"The horrific display on the Acer Aspire 5 ruins a decent, inexpensive laptop."
Good keyboard and touchpad
Chassis is too flexible
Mediocre battery life
The Acer Aspire 5 has been one of our favorite laptops for a few years now and has earned a spot on our list of the best budget laptops. Currently, the 2020 version of the Aspire 5 is listed as the best Windows 10 laptop under $ 500, a major segment that the computer dominates. Acer has introduced a slightly redesigned Aspire 5 for 2021 that features the latest 11th generation Intel Core CPUs and makes some significant changes to the case design.
I received an entry-level model with a Core i3-1115G4 CPU with Intel UHD graphics, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) and a 15.6-inch full HD display (1,920 x 1,080). This Aspire 5 configuration is priced at $ 480, which is in the sub-$ 500 segment that previous models owned. Can Acer keep its track record with the latest Aspire 5?
Acer has optimized the design of the Aspire 5 for 2021. The biggest change is a new hinge that angles the case back several degrees to allow better airflow and to support the keyboard. It's a welcome change from an otherwise mundane design.
As before, the lid is made of aluminum, while the rest of the housing is made of plastic and the rigidity is the same as before. The lid is curved quite a bit, while the keyboard deck and the bottom of the case are a bit stiffer, but still yield to light pressure. Some other budget laptops, like the Lenovo Yoga C640, Lenovo Flex 5 14, and Acer Swift 3, have solid build quality.
Aesthetically, the Aspire 5 is pretty bland, with an all-black color scheme punctuated with some chrome-plated Acer logos. If you don't care about the looks of a laptop and are solely focused on the price, the Aspire 5 will satisfy your taste. But it is by no means noticeable. Other colors will be available, including a silver scheme, which is probably more attractive than my boring black review unit.
The Aspire 5 is not a small laptop as the bezels are still too big for modern machines. The side bezels aren't too thick, but the top and bottom bezels could be made smaller, resulting in a laptop that is wider and deeper than usual. The Aspire 5 weighs 3.64 pounds, down from 3.97 pounds in the previous version and is 0.70 inches thick, which is reasonable for a 15-inch laptop.
A particularly nice design feature that the Aspire 5 has in common is its expandability. Accessing the inside of the computer is relatively easy, allowing users to swap out RAM and SSD. Acer also includes a kit for adding a 2.5-inch drive to an empty bay, making it easy to expand storage with an SSD or rotating hard disk drive (HDD). This kind of expandability is rare and welcomed here.
As with many budget laptops that aren't as thin and light as some previous models, connectivity is mostly a strength. On the left, you get an Ethernet port, a full-size HDMI port, two USB-A 3.2 ports, and a USB-C 3.2 port (no Thunderbolt 4 support here). On the right side you will find a Kensington lock slot, a USB-A 2.0 port and a 3.5 mm audio jack. Wireless connectivity is cutting edge with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.
My test device was equipped with a Core i3-1115G4, an 11th generation dual-core CPU that operates at a full TDP of 12 to 28 watts, but contains Intel UHD graphics instead of the newer Intel Iris Xe. According to our series of benchmarks, this is a slow laptop. Starting with Geekbench 5, only 1,215 points were achieved in single-core mode and 2,544 points in multi-core mode. This is well below the usual Tiger Lake value, which usually exceeds 1,500 in the single-core and 5,000 in the multi-core area. In fact, it is beaten by some newer Chromebooks running the Android version of Geekbench 5, which is usually on the slow side. Even the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 with an Intel Core i3-10110U got close to 1,003 and 2,179.
In our handbrake test, which encodes a 420MB video as H.265, the Aspire 5 took exactly five minutes, which is at best 50% slower than the slowest Tiger Lake laptops we tested. This is the first 11th generation Core i3 that we tested. Therefore, faster CPUs run on all of our comparison laptops. For example, the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable, a Windows 10 tablet with a Core i5-1130G7 (a slower Core i5), took just over three minutes to complete the test. The same applies to Cinebench R23, another video rendering test in which the Aspire 5 only manages 1,247 in single-core mode and 3,128 in multi-core mode. The difference between the Aspire 5 and the detachable ThinkPad X12 (1,125 and 3,663) wasn't that big, but most other Tiger Lake laptops were again significantly faster.
The Aspire 5 only achieved 3752 points in the PCMark 10 Complete test, our lowest score ever. In the Essentials part of the test, only 8,220 were achieved, in productivity 5,975 and in content creation only 2,921. The detachable ThinkPad X12 scored 4,443, 9,999, 5,936 and 4,157, respectively. As in our other tests, the Aspire 5 is well behind the field.
I found the Aspire 5 to be fast enough for basic tasks like surfing the Internet and working with office documents in real-life use. For $ 480, these aren't terrible results. We didn't test the previous versions of the Aspire 5 using the same set of benchmarks, so we can't directly compare their performance.
