Great high-definition display; Fantastic audio; Unique design supporting multiple viewing modes
Awkward touchpad placement; Below-average battery life; Relatively slow hard drive; Feels heavy in tablet mode
The Acer Aspire R7 presents a unique touch-friendly design with its floating display, but putting the touchpad above the keyboard feels awkward.
The Acer Aspire R7 has one of the most intriguing designs we've ever seen from a laptop. Making a statement that the touch screen is more important than the trackpad, the $999 Aspire R7 has a hinged display that can be used in four modes, and a touchpad that sits above the keyboard. This 15-inch system is definitely a notebook first, but you can use as a tablet. So does the bold design pay off, or will all the changes make this notebook an awkward black sheep?
But this is no ordinary notebook.
The display attaches to the deck by what Acer calls an Ezel Hinge, which allows the monitor to pivot from the hinge's attachment in the middle of the back, so the notebook can be used in a variety of positions. As if that weren't enough, Acer swapped the locations of the keyboard and clickpad, so that the latter is above the former on the deck. More on that.
Display Mode, which is where the screen is flipped completely around, is designed for media watching or giving presentations. Finally, there's Pad Mode, which is where the screen is flipped backward and laid flat against the deck. Unfortunately, the display doesn't lie exactly flat, but is still propped up slightly at one end, so it doesn't quite capture the true tablet experience.
The R7 measures 14.8 x 10 x 1.12 inches and weighs 5.4 pounds, which is a pretty average size and weight for a mainstream notebook. While not the lightest notebook, you can travel with this hybrid if you have a larger bag.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Acer is betting that with Windows 8, users won't need the trackpad very much. It's there if you need it, but it can be easily hidden by the hinged display and won't make you reach across wasted space to type on the keyboard.
This is an interesting idea in concept, but real-world use was not quite as user-friendly as we'd hope. When typing, we found ourselves missing the palmrest that typically straddles a traditionally placed trackpad. When using the notebook on a desk, we found ourselves pushing the notebook farther away from us in order to type comfortably.
Other than the unusual placement, the typing experience was decent, keys had plenty of travel and keyboard flex was pretty much nonexistent.
Owing to its placement, the 4.1 x 3-inch clickpad was a bit awkward to reach. Swipes in from the side needed to be started from within the border of the trackpad, rather than from on the deck. We prefer the later, as it makes Windows 8 gestures easier to execute and results in fewer mistakes. Aside from the gestures, the trackpad was very accurate, and left and right clicks were easy to distinguish.
Display and Touch Screen
The touch screen worked flawlessly, making it easy to perform Windows 8 gestures such as swiping in from the edge of the screen. Swipes in from the side need to be started off screen, on the edge of glass framing the display, which meant that our taps and scrolls were never mistaken for a gesture. Like most other touch-screen Windows 8 devices, it can be a little hard to accurately tap smaller buttons or links, but a quick two-finger pinch magnifies the screen.
Eschewing the touchpad completely for the touch screen, though, was more of a challenge. Selecting text using touch is also more difficult than with a clickpad. We could tap and hold to select text from a Web page, but trying to perform the same action in a Google document was impossible.
The Aspire R7 also has a pretty cool audio trick, with the audio channels switching when the laptop is switched from the traditional mode to display mode. This was great, because it meant that the left audio channel was always on our left, and the right on our right, regardless of which direction the monitor was facing.
Acer also promotes the Acer Purified.Voice audio technology package, which is comprised of both a hardware and software component. First, there are two microphones, located on the lip of the notebook underneath the space bar, for stereo audio pickup. Second, the audio technology can reduce background noise, such as typing, and detect when an audio source is moving away from the notebook in order to maintain a consistent audio level.
MORE: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
We made a Skype call and wandered around the notebook as we conversed and the person on the other end reported that we came through loud and clear. However, she reported that she could tell we had moved farther away from the machine.
After streaming Hulu on full screen for 15 minutes, the area between the G and H key on the Aspire R7 measured a cool 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The underside of the notebook also remained relatively cool, measuring 89 degrees. The touchpad, above the keyboard, got a little warmer, measuring 91 degrees after our video viewing. All three areas were below our 95-degree comfortability threshold.
Ports and Webcam
Images captured with the 720p webcam looked dark and had a yellowish hue in the harsh fluorescent light of our office, but things lightened up once we moved into a room with plenty of natural light. Still, image quality was quite low, even on the highest resolution, and there was lots of visual noise and blurry lines.
The notebook performed well on the PCMark 7 benchmark test, scoring 3,692 against the mainstream category average of 2,741. The Geekbench score wasn't quite as high, with the Aspire R7 getting 4,976 against the category average of 6,546.
The file transfer test, which copies 5GB of media files, took 2 minutes and 46 seconds for a transfer rate of 30.7 MBps. That showing is well below the category average transfer rate of 40 MBps. Boot time, however, was super-fast. The Acer Aspire R7 loaded Windows 8 in 14 seconds, easily beating the 40-second mainstream notebook average.
Performance was on a par with the average on the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Test, which matches 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses. The R7 completed the task in 5 minutes and 57 seconds, as opposed to the average of 5:54.
When we played "World of Warcraft" on autodetect settings at a resolution of 1366 x 768, we mustered a frame rate of 32 frames per second, half of the 64 fps average. When we turned up all the effects to their max settings, the frame rate dropped to an unplayable 15 fps.
Software and Warranty
Acer also includes Amazon Kindle, Zinio, newsXpresso, iCookbook SE, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Social Jogger, Next Issue, 7digital, Music Maker Jam and Cut the Rope. There's also ChaCha, a human-guided search-and-answers engine, and Didlr, for drawing and sharing digital sketches. Additionally, there's a trial of Microsoft Office and McAfee Internet Security.
The notebook includes a one-year International Travelers Limited Warranty, which covers any product failures or errors that occur under normal working conditions. Accidental damage is not covered.
|CPU||1.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3337U|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|RAM Upgradable to||12GB|
|Hard Drive Size||500GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||5,400rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive + SSD|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size||20GB|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type||SSD|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Touchpad Size||4.1 x 3 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 2.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Lock Slot|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone/Mic|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Card Slots||SD memory reader|
|Size||14.8 x 10 x 1.12 inches|