For most budget-minded notebook shoppers, the sweet spot hovers right around $500 with a screen size of about 15 inches. The trick is to find a laptop that will deliver the performance, comfort, and endurance you deserve. Powered by a 1.6-GHz AMD dual-core Fusion processor, the $499 Acer Aspire 5253 (as low as $379 at Staples right now) does its best to please. Find out if this inexpensive portable strikes the right balance.
Clad in all-black plastic, the Aspire 5253 would never be mistaken for a luxury machine. However, we like the textured crosshatch pattern on the lid, which makes the notebook easy to grip and helps resist fingerprints. A modest speaker grille and a few colored status lights are the Acer's only design flourishes. The overall look is plain but functional.
Measuring 15 x 10 x 1.3 inches and weighing in at 5 pounds, the Aspire 5253 is pretty portable for a 15-inch notebook. Still, it's clear this machine wasn't meant to leave the house much; slipping the laptop into our standard-sized laptop bag proved a tight fit.
On our heat tests, the Aspire 5253 stayed mostly cool. After playing a Hulu video clip for 15 minutes at full screen, we measured 93 degrees both on the touchpad and in the center of the keyboard. Things were even chillier under the laptop, with a recorded temperature of 87 degrees in the middle. That said, the area near the exhaust vent on the Aspire's left side registered a toasty 102 degrees. (We consider anything above 95 uncomfortable.)
Keyboard and Touchpad
Typing on the Aspire 5253 was an enjoyable experience. While it's not quite as comfortable as the setup on Apple or Lenovo laptops, this notebook features Acer's standard FineTip keyboard--flattened keys in an island-style layout--with large keys that provide deep travel. We also appreciated the full numeric keypad on the right-hand side.
The 3.2 x 1.8-inch touchpad on the 5253 is decently sized and provides smooth operation. It supports mutitouch gestures and scrolling within documents and web pages. Instead of discrete mouse buttons (which we prefer), there's a single bar, which felt cheap and was somewhat difficult to click.
Display and Audio
The 15.6-inch display (1366 x 768 pixels) on the Aspire 5253 was fine for viewing Hulu or YouTube videos and DVD movies, but colors and black levels weren't spectacular. Viewing angles were average, with image quality and brightness dropping off at 40 degrees off-axis.
The laptop's single speaker, located above the keyboard, didn't impress. It pumped out loud but tinny and abrasive sound devoid of any low end.
Ports and Webcam
As you'd expect from a budget notebook, the Aspire 5253 has a standard port spread. Included are three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, and headphone and microphone jacks. An SD Card reader sits on the front left side of the machine, while a DVD SuperMulti Drive occupies the right side.
Above the screen is the laptop's 1.3-megapixel webcam, which can record video at resolutions of up to 1280 x 1024 pixels. It was sharper than the usual VGA cameras found in low-cost portables, and we observed good image quality on Skype calls--even if colors were a bit muted.
Powered by an AMD dual-core E-350 processor and equipped with 4GB of RAM, the Acer Aspire managed 2,371 on PCMark Vantage; while that's 1,000 points higher than the netbook average, it's way below the mainstream category average of 5,012. By contrast, this machine's Intel-powered sibling, the $549 Acer 5742 (which has an Intel Core i3-380 CPU) notched 5,327. The 5253's scores were comparable to other AMD Fusion laptops we've recently tested, such as the $499 MSI CR650 (2,377). That said, we used the Aspire 5253 to stream videos and music and surf the web, all with perfectly acceptable speed. We were also able to stream Hulu videos in one window while simultaneously editing a Google document without a hitch.
Don't expect to do a lot of video editing on this notebook, though; the Aspire 5253 took 2 minutes and 23 seconds to transcode a 114MB MPEG4 file to AVI 2:30 using Oxelon Media Encoder. This showing is a minute and a half longer than the 15-inch notebook category average. Still, netbooks take more than 5 and half minutes on average to accomplish the same task.
The Aspire 5253's 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive took 4 minutes to copy a 5GB folder of multimedia files, which translates to a low file transfer rate of 21.MBps. That's below the mainstream average of 25 MBps and lower than the Aspire 5742 (3:13). The 60-second boot time was about on par with the category average.
Equipped with an ATI Radeon HD 6310 GPU and 256MB of RAM, the Aspire 5253 turned in mixed graphics scores. It achieved 2,266 on 3DMark06, well below the mainstream average of 3,740. Still, this showing bested the Core i3-powered Aspire 5742 (1,752) as well as the AMD-powered Satellite C655D (1,997) and the MSI CR650 (2,225).
In World of Warcraft, the 5253 scored a passable 26 fps in autodetect mode at the display's native resolution (1366 x768). Frame rates dropped to 12 fps when we maxed out all the effects. The mainstream averages for this game are 81 and 29, respectively. However, the Aspire 5742--which uses Intel integrated graphics--scored just 19 fps (autodetect) and 9 fps (at maximum). The 5253 was more on a par with the similarly configured MSI CR650, which notched scores of 24 fps (autodetect) and 9 fps (max).
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The Aspire 5253's six-cell battery managed a long 5 hours on the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's an hour more than the current mainstream notebook average of 4 hours, and the runtime bests the Satellite C655D (4:51) and the MSI CR650 (4:38). The Aspire 5742 with Intel inside lasted just 3:11.
Using an Atheros AR5B97 802.11 Wi-Fi radio, the Aspire 5253 turned in a data rate of 21.7Mbps at a range of 15 feet. That's 12 Mbps below the category average. Additionally, the 5253's throughput of 20 Mbps from 50 feet is slightly less than the 22 Mbps average.
Software and Warranty
Acer bundles the Aspire 5253 with its CrystalEye Webcam software, Acer Backup Manager, and Acer Game Console, but the most notable inclusion is clear.fi. Developed in collaboration with CyberLink, this program enables users to share media files across wireless home networks using DLNA technology. There's also a 15-day trial of Aupeo (a Pandora-like music service), Netflix and Barnes & Noble's Nook for PC apps, McAfee Internet Security, and a 60-day trial of NTI Media Maker 9.
Acer backs the Aspire 5253 with a standard one-year limited traveler's warranty. Click here to see how the company fared in our annual Tech Support Showdown.
Aside from the 5253-BZ480 model we tested, Acer provides a few configuration options for the Aspire 5253, including a BZ602 model for $399 with less RAM (2GB) and a smaller hard drive (250GB). A BZ684 variation for $449 offers almost as much RAM as our test unit (3GB). At the time of this writing, however, our BZ480 could be had for as low as $380 via a Staples.com weekly special.
Notebook shoppers on a tight budget will find a lot to like in the Acer Aspire 5253. You get good-enough performance for everyday tasks such as e-mailing and web surfing, a larger screen than a netbook, and enough battery life so you don't have to stay plugged in at all times. At the time of this writing, the 5253 is available for just $379 at Staples.com, which is a real steal. However, if you can only find it for its list price of $499, we prefer the comparably priced MSI CR650, which offers similar performance, sleeker looks, and better speakers, even if it doesn't last as long on a charge. Those looking for more oomph should consider stepping up to the $549 Core i3-powered Aspire 5742, though you'll sacrifice even more battery life. Overall, the Acer Aspire 5253 is quite a bargain.