With the Acer Aspire 5, you get a powerful 8th Gen i5 processor packed into a stylish design, all for the low price of $499 (starting at $399). The problem is, that's about all you're getting. The Aspire 5's battery life barely lasts half a workday, and the machine's 15.6-inch display has as much color in it as an old black-and-white horror film. That's not to mention the Aspire 5's incredibly sluggish hard drive. If you're looking for a good sub-$500 laptop, there are far better options available.
The Aspire 5 is elegantly designed with black ridges that flow across the lid to meet the glossy silver Acer logo in the center. Above that, the Aspire logo sits engraved into the sleek, silver hinge. It's not often I get a lid that's satisfying to look at and touch, but Acer did a swell job here.
The stationary Aspire hinge complements the silver accents surrounding the rim of the interior chassis as well as the touchpad. There's nothing particularly special about the interior, until I noticed the bezels: they're lopsided. I sprung out my trusty ruler (my coworker's, really) and, sure enough, the left bezels measured at 0.6 inches while the right measured at 0.7 inches. It may not seem like much, but the difference is enough to drive any perfectionist mad.
This stylish machine weighs in at 4.6 pounds and measures 15 x 10.4 x 0.82 inches, making the Aspire 5 the lightest notebook among its competitors. The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 is a boulder, at 4.9 pounds and 0.9 inches, while the Lenovo ThinkPad E580 ranks in as the thinnest, at 4.7 pounds and 0.78 inches.
On the right, there's the power jack, two USB 2.0 ports and a headphone/microphone jack.
I've seen better displays on Chromebooks that are half the price of the Aspire 5. This 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 panel is washed out and naturally dim. The laptop attempts to compensate for the dimness by increasing its color brightness, but that effectively makes everything else less colorful.
As Donnie Yen walked across the Great Wall of China in the trailer for Big Brother, I was put off by how lifeless the environment looked as well as the blue tint washing over the panel. And when Yen drove away like a badass on his motorcycle, all the students that followed looked like unimportant extras due to how much their clothes and hair didn't pop.
To be fair, the display offers some crisp visuals. When Yen rode his motorcycle near a body of water, I could see the small ripples move across the liquid in fine detail.
The Aspire 5's panel covers a pitiful 65 percent of the sRGB color gamut, way below the 90 percent mainstream laptop average. But the Inspiron 15 and ThinkPad E580 offered below-average numbers as well, covering 67 and 80 percent, respectively.
At 209 nits of brightness, the Aspire 5 isn't very bright compared to the 238-nit category average or the 243 nits from the ThinkPad E580. However, the Aspire did beat the crushingly low 175 nits from the Inspiron 15.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Aspire 5 has a slick, matte keyboard that's generally comfortable to type on. I even banged out 72 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is above my 67-wpm average, but I still felt like I was bottoming out.
While the keys require a solid 70 grams of actuation force, the part that kills this keyboard is its 1.3 millimeters of travel. To ensure comfortable typing, we typically recommend key travel in the 1.5 to 2.0mm range and a minimum actuation force of 60 grams.
The 4.2 x 3.0-inch touchpad is smooth but has a really stiff click. Otherwise, it recognized two-finger scrolling and three-finger tab swiping, among other Windows 10 gestures, just fine.
The Aspire 5's speakers are loud enough to encompass my living room, but they don't deliver that full, rich sound you expect from your favorite songs. I listened to the Blake Robinson Synthetic Orchestra's "An Unhealthy Obsession" and found that the opening was underrepresented by the lack of bass and treble. When the chorus hit, the vocals felt like they were suppressed by the speakers and couldn't break through that barrier.
There's a lot of power packed into this sub-$500 laptop. Its 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-8250U processor, 4GB of RAM, 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive, and Intel UHD 620 graphics card jolted through 30 Google Chrome tabs as well as a 1080p Key & Peele YouTube video without stuttering. However, I did noticed some serious slowdown when booting up.
