by LAPTOP Staff on March 26, 2012
Although Acer offers aggressively priced laptops, the overall user experience trails other brands.
UPDATE: Check Acer's 2013 Brand Report Card to see how the company fared this year.
Of the 15 notebooks we reviewed from Acer during the last year, nine received 4 stars (such as the Aspire TimelineX 5830TG), three had a rating of 3.5, two were awarded 3 stars and one--its Aspire S3 Ultrabook--had a not-recommended rating of 2.5 stars, owing to its short battery life, slow hard drive and limited viewing angles.
We give the company credit for experimenting with color in laptops such as the TimelineX 5830T and 3830T, which come with a bold blue brushed-aluminum lid. Otherwise, a lot of Acer's machines don't really make a statement. The Aspire S3 was particularly disappointing because it employed a cheap plastic deck to complement the metal lid. We have higher hopes for the slimmer all-aluminum S5.
Acer's island-style keyboards usually offer good feedback and most have well-placed keys. However, nearly all of the systems suffer from some degree of flex. The brand's touchpads vary widely in style. Some buttonless designs, such as on the Gateway ID Series (pictured), suffered from occasional jerkiness. Traditional one- or two-button pads, such as on the Aspire 5253, suffered from button stiffness or mushiness. The removable touchpad on the Aspire Ethos 8951G caused our pointer to get stuck.
Since last year, Acer beefed up its Web-based presence with email and chat support, a user-account system for tracking support queries and more product-specific content. On the phone, we didn't have to register our account, navigate a phone tree or give any personal information. Unfortunately, Acer still continues to push its premium service for some software-related issues, and some of the answers the company provided via phone and chat weren't helpful.
Most of the Acer and Gateway laptops from the last year, such as the Acer Aspire S3, came with standard-resolution (1366 x 768-pixel) displays. The glare on some panels was annoying, and viewing angles were unimpressive. However, many of Acer's machines, including the TimelineX 3830TG, ship with Dolby Home Theater technology, which lets users choose from three sound profiles for games, movies and music. We enjoyed loud, but muddy, audio on most of the company's notebooks.
From the array of models we reviewed in the last year, it's clear there's no shortage of options. However, you can't build to order. What you can do is buy multiple configurations from many online retailers and stores, such as Newegg and Walmart. Acer offers systems at a wide range of prices, from the $499 Aspire AS5253 to the multimedia-focused $1,449 Aspire Ethos 8951G, but you won't find many luxury/gaming notebooks.
Among Acer/Gateway's most helpful apps are backup and security: Backup Manager and MyWinLocker for Acer and MyBackup and Gateway Recovery for Gateway; Launch Manager (on Acer and Gateway); Crystal Eye Webcam (on Acer); and a Social Networks application (on Gateway) for instant access to Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. The Clear.fi service lets users share multimedia wirelessly across a network.
Laptopmag.com readers were split on Acer/Gateway. While some appreciated the low prices, others complained of quality issues. The Better Business Bureau slapped the company's headquarters with an F ranking, but points out that Acer has made good faith efforts to address most customer complaints. Acer/Gateway failed to place among the top five companies in Rescuecom's reliability report for the second quarter of 2011.
Acer deserves credit for taking a few big risks, even if the results didn't pan out as well as we had hoped. The company's 14-inch Iconia 6120 packed two customizable touchscreens with a unique ring interface, but the design was too heavy and there weren't enough touch-enabled apps. Acer's Ethos 8951G included a removable touchpad that doubled as a remote, but it didn't work very well in either mode.