Navigating the sub-$1,000 mainstream laptop market is an exercise in compromise. Case in point: the Acer Aspire F15. For $599, you get a 15.6-inch laptop that offers good overall performance, a fast SSD and more than 6 hours of battery life, all in an attractive chassis. However, there are a couple of caveats in the form of a lackluster display and a spongy keyboard. But if you consider those minor quibbles, the F15 might just be the notebook you're looking for.
Thank you, Acer, for not phoning this one in. You could have just put out a slipshod notebook clad in ugly plastic. Instead, you had the foresight to adorn the lid in silvery metal with a visible and tactile crosshatch that plays up the raised diamond-cut Acer logo. I'm even a fan of the slim gray plastic border that culminates in a slim strip that forms the lip. The overall presentation is jaunty, indeed.
Opening the lid rewards you with an aluminum keyboard deck, which is lightly brushed for visual effect. A slim black plastic border surrounds the deck and gives way to a gray plastic undercarriage.
The F15 is dotted with a selection of ports, slots and drives, with technologies old and new. You'll find a USB 2.0 port and a DVD writer located on the notebook's right side with the power port. On the left, there's two USB 3.0 ports, a USB Type-C port, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet and VGA. Hiding along the left front lip is a SD card reader.
Measuring 15 x 10.2 x 0.9~1.1 inches, the 5.1-pound F15 is thicker than competing notebooks, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad 300S (3.6 pounds, 13.4 x 9.5 x 0.77 inches), the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (5.4 pounds, 14.9 x 10.3 x 0.9 inches) and the HP Notebook 15 (4.8 pounds, 15.1 x 10 x 0.96 inches).
You cant have everything in a $600 notebook, and the 15-inch display on the F15 is one area where its budget price shows. When I watched the 1080p trailer of The Magnificent Seven, Denzel Washington's usually glowing mahogany skin looked dull and listless on the 1920 x 1080 matte screen. Although I could clearly see the creases and stitches in the actor's black shirt, its faded appearance made it look as if it had seen one too many trips in the washing machine.
The F15 can reproduce only 62 percent of the sRGB gamut, which is below the 88 percent mainstream average, but enough to skate past the Inspiron 15's 59 percent. The HP Notebook 15 (63 percent) and the IdeaPad 300S (67 percent) werent much better.
Color accuracy, too, was off. The panel got an abysmal 4.6 Delta-E error rating (lower is better), which to be fair isn't too far off the 4.2 average, but well short of our 0 ideal. The IdeaPad 300S, the Inspiron 15 and the HP Notebook 15 notched 4.4, 3.8 and 3.3, respectively.
Averaging 201 nits on our brightness test, the F15 fell below the 259 nit brightness typical for a mainstream notebook. The other laptops did only marginally better, with the Inspiron 15 measuring 239 nits, while the IdeaPad 300S and the HP Notebook 15 produced 225 and 220 nits.
Despite their diminutive size, the pair of speakers mounted on the F15's undercarriage can pump out loud, clear audio. Fantasia's powerful vocals in "Free Yourself" filled the room, but I noticed that the accompanying harp and piano sounded tinnier than usual. When I switched over to Janelle Monae's "Yoga," the bass was pretty nonexistent.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The F15's backlit island-style keyboard delivers a mediocre, but tolerable, typing experience. I found that the 1.6 millimeters of key travel and 52 grams of force needed to depress the keys made for less responsive keystrokes. The spongy feel forced me to strike the keys harder than I'd like, which affected my score on the 10fastfingers typing test, dropping my average 60 words per minute down to 51 wpm.
However, I definitely appreciated the massive 4.1 x 3.0-inch touchpad. No matter which multitouch gestures I performed (two-finger scroll, three-finger tap or four-finger tap), my fingers were rarely in danger of hitting the edge. Overall, the touchpad was fast and responsive and the bottom corners delivered clickier feedback than the keyboard.