I'm not going to crush words here: this is the worst ad I've ever reviewed. This fact was evident when I first started the Acer Aspire 5 and logged into Windows 10. The display has a noticeable bluish cast which I believe is the result of a cruel contrast and elements on the screen may be difficult to see.
My colorimeter agreed. The brightness was very low at 211, which means you'll struggle to see the screen in a bright office setting. The contrast was confirmed to be extraordinarily poor at just 60: 1 (our threshold for a great display is 1000: 1 and an average budget display is 600: 1). The colors were also poor at just 53% of sRGB and 40% of AdobeRGB – both of which are the lowest in our database, and the typical midrange and premium displays score 95% and 70% or more, respectively. To add insult to injury, the accuracy was also among the worst I've seen with a DeltaE of 10.7 (less than 1.0 is considered excellent and most laptops are below 3.0 in the worst case) ). Only the gamma of the display was where it should be at 2.2.
Nobody will like this display.
In actual use, the colors were washed out, the black text was rather gray, and the display was completely uncomfortable. It's my new standard for "terrible display" and it left a terrible taste in my mouth as a result. Nobody is going to like this display unless they've never used a laptop before and I would pity them for getting such a poor impression of the state of the art. Acer has to get another panel because this is just terrible. The 2019 and 2020 versions of the Aspire 5 were much better.
The audio wasn't much better than the display. The volume was inadequate for all but the occasional YouTube videos, although there was no distortion when turned all the way up. The mids and highs were clear enough, and as always, there was little to no bass. The two speakers aren't bad, mind you, they just don't offer much better than budget quality.
Keyboard and touchpad
The Aspire 5 has a fairly typical island-style keyboard with backlighting, black keycaps and white letters. The keys are a bit small, but also offer a comfortable spacing with the dedicated (but tiny) numeric keypad. The switches are very light weight, with a nice push button and a comfortable bottom effect. This is one area where the Aspire 5 shines and offers a typing experience that is better than many budget laptops.
The touchpad is surprisingly good too, as it's pretty big and responsive. It is a Microsoft Precision touchpad and therefore offers reliable support for the multitouch gestures of Windows 10. It also exceeds the household norm.
Unsurprisingly there is no touch display, and as always, I miss it. There is also no Windows 10 Hello support, neither face recognition nor a fingerprint scanner. This is something we've been seeing on budget laptops lately, and so its omission is noticeable here.
Acer has equipped the Aspire 5 with a 48-watt-hour battery, which is not much for a 15-inch laptop. Even with the slower CPU, I was disappointed with the battery life on this version.
In our web browsing test, which ran through a number of popular websites, the Aspire 5 managed just under seven hours, two hours less than the 2019 version with a Core i3, but three hours longer than the 2020 version with a Core i5. In general, that's not a terrible score, but the Aspire 5 is still in the lower bracket of our database. In our video loop test, in which a Full HD Avengers trailer is played until the battery is empty, the Aspire 5 achieved 9.5 hours. That's about 3.5 hours less than the 2020 version and less than 10 hours that we would like to see in this test. Again not a terrible result, but not great either.
Finally, I ran some PCMark 10 battery tests. The first, the gaming test, evaluates how long a laptop will last when the CPU and GPU are under stress. The Aspire 5 came in after 2.25 hours, an average score. In the application test, which is the best measure of the longevity of productivity, the Aspire 5 was shut down after almost eight hours at the lower end of our database. The detachable ThinkPad X12, for example, managed over 10 hours.
Overall, the battery life of the Aspire 5 was mediocre. If you're doing typical productivity work, you can get through a work day for a fee. The laptop uses a proprietary charger, but you can charge USB-C in a pinch if you happen to have an adapter handy.
I would love to say that the 2021 Acer Aspire 5 retains its spot as our best budget under $ 500 laptop. Unfortunately not, thanks to slow performance and a poor display. The 2020 model is still on sale, and you'd better stick with it.
Is there a better alternative?
As I just mentioned, the 2020 Aspire 5 is a better choice than the 2021 version. You get a much better display and similar build quality for roughly the same money, and you won't be giving up much on performance and battery life.
If I were looking for a cheaper machine in this price range, I would consider a powerful Chromebook option, and there are plenty of that.
The Lenovo Flex 5 14 with its AMD Ryzen CPU is another alternative. The display is smaller at 14 inches, but has better battery life, is much faster, and the display won't embarrass you in public.
How long it will take?
It's not the most rugged laptop, but I suspect it can be solidly used for a few years – and that's about what you would expect for the money. They have up-to-date components, including Wi-Fi 6, though no Thunderbolt 4 is a bummer. The one-year guarantee is also no cause for celebration.
Should you buy it?
No. The display is really terrible which ruins the experience with this laptop.