On the surface, the Acer Predator Helios 300 is not a stunning gaming laptop. It is a 15-inch system with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, which is a basic platform for many portable gaming machines. What sparked my interest was the price: at $ 1,049 on Amazon, the Helios is basically the cheapest gaming laptop with these specs on the market, and user reviews have been largely positive.
With this in mind, I wanted to spend some time with this gaming laptop to see where Acer has cut corners and whether the laptop is actually worth your money. When a laptop is said to be the most affordable in a category, sacrifices are often made to get there.
In this case, the Predator Helios 300 does not compromise on the technical data. Some gaming laptops do not have the SSD in their budget variants, but the Helios 300 contains a 256 GB SSD in the basic model. As with most other GTX 1060 gaming laptops, there is still 16 GB of RAM. And the display; Again, it is 1080p, so there is no difference on paper from similar products. For the price, it seems a lot.
However, there are some aspects of this laptop that Acer has not prioritized. The design is one of them. The Helios 300 is not slim with a thickness of 27 mm and the frames around the display are as big as most inexpensive gaming laptops. It's also about 6 pounds, which is at the top end for GTX 1060 laptops of this size. The most portable often shave two pounds of that weight. Despite the weight and size, this laptop only has a 48 Wh battery, which is medium in size for this hardware.
The construction of the Helios 300 is fundamental and essentially only meets the requirements of a modern gaming laptop. There are two brushed metal parts – the lid and the keyboard bezel – but the rest of the laptop is made of matte plastic. Little attention was paid to keeping the device seamless. The end result is a combination of different materials and textures. It works, but only because this is an entry-level product.
There is no shortage of this laptop, especially on the lid, which has the aggressive Predator logo from Acer and some red highlights. The situation is similar when the laptop is open: a massive Predator logo under the display, red markings on the keyboard and trackpad, and a generally angular design that is usually limited to player products. Some like this aesthetic; I am not a big fan.
The ventilation slots on the back have also received a portion of gamers thanks to a solid red outline. It is interesting to see that half of these “vents” are basically fake and only half of the total space is left for the actual airflow. These are the only ventilation slots on the sides, so the entire exhaust flows through this one small connection. Here, too, Acer opts for a functional, basic design over something more demanding, which is fine for a cheap laptop.
Choosing the I / O ports of this laptop is not surprisingly easy. On the left are Ethernet, HDMI, a single USB 3.0 A connector and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type C connector as well as an SD card reader. The power connector, a 3.5 mm audio jack and two USB 2.0 A ports are on the right. Yes, the Helios 300 only has a single USB 3.0 A port, since Acer probably assumes that you will use the correct USB ports for an external mouse and possibly also for the keyboard. Ideally, all three USB ports support at least 3.0 speeds.
The keyboard is pretty typical for a laptop: nothing special, but nothing bad either. The travel and tactile feedback is similar to many ultra-portable laptops with a spongy, if not unbearable, response. Each key is spaced appropriately, and Acer manages to insert full-sized arrow keys and a number pad into this device. The WASD keys are highlighted and the keyboard has a red backlight. Again, there's nothing special like RGB, just your standard gaming laptop keyboard.
You will want to use a mouse for gaming with this laptop, but the included trackpad is not terrible for occasional use, which is somewhat surprising given the use of ELAN hardware. Now it's not the best trackpad I've used, and the tracking performance is just fair, but it's perfect to maintain for internet surfing and other light tasks.
So far, everything is pretty standard for an entry-level gaming laptop. It's still not clear what hardware Acer has compromised to get a low price. I say "until now" because I'm going to talk about the display, which is by far the worst aspect of this laptop.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the panel on paper. It's a 15.6-inch [1920 x 1080] IPS LCD at 60 Hz. There's no high refresh rate or G-Sync support, which isn't surprising for an inexpensive laptop, and that's fine. However, if you become familiar with the performance of the display, serious problems will be uncovered.
First of all, the panel on my test device can only cover 65% sRGB. This is completely unacceptable for any modern display, and frankly, I was shocked by this result. After reviewing some other reviews, this number seems to vary somewhat as I've seen other tests suggesting up to 85% coverage. I may have a particularly bad review sample, but definitely less than 95% sRGB coverage should not be tolerated for any product category, budget, or not in 2017. In fact, I've seen many other low-tier gaming laptops that offer much better sRGB coverage.
This terrible result leads to widespread undersaturation because the display simply cannot bring the colors to the required vibration levels. The pictures look flat and therefore have no carbon. Put this display next to everything sRGB can produce – we're not even talking about panels with a wide color gamut – and the Helios 300 display doesn't look particularly impressive, to say the least.
With this color scale, it's no surprise that the color accuracy is poor. The contrast ratio of 1160: 1 is fine, and the color temperatures are largely acceptable. The color gamut, however, prevents this display from ever reaching halfway accurate levels of accuracy, and calibration cannot correct this. The brightness is also weak and is a maximum of 230 nits.
Will you notice the bad display while playing? It depends on the game, but since the panel cannot reproduce the bright, punchy colors that we expect at the top of sRGB displays, particle effects etc. are washed out and desaturated.