Equipped with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U processor, a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM, the F15 is an able workhorse. It's not the strongest in the stable, but it'll get the job done. The laptop seamlessly streamed an episode of Voltron from Netflix with seven Google Chrome tabs running in the background and a full system scan running.
On Geekbench 3, a synthetic overall performance test, the F15 scored 6,044, which is below the 7,521 mainstream average. However, that's on a par with the Inspiron 15 (6,331), the HP Notebook 15 (5,784) and the IdeaPad 300S (5,753), all of which have 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U CPUs.
You rarely see a solid-state drive, let alone a 256GB SSD, on a sub-$600 laptop, but the F15 comes with one and it helps the performance immensely. Because of its SSD, the laptop duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in a reasonable 44 seconds. That translates into a file- transfer rate of 114.3 megabytes per second, which is a tad short of the 128.1MBps average. However, that's much better than the Inspiron 15 and the HP Notebook 15, whose 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drives could achieve only 31.9MBps and 29.6MBps, respectively. The IdeaPad 300S and its 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive reached only 28.1MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the F15 paired 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 29 seconds, beating the 5:02 category average. The HP Notebook 15 and the Inspiron 15 were only a second behind at 4:30, with the IdeaPad 300S in hot pursuit with 4:31.
With its Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU, the F15 could never be mistaken for a gaming laptop. While it could definitely run browser-based titles, taxing games such as Doom, The Witcher 3 or Rise of the Tomb Raider are pretty much out of the question.
When we tested its graphics performance with the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, the laptop notched 58,642, well below the 73,353 average. The Inspiron 15, the IdeaPad 300S and the HP Notebook 15, which have the same GPU, did about the same, scoring 62,763, 52,840 and 51,066, respectively.
It won't get you through a full day, but three-quarters of a workday isn't too shabby. On the Laptop Battery Test, the F15 spent 6 hours and 22 minutes continuously surfing the web over Wi-Fi before it tapped out.
MORE: Laptops with the Longest Battery Life
While it matched the Inspiron 15's time and beat the HP Notebook 15 (5:51), it still missed the 6:31 mainstream average. The IdeaPad 300S lasted a few minutes more at 6:25.
The F15 is a cool customer for the most part. After running a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad and center of the laptop measured 84 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The bottom of the notebook reached 101 degrees, which is higher than our 95-degree comfort threshold.
If you plan to do a lot of video chatting, you may want to get an external webcam.
The test shots I took with the 720p camera were grainy and blown out. My pink dress is at least two shades darker than what the image shows and my skin looks gray. To add insult to injury, there's a bit of lens flare coming from the overhead lights.
Software and Warranty
Acer loves software, so much so that it installed a slew of apps and programs on the F15 that range from useful to flat-out bloatware. Acer-branded titles include cloud-based apps like abFiles and abPhoto, which let you access important files or photos on any device. Care Center allows you to run system diagnostics, while Power Button provides quick access to shutting the system down or putting it into Hibernate Mode.
Extraneous apps include Flipboard, Amazon Kindle, Netflix, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Amazon, Twitter and a Wild Tangent Games Hub app.
The Acer Aspire F15 ships with a one-year limited warranty. See how Acer fared on our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands ratings.
The $599 model of the F15 I reviewed has a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU. If you're looking to save a few bucks, you can get the $499 base model, which downgrades the display from full HD to 1366 x 768. But if you want to get a bit of gaming in, you can pay $799, which gives you a discrete Nvidia GeForce 940MX GPU with 4GB of VRAM and increases the clock speed from 2.3 to 2.5-GHz.
Acer managed to cram a lot of value into the Aspire F15. For $599, you get mainstream Core i5 processing power, an attractive design and a sharp, though dull, display. The true star of the system, however, is the SSD that delivers stronger boot and file transfer times than you usually find in this price range.
If you want a laptop with a little more performance oomph and a better display, we recommend the Dell Inspiron 15 5000. But if you're looking for a solid all-around laptop, the Acer Aspire F15 is a strong choice.