, those already mentioned could be enough to steer some of you towards other options.
Now, the R13 could be the right device for certain users, but it just fits in a very narrow niche. It would suit someone who wants a convertible built on the latest hardware, plans to use it for casual activities only and appreciates a digitizer, but doesn’t care that much about weight, size, an excellent typing experience or temperatures under load. If that’s you, the Aspire R13 will make you happy.
Otherwise, you might want to keep looking and my selection of the best 2-in-1 convertibles, as well as my detailed list of Broadwell ultrabooks, can be the perfect place to start.