While you can get laptops with full-HD screens and 2-in-1s that bend back into tablets for under $700, most make you compromise color output or build quality. The Acer Aspire R 15 bucks that trend, delivering a premium aluminum design, fantastic keyboard and extremely vibrant 15-inch display for a starting price of just $649.99. The R 15 isn't without its trade-offs -- most notably its mechanical hard drive and copious bloatware -- but you won't see a better value on a large-screen 2-in-1.
The Acer Aspire R 15's aluminum lid bends back 360 degrees, allowing you to put it in laptop, flat, tent, tablet and display modes. The notebook has the same gunmetal-gray aluminum on its deck that it has on its lid -- a premium feature you don't often see in this price range. However, we noticed a little bit of flex when we pressed down on the palm rest. The laptop's soft-rubber underside includes glass fiber and silver particles to allow it to be both thin and rigid.
Measuring 0.79 inches thick, the Aspire R 15 is thinner than the Toshiba Satellite L55T-C5388 and the HP Notebook 15 (both 0.96 inches), and close to the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 (0.78 inches). The Aspire R 15 weighs 4.8 pounds, making it lighter than the Satellite L55T (5.2 pounds), and similar to the HP Notebook 15 (4.8 pounds) and the Inspiron 15 (4.6 pounds).
On the left side of the Aspire R 15, you'll find an HDMI port, three USB ports (one Type-C 3.1 that cannot draw power, two standard Type-A 3.0) and a headphone jack. A USB 2.0 port and an SD card reader sit on the right side, alongside power and volume buttons.
The Acer Aspire R 15's 15.6-inch display provides crisp details and lively color, but it is too glossy. When I streamed the Suicide Squad trailer on the notebook, it rendered El Diablo's flaming hands vividly, dark corners of Gotham City appeared in inky blacks and Deadshot's glowing red eyepiece popped. While I could see the cracks and crevices of Killer Croc's slimy scales, the reflection of my shirt distracted me throughout the trailer.
According to our colorimeter, the Aspire R 15 can display 109 percent of the sRGB spectrum, which is impressive for a laptop in this price range. That beats the HP Notebook 15 (63 percent), Inspiron 15 7000 (62 percent), Satellite L55T (65 percent) and the category average (89 percent).
The Aspire R 15's display earned a 4 on the Delta-E test (where zero is perfect). That's worse than the HP Notebook 15 (3.5) and the Inspiron 15 (0.7), but slightly better than the Satellite L55T (4.3) and the category average (4.59).
The Aspire R 15's screen is also quite bright, as it emits up to 310 nits (a measure of brightness). That outshines the HP Notebook 15 (220 nits), Inspiron 15 (209 nits), Satellite L55T (192 nits) and the average mainstream laptop (245 nits). This luminous display enables solid viewing angles; I saw its color stay strong at 45 degrees to the left and right.
Keyboard, Touch Screen, Touchpad
The Acer Aspire R 15's backlit keyboard feels extremely snappy and responsive, with a strong tactile feel that you don't find on most competitors. When I tested out its backlit keyboard on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I clicked my way to 75 words per minute, relatively close to my 80-wpm average. The Aspire's keys offer 1.49 millimeters of travel and require 58 grams to actuate -- measures that are near enough to what we hope to find in a laptop (1.5 to 2 mm; 60 g). Spreadsheet mavens will also appreciate the dedicated numeric keypad.
The one problem I encountered was that Acer set the Aspire R 15's directional arrow keys in a confusing manner. Not only are the up and down keys half the size of the left and right keys that they sit between, but the glyphs on the keys for increasing and decreasing brightness are reversed, so you'll tap the full sun to dim and the empty one to brighten.
The Aspire R 15's touch-screen display accurately kept up with fingers as I doodled in MS Paint, and I couldn't trick it by moving my digits faster.
The Aspire R 15's buttonless 4.2 x 3.0-inch touchpad registered my input correctly as I navigated the desktop and the internet. While it provided a sturdy feel to each click and correctly picked up scrolling gestures, it was slow to recognize three-finger Windows app-switching swipes.
The Acer Aspire R 15 blasts a lot of volume and delivered a great reproduction of James Blake's "Timeless," which filled our large conference room. The track's siren synths hit their high notes, vocals came through clearly and drum cymbals sounded crisp.
The notebook features the Dolby Audio sound adjustment utility, but you should keep it closed. When I switched from the default Music setting to the Dynamic, Music, Game and Voice presets, it only distorted the audio quality.
