Sluggish performance and poor displays are expected of laptops that cost less than $400. With the Aspire 1, Acer wants to change that. This $249 laptop has a stylish design that is both slim and lightweight, and its 1080p display is sharper than others in this price range. Its shortcomings -- below-average battery life, a poor webcam and flimsy construction -- are disappointing, but the Aspire 1 remains a very good option for shoppers trying to spend as little as possible on a new laptop.
I admit I wasn't expecting the Acer Aspire 1 to look so dang sleek. A stylish profile and slim, lightweight chassis raise this laptop above its inexpensive rivals.
Measuring 13.5 x 9.6 x 0.7 inches, the Aspire 1 is as slim as the HP Stream 14 (13.3 x 8.9 x 0.7 inches) and a lot more compact than the 15-inch Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (14.9 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches). And weighing 3.3 pounds, the Aspire 1 is nowhere near as hefty as the Inspiron 15 3000 (5 pounds), though the Stream 14 (3.1 pounds) is even lighter.
If you're looking for a pop of color, look elsewhere, as you won't find it on the Aspire 1. Apart from the silver Acer logo on the lid and the white keyboard font, the entire laptop is black. Fortunately, a brushed texture on the lid and deck elevates the Aspire 1's otherwise-ordinary aesthetics. Perhaps my favorite design element is the stepped platform on the Aspire's rear, where an Aspire logo is embossed. It's a subtle design cue, but it gives the Aspire 1 a certain cool factor.
The build quality of the Acer Aspire 1 is a mixed bag. The smooth plastic lid doesn't inspire much confidence, flexing under the slightest pressure. I also noticed some springiness when pressing my fingers down hard on the keyboard. On the flip side, the Aspire 1 has sturdy hinges that rotate 180 degrees, so you can fold the display back flat. The flexible display is great for collaborating with a group, but it would be a lot more useful with a touch screen, which is not offered on the Aspire 1.
The Acer Aspire 1 has a solid range of ports, even if the machine doesn't have the latest and greatest connections.
The right side contains a headphone/mic combo jack and two USB 2.0 ports. There are also two LED indicators for power and battery status, along with a DC power jack.
MORE: Ports Guide
I would liked to seen a USB-C port, but that's an acceptable omission at this price.
The Acer Aspire 1's 14-inch, 1080p display offers good detail, but its images look washed out.
When I watched a trailer for the upcoming film Hunter Killer, I could see the small details in the submarine set design. The green and blue uniforms worn by the soldiers seemed the appropriate colors, and the explosions burst with shades of orange and yellow. But the colors weren't particularly vivid. Also, the display's viewing angles are woefully shallow, fading rapidly when viewed from a slight angle.
The Acer Aspire 1 can reproduce 71 percent of the sRGB color gamut. That's not colorful by most standards, but it's a strong result for a $250 laptop. The HP Stream 14 (82 percent) and Dell Inspiron 15 3000's (73 percent) panels are even more vivid, and the Aspire falls well short of the budget-laptop average (87 percent).
The Aspire 1's maximum brightness of 206 nits is respectable, but this machine couldn't reach the budget laptop average (239 nits). However, laptops at this price typically have even dimmer displays, as seen on the HP Stream 14 (186 nits) and Dell Inspiron 15 (145 nits). The Aspire 1's matte display does a good job softening reflections under bright conditions.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the Acer Aspire 1 offers good tactile feedback, but it's too stiff for long typing sessions. With a 1.2-millimeter key travel and an actuation force of 78 grams, the Aspire 1 doesn't offer the breeziest typing experience.
We prefer at least 1.5mm of key travel, to prevent us from bottoming out or hitting the base of the laptop. Also, an actuation force closer to 60 grams offers the right amount of pressure and isn't overly straining. That said, the Aspire's keys are well-spaced, and a soft tactile bump rewards your fingers when a key press is registered.
In the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I scored 121 words per minute with an accuracy rate of 96 percent. That is slightly above my 119-wpm average and a tad better than my average error rate of 5 percent.
The Aspire 1's speakers aren't particularly loud and could barely fill a medium-size conference room. The audio quality isn't great, either. When I listened to Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," the iconic singer's voice lacked character. At maximum volume, the vocals were shrill when Franklin hit the chorus, and the instruments lost focus as they came to a crescendo. When I played Kanye West's "Homecoming," the piano riffs sounded thin and the bass line lacked its thumping pulse. On a positive note, Chris Martin's falsetto came in clear, and the instruments were well-separated.
Equipped with an Intel Celeron N4000 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC flash storage, the Aspire 1 struggled with everyday multitasking. I grew impatient as it sluggishly loaded 10 Google Chrome web pages at once. Things improved once they were all up.