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, the Aspire 5 nailed a score of 11,391, surpassing the 8,460 mainstream laptop average. The Aspire also passed the ThinkPad E580's 10,712, but was beaten by the Inspiron 15's 11,791; all three machines have the same processor.
The Aspire 5's 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive is what ultimately kills the machine's speed. The laptop copied 4.97GB of data in 1 minute and 58 seconds (for 43 megabytes per second), which is well behind the 129-MBps category average. The ThinkPad E580 (242 MBps) and Inspiron 15 (131 MBps) both completed the task in under a minute with the same hard drive.
On the HandBrake test, the Aspire 5 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 20 minutes and 10 seconds, which is over 9 minutes faster than the 29:43 category average. However, the ThinkPad E580 and Inspiron 15 did it even faster, at 18:32 and 17:11, respectively.
The Intel UHD 620 graphics card is slightly behind its competitors in terms of power. It registered a 67,490 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, which is weaker than the 70,452 category average. However, the ThinkPad E580 (70,362) and Inspiron 15 (69,943) have the same graphics card and didn't beat the mainstream laptop average either.
Those numbers previewed somewhat accurately the Dirt 3 benchmark performance, with the Aspire 5 at the bottom, averaging 41 frames per second. The ThinkPad E580 and Inspiron 15 did beat the 47-fps category average, however, with 52 and 53 fps, respectively.
This machine is so dead inside that it can barely last half of a workday. After I continuously surfed the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, the battery lasted an abysmal 4 hours and 43 minutes, crashing below the 7:18 mainstream laptop average. The Inspiron 15 lasted a little longer, at 5:08, but the ThinkPad E580 crushed the competition with 8:19.
Acer needs to aspire higher in its webcams. My test shots produced some incredibly washed-out images and details so blurry that I couldn't even identify the dividing lines of the squares on my flannel shirt.
The Aspire 5's webcam practically made the ceiling a complete white body, missing the yellow ceiling lights completely. When I held up the bright red cap on my mug, it turned into a depressing, dull orange. In other words, stay far away, or spring for a dedicated webcam.
The Aspire 5 remained cool after we streamed a 15-minute HD video, hitting only 87 degrees Fahrenheit on the underside, which is well below our 95 degree comfort threshold. The center of the keyboard and touchpad also hit a low 85 and 77 degrees, respectively. The hottest this laptop got was 91 degrees, a temperature found on the lower-left underside.
Software and Warranty
Getting an Acer laptop means a ton of branded software, so let's run down the list. Acer Care Center provides system details, recovery-management options as well as the ability to optimize the battery, internet, storage and applications. Acer Quick Access gives options for Bluelight, power-off USB charging, network settings and a button that optimizes image quality (only when the charger is plugged in, and it's not even that great). Acer also has its own Power Button software that lets you turn off the display, sleep, hibernate or shut down the machine.
Acer also includes PowerDirector 14 and PhotoDirector 8, which are video and photo editors that your friends would never let you use. Along with the megabytes of Acer bloatware is Windows 10 bloatware, featuring storage burglars such as Netflix, Amazon, eBay and much more.
The Aspire 5 that I tested costs $499 and comes with a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-8250U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive, and an Intel UHD 620 graphics card. The $399 version comes with a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i3-7130U processor and 8GB of RAM. The maxed-out configuration costs $999 and is outfitted with a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i7-8550U, 12GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU.
The Aspire 5's looks and speedy 8th Gen processor are great for the price, but those features are not worth the battery life you sacrifice. The listless display and the turtle speeds of the HDD don't help the equation.
If you can spend a few extra bucks, definitely check out the ThinkPad E580 (starting at $699), which comes with a long-lasting battery, a brighter and more colorful display, and an HDD that's six times faster than the Aspire 5's.
Overall, the Aspire 5's price, design and power fail to redeem its many disappointing qualities, so we recommend taking a look at some of the better sub-$500 laptops on the market.
Photo credit: Laptop Mag