MORE: Best Laptops Under $500
Armed with an Intel Core i5-6200U CPU and 8GB of RAM, the Aspire R 15 enables fantastic multitasking, though its competitors outpace it. When I split my screen between a dozen tabs -- including Slack, TweetDeck, Gmail and the Google Doc of this review -- and a streaming video, I didn't detect a hint of lag. I still didn't see a stutter when I pushed the Aspire further, opening another dozen tabs, the Camera app and Candy Crush Soda Saga.
The Acer Aspire R 15 scored a middling 5,318 on the Geekbench 3 general benchmark, which is less than the Core i5-6200U-powered HP Notebook 15 (5,784) and Inspiron 15 (5,768), the Core i7-6500U-powered Satellite L55T (6,888) and the average for mainstream notebooks (7,471).
The Aspire R 15's 5,400-rpm hard drive took 2 minutes and 50 seconds to copy 4.97GB of multimedia files, for a speed of 29.9 MBps. That's similar to the 5,400-rpm drives in the HP Notebook 15 (29.57 MBps) and Satellite L55T (29.4 MBps), but much slower than the SSD drive in the Inspiron 15 (145.4 MBps) and the category average (127.93 MBps).
The Aspire R 15 did well on our Open Office Macro Test, taking 4 minutes and 59 seconds to match 20,000 names to addresses. While the HP Notebook 15 (4:30), Inspiron 15 (4:43) and Satellite L55T (4:08) finished the test in shorter times, the average mainstream laptop took longer (5:14).
Armed with an Intel HD Graphics 520 unit, the Aspire R 15 scored a 49,995 in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, which means it won't support games with high requirements, but can run titles like Asphalt 8 and the preinstalled Candy Crush Soda Saga. The HP Notebook 15 (51,066), Inspiron 15 (52,333), Satellite L55T (66,251) and average mainstream laptop (72,229) notched better marks.
Pack your charging cable if you're going to take the Aspire R 15 out for a day's work. The notebook lasted 5 hours and 20 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness), which is a little less than the HP Notebook 15 (5:51), Inspiron 15 (5:33) and the average for mainstream notebooks (5:51). The Satellite L55T (5:05) lasted even less time.
The Aspire R 15's 0.9-megapixel webcam captures accurate tones, but little to no detail. While the red of the Purch wall in our office looks correct in the selfie I took with the Aspire R 15, the image appears so fuzzy that I would have guessed that it had been put through a rasterize filter.
You won't have to worry about the Acer Aspire R 15 getting too hot to handle. After we streamed 15 minutes of full-screen HD video on the notebook, we heat-gun-registered temperatures below our 95 degrees Fahrenheit comfort threshold on its touchpad (79 degrees), keyboard (82.5 degrees) and undercarriage (92 degrees).
Software and Warranty
If preloaded bloatware annoys you, take a deep breath before you see what Acer installed on the Aspire R 15. While abPhoto may help some manage snapshots, and you can sync data to Acer's cloud servers with abFiles, the rest of what you find on here is junk.
The most offensive preinstalled app is the WildTangent games store, which is filled with titles that nobody wants. Amazon and Kindle are installed, but you don't need apps to access those services. And while the Dashlane password manager shows up in the Start menu, Acer's only giving you the same one-device-only free account anyone can get. Last, uninstall the trial version of McAfee LiveSafe before it turns into a nuisance who pesters you to pay like a mafia thug out for collections. For more about why you'd want to wipe and reload Windows after you purchase a computer, read our piece on the downfalls of bloatware.
Acer sells the Aspire R 15 in two configurations. We tested the $649.99 base model, which features a Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. If you need more performance, its $849.99 big brother packs a Core i7 CPU and 12 GB of RAM.
Most laptops that cost $1,000 don't have screens that can display 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut, but the R 15's screen is that vibrant, and it starts at $649. Not only does the sleek Acer Aspire R 15 offer eye-popping color output, but it also delivers a very comfortable keyboard, rich audio, a premium bend-back design and solid performance. We only wish Acer were more judicious with its preloaded software and hard-drive selection.
If you want better performance in your 2-in-1, consider spending $100 more for the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1, which comes with an SSD, but has a duller display and worse typing experience. However, if you're looking for a big-screen 2-in-1 with a fantastic display at a reasonable price, the Aspire R 15 is your best choice.