I visited additional pages individually without issue, even with a 1080p YouTube video and a Twitch stream running in the background. However, the Aspire 1 doesn't have the firepower to load more-demanding sites. In one notable hiccup, the Aspire 1's CPU couldn't keep pace with my typing when I was conducting the 10fastfingers.com test.
The Acer Aspire 1 scored 3,349 in the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, a much better score than what the HP Stream 14 achieved (1,817), but just short of the budget laptop category average (3,622).
The Acer Aspire 1's 64GB of eMMC flash storage did a great job on the Laptop Mag File Transfer test, duplicating 4.97GB of mixed-media files in just 1 minute and 2 seconds. That comes out to a transfer rate of 82.1 megabytes per second, which is more than three times faster than the results from the HP Stream 14 (24.7 MBps) and Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (25.7 MBps). The Acer's storage is also twice as fast as the average budget laptop (47.2 MBps).
It took the Aspire 6 minutes and 19 seconds to match 65,000 names with their corresponding addresses in our Excel VLOOKUP test. That's right around the 6:02 budget laptop average.
The Acer took 1 hour and 17 minutes to transcode a 4K video into 1080p, which is around what'd we expect from lower-powered processors. Still, it's significantly longer than the budget laptop average (40:29).
The Intel UHD Graphics 600 GPU in the Acer Aspire 1 offers enough power to play web games -- but don't expect it to fire up AAA titles, like Fortnite or Overwatch. It scored 22,965 in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test. That's better than the scores from the HP Stream 14 (19,073) and Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (18,154) but short of the budget laptop average (26,790).
The Aspire 1 failed to run Dirt 3 at a playable frame rate, hitting only 19 frames per second. At 26 fps, the budget laptop average also failed to reach our 30-fps playability threshold.
The Acer Aspire 1 turned in below-average results in our Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. The laptop lasted 6 hours and 31 minutes on a charge, which is shorter than the HP Stream 14's time (7:04) and the budget laptop average (7:14). Acer's machine did stay powered for longer than the short-lived Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (5:33).
We exercise a certain amount of leniency when reviewing budget laptops, but there is simply no excuse for the Acer Aspire 1's awful 640 x 360 webcam. When I took a selfie, the low-resolution image it captured of my face was out of focus, dark, grainy and lacking in detail. My hair looked like a blob on top of my head. That, combined with a lack of the depth and a blurry outline, made me look like a Lego figure.
That's not the half of it. Our dimly lit office was so washed out in the image that I couldn't identify objects behind me. The colors the webcam captured weren't accurate, either. My army-green shirt was a muddy gray, and my blue eyes looked like black pits. I haven't used such a poor camera since I owned a flip phone. Needless to say, Aspire 1 owners will want to check out our Best External Webcams guide.
The Acer Aspire 1's thin chassis became uncomfortably warm when we played a full-screen HD video for 15 minutes. The underside heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lower left side of the bottom panel topped out at a scalding 113 degrees. These temperatures are well above our 95-degree comfort threshold. Fortunately, you won't feel the heat unless the Aspire 1 is on your lap. Its touchpad remained a cool 80 degrees, and the keyboard center peaked at 93 degrees.
Software and Warranty
The Aspire 1 doesn't come with a lot of storage, so, thankfully, Acer didn't fill it with bloatware. The Acer-branded apps on the machine's Windows 10 Home operating system are Acer Documents and Acer Product Registration. These support apps help new users find the laptop's user manual and make it easy to register the product for support updates and warranty purposes.
Microsoft wasn't as generous with its preinstalled software. All the bloatware we've come to expect can be found on the Aspire 1, including children's games, like Bubble Witch 3 Saga, Candy Crush Saga, Candy Crush Soda Soda, Hidden City, Minecraft, Cooking Fever and Dragon Mania Legends, along with other pre-installed programs, like Booking.com, Evernote and Netflix.
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The Acer Aspire 1 comes in a few configurations, all of which cost less than $300. For $249, our review unit, the base model, came equipped with an Intel Celeron N4000 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage. For $30 more, you can get a more powerful Intel Celeron N4100 CPU.
If you're on a strict budget, the 14-inch Acer Aspire 1 is an impressive laptop. With a sharp, 14-inch display and slim, lightweight design, the Aspire is a far cry from the ugly, low-resolution devices we typically see in this price range. It also has a strong selection of ports and a solid keyboard.
Unfortunately, the Aspire's plastic chassis exhibits a concerning amount of flex, battery life could be improved, and the webcam is practically useless.
There are few alternatives worth mentioning at this price range. If you want a pop of color, you could choose the HP Stream, which has longer battery life, but you'll have to compromise on a dim display and even slower performance. Your other option is to purchase a Chromebook, like the Samsung Chromebook 3. However, Chromebooks typically have smaller displays, and Chrome OS isn't as versatile as Windows 10. That makes the Aspire 1 a compelling option for anyone on a budget, and at $250, it's a steal.
Credit: Laptop Mag