I'm not too picky when it comes to budget laptops. Just give me a solid array of components, ergonomic comfort and enough battery life for my money. The Acer Aspire E15 does just that. For $550, you get an Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, plus a 15-inch touch screen. While not without its flaws, the Aspire will give shoppers a good return on their investment.
The Acer Aspire E15's sports an understated aesthetic. The lid features a black brushed metal finish, with the palm rest retaining a similar subtle brushed pattern. The display bezel is a matte black plastic, the same material found on the hinge and underside. The Aspire E15 has a contemporary appearance with rounded edges and sleek lines, but I found the lid and palm rest to be oil magnets, which can mar the E15's dark visage.
The Aspire E15 measures 15.02 x 10.08 x 1.24 inches at its thickest and weighs 5.6 pounds. This is exactly the same dimensions but 0.2 pounds lighter than the Acer Aspire E1-510P, which looks nearly identical to the E15.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe Acer Aspire E15 features a chiclet keyboard complete with full number pad. The keyboard is easy to use, but I would have liked crisper feedback for individual presses. The keys have a travel distance of 1.9 millimeters with an actuation weight of 60g, very similar to other notebooks in this category (1.6 mm travel and 57g actuation). I had no trouble adjusting to the keyboard; after just a few minutes I hit my typical average of 70 words per minute.
The 4.2 x 3 inch touchpad is large and offset to the left of center. The slab was easy to use and provided ample surface area. However, users with larger hands may find the small palm rest to the left of the touchpad limiting, as I occasionally brushed the pad with my palm while typing. The touchpad was quick to respond to two-finger scrolling and overall provided a solid mouse experience.
Display and Touch Screen
Click to EnlargeThe Acer Aspire E15 comes with a 5.6-inch 1366 x 768 touch screen. Unfortunately, the display is one of the weaker components of the system, even considering its budget price tag. At a distance of 2 feet from the screen, I could still see individual pixels. Also, the panel is inset from the edge of the bezel, giving the top half of the system a clunky appearance.
When I watched the trailer for the new "Mad Max" movie, the picture was sharp but contrast was weak leading to video looking washed out. Horizontal viewing angles were good but vertical viewing angles were narrow; tilting the screen even just a little up is like applying every Instagram filter at the same time.
According to our tests, the Aspire E15 averaged 193 nits of brightness. That's on a par with the 192 nits of the Acer Aspire E1-510P, but below some other budget laptops like the HP Chromebook 14 (209 nits).
Color reproduction was worse, as the Aspire E15 is capable of displaying just 59.5 percent of the sRGB color gamut. Closer to 100 percent is better.
Color accuracy was also subpar with a Delta-E rating of 7.6 (closer to zero is better). That's ahead of the Acer Aspire E1-510P (10.7), but behind the mainstream average of 6.8.
Click to EnlargeAcer's budget system comes with budget speakers. The Aspire E15 features stereo speakers located on the underside of the system, which directs sound into the table or lap and away from me.
The Aspire E15 produced below-average volume on the Laptop Mag audio test, measuring only 79 decibels from 23 inches away. This was lower than the mainstream average of 86 dB but ahead of the Acer Aspire E1-510P (82 dB).
When I listened to The Chemical Brothers' Star Guitar (the video is a masterpiece), midtones were generally good, but they couldn't hide the hollow bass and weak highs. Combined with the below average volume, the E15 may have a hard time putting out enough sound to fill even a small to mid-size room.
On the Laptop Mag heat test (15 minutes of streaming video from Hulu), the touchpad measured just 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and the hottest spot (the area between the G and H keys) reached only 89 degrees. Laptop Mag considers anything above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable.
Ports and Webcam
Click to EnlargeThe Acer Aspire E15 comes with a 720p camera that did a lackluster job capturing details. Overall, image quality was grainy, with photos having a tendency of being overexposed.
For connectivity, the left side of the E15 holds the VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, lone USB 3.0 port and headset jack. The right side houses an 8x DVD-RW optical drive and the remaining two USB 2.0 ports, with the SD Card reader located on the front.
Click to EnlargeComputing power on the Acer Aspire E15 comes from a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i3 4030U CPU, 6GB of RAM and 1 TB 5,400-rpm hard drive. The E15 is a solid multi-tasker. I had no difficulty streaming a 1080p video with five other tabs open in Chrome and Internet Explorer.
On Geekbench 3, which measures overall system performance, the Aspire E15 scored 4,227. While this showing is lower than the mainstream average of 7,211, it's better than the Acer Aspire E1-510P's 2,490 (1.86 GHz Intel Celeron N2920 CPU, 8GB of RAM) and fine for a $550 budget system.
The Aspire E15's 1TB hard drive duplicated 4.97 GB of mixed media files in 2:55 for a transfer rate of 29 MBps. This was a little slower than the mainstream average of 2:11, but ahead of the Acer Aspire E1-510P (2:52).
MORE: Best Tablets 2014
On the Laptop Mag spreadsheet test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses in Open Office, the Aspire E15 completed the test in 7 minutes and 15 seconds. This is slower than the mainstream average of 5:34, but ahead of the glacial 20:04 of the Acer Aspire E1-510P.
The Acer Aspire E15's integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics did a fine job of handling HD video and less graphically intense games. I played Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft windowed at 1366 x 768 on medium settings, and I was still able to stream 720p video in a separate window without a hitch.
In World of Warcraft at its native resolution and auto-settings, the Aspire 15 managed 45 fps. Anything above 30 fps is playable.
MORE: Best Gaming Laptop 2014
In 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, the E15 scored 38,339, more than double that of the Acer Aspire E1-510P (15,907) but lower than the mainstream average of 59,644. However, many systems in this category feature discrete graphics.
On the Laptop Mag battery test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits), the Aspire E15 performed admirably, lasting 7 hours and 19 minutes. This was nearly an hour longer than the mainstream average of 6:21 and two hours longer than the Acer Aspire E1-510P (5:24).
On its website, Acer lists more than 50 different models and configurations of its Aspire E series, ranging from $250 systems with Intel Celeron CPUs to $630 Intel Core i5 models. However, Acer sells very few models directly from its site, so you'll have to hunt for the config you want via an online retailer.
Editor's Note: After publishing this review, we were informed that our configuration (E5-571P-363N) would only be available in Puerto Rico. The two closest configurations available in the US are the E5-571P-31LT ($470), which has the same processor and display, but just 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive; and the E5-571P-57E0 ($630), which has an Intel Core i5-4210U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB HDD.
Software and Warranty
A one-year International Travelers limited warranty comes standard on the Aspire E15. Acer also preloads the system with a familiar set of media apps like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Kindle. Other software includes trials for Microsoft Office, McAfee Internet Security, Skype and Acer Cloud Communication.
Click to EnlargeTypical of budget systems, the E15's desktop is cluttered with icons for Acer Docs, Acer Portal, Acer Remote Files, Booking.com, Acer Buy Online, eBay, Cyberlink PowerDirector, PhotoDirector and PowerDVD 12.
One nice feature is the Pokki Start Menu. Despite its silly name, this utility adds Start menu-like functionality to Windows 8.
Click to EnlargeThe Acer Aspire E15 is yet another good budget 15-inch notebook from Acer. For $550, consumers get a swift everyday system with a touch screen. It offers double the storage and performance of the $450 Acer Aspire E1-510P, as well as two hours' additional battery. Those who need something simple for checking email, surfing the Web and watching videos will be better off with a cheaper Windows machine (or a Chromebook). But if you're looking for some extra oomph, the E15 will serve you well.