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?
When closed, the Acer Aspire R7 looks like a premium notebook, albeit with a divot on the top where the hinge connects to the lid. The unibody aluminum design is entirely gray except for the black underside.
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.
In traditional notebook mode, the R7 looks just like any other clamshell notebook. In Ezel Mode, the screen can be tilted slightly forward, making the display appear as if it is almost floating above the keyboard. The Ezel Hinge is quite strong and fully supports the weight of the display at any angle, so we were free to play around and figure out what worked best.
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.
We found ourselves most often using the notebook in the traditional notebook mode, though sometimes we tilted the display forward slightly to take advantage of the Ezel hinge. While Ezel Mode is a cool feature, it didn't really add enough value to persuade us to use this setup full time. We rarely used Pad Mode, as the screen doesn't lie flat, and the notebook is way too heavy to be held like a traditional tablet.
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
With the Aspire R7, Acer has flipped the traditional notebook deck on its head, as keyboard and trackpad have switched places. The keyboard kisses the bottom lip of the deck while the trackpad rests above the function keys.
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 15.6-inch display on the Aspire R7 has a resolution of 1920 x 1080, providing crisp and clear high-definition video. We could easily see every drop of foam in the raging ocean as we watched the trailer for "Life of Pi," and colors were bright and vivid during scenes in India. Viewing angles were great as well; we needed to be nearly horizontal to the screen in order to experience color distortion. The display was nice and bright, measuring 300 lux against the mainstream category average of 223 lux.
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 has a total of four Dolby Home Theater v4 speakers that pumped out crisp, clear audio at outstanding volume. At the loudest setting, music didn't just fill our testing room but could be easily heard on the other side of a closed door. We played Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" and heard every pop and crackle of the vinyl-simulated sound effects in the intro and the saxaphone riff was loud and clear. Switching to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" also produced great results, with Freddie Mercury coming through in all his glory, complemented by clear piano keys and cymbal crashes.
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
On the left edge of the Acer Aspire R7 is a combo headphone and microphone jack, two charging USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and a Mini DisplayPort. The right side has the power jack, a volume toggle, a USB 2.0 port and an SD card reader.
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 Acer Aspire R7 has a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3337U with 6GB of RAM, as well as a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and 20GB SSD cache, which provided a smooth overall experience. There was no noticeable lag as we seamlessly flipped through open applications, browsed the Web and streamed video.
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.
The Aspire R7 has integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics, which was enough to play HD video on the 1080p display but didn't fare very well on our graphics benchmarks or gaming tests. The notebook scored just 642 on the 3DMark11 test, which measures a notebook's overall graphics performance, a far cry from the 1,118 average.
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.
The Aspire R7 lasted 5 hours and 8 minutes on the Laptopmag.com battery test, which involves continuous Web browsing with the screen at 40 percent brightness. This is a half hour shorter than the mainstream notebook category average, which is 5 hours and 38 minutes. However, it's important to keep in mind that the touch display uses more energy than a typical screen.
Software and Warranty
Aside from the stock Windows 8 apps, Acer includes plenty of software with the Aspire R7, some of which is more useful than others. Acer Explorer provides tutorials and app overviews, Acer Crystal Eye is a webcam app, Acer Cloud syncs documents across devices and Acer Screen Grasp Touching Tools is used for screen captures and editing.
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.
The $999 Acer Aspire R7 is definitely a unique device. We like its Ezel Hinge, which supports a wide range of motion and usage modes, and the display and audio are excellent. But the R7's keyboard and trackpad switcheroo ends up being more awkward than trendsetting, and the whole device is too heavy to be used as a tablet. Acer deserves credit for being forward-thinking, but we don't believe that notebook shoppers are ready to relegate the touchpad to second-class status.