Acer Nitro 5 (2019) Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Solid specs for a budget laptop; Stays cool under pressure with customizable fan controls; Plenty of ports for peripherals

The Cons

Bulky size; Finicky trackpad; Weak audio

Verdict

Acer's strongest addition to the Nitro 5 series offers casual gamers stellar performance at an affordable price.

The Acer Nitro 5's powerful 9th Gen i5 CPU, capable GTX 1650 and slick design, all at a sub-$1,000 price, make this machine a casual gamer's dream. Starting from $699, the Acer Nitro 5 ($879 tested) runs games remarkably well and stays cool while doing so. An abundance of ports, solid gaming performance and an affordable price combine to make the Nitro 5 a category leader over more-expensive competitors, giving them a run for their money at just two-thirds of the price.

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Acer Nitro 5 price and configuration options

Acer's $879.99 17.3-inch Nitro 5 includes a 2.4-GHz 9th Gen Intel Core i5-9300H processor, 8GB of RAM (upgradeable to 32GB), a 512GB PCIe SSD (with room for a second 2.5-inch SSD or hard drive -- Acer includes the upgrade kit and cable), GeForce GTX 1650 graphics and full-HD 1920 x 1080 display, all packed into a hefty, tried-and-true "gamer-inspired" chassis of bold colors and angular edges.

The $669 base model has the same bulky body, while replacing Intel and Nvidia components with AMDs. In that model, you get a 2.1-GHz Ryzen 5 3550H quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, AMD Radeon RX 560X graphics and a smaller, 15.6-inch IPS backlit screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080.

Design

Acer won't be winning any awards for the Nitro 5's design, with which the machine joins the herd of angular, black-and-red gaming laptops. Opting for a futuristic aesthetic, this chunky laptop is housed in a matte-black plastic exterior with a brushed texture gracing the hood. A crimson red hinge contrasts nicely with a dark webbed grill below, giving this budget laptop a premium look. In a change from other Acer laptops, the silver logo has been replaced by a reflective black metal that glimmers in the light.

Lifting the hood reveals that Acer cut corners. We're not talking metaphors here, and it's actually a good thing; the design cut the corners off the top and bottom of the laptop, creating sharp edges that add some flair. Of note is a remarkably thin, 0.3-inch-thick textured upper bezel that provides an 80% screen-to-body ratio. The chunky interior bottom body of the laptop is made of smoothly textured plastic that is cool to the touch. This houses the red-backlit membrane keyboard and a plethora of ports

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Weighing 5.7 pounds, the 15.9 x 11 x 1.1-inch laptop is quite a bit heavier than competing systems in the premium laptop segment, such as the Asus ROG Zephyrus G GA502 (4.5 pounds, 14.2 x 9.9 x 0.8 inches) and Dell's G5 15 (5.6 pounds, 14.3 x 10.8 x 1 inches). .

Ports

The Nitro 5 provides plenty of connection options along its sides. At one point, I had a mouse, an Astro A10 gaming headset, the power cord and an Xbox One controller plugged in, and there was still plenty of room to plug an external hard drive into the laptop.

From the top left corner down, you have a Kensington lock, an RJ45 Ethernet port, an HDMI 2.0 slot, a USB-C port, and two USB 3.0 Type-A ports. Flip the Nitro over to its right side, and you'll find a DC-in port, a USB 2.0 port and an audio jack.

While USB-C and 3.0 are standard for the segment, the Nitro stands out for the number of ports it offers. The Dell G5 15 foregoes an Ethernet slot entirely, and the Zephyrus G comes in at one USB port short.

I've come to enjoy the smoothness of the Windows Hello-equipped fingerprint scanners on Acer's productivity line and was disappointed that the Nitro lacks one.

Display

Massive and immersive, the Nitro 5's 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 LCD display with backlit IPS technology offers plenty of screen space from virtually every perspective. Rectifying the thicker bezels that plagued models of yesteryear, Acer managed to shrink the chassis bezel to a mere 0.3 inches. Watching the Zombieland: Double Tap trailer, I was quite immersed in the post-apocalyptic film thanks to the high levels of detail shown in everything from muzzle shots to specks of explosion debris. Dark scenes displayed quite clearly as I identified details such as lantern hues and rainbow-dyed wood panels during night scenes. With its color reproduction, the Nitro 5 is quite adept at producing lifelike colors.

In our lab, the Nitro 5's screen reproduced a strong 103% of the sRGB gamut, much higher than the Zephyrus G's disappointing 71% and the 82% average for entry-level gaming laptops. However, the Dell G5 15 delivered a segment-leading 154%.

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At 275 nits, the Nitro 5's screen eclipses the Zephyrus G's, which measures a measly 240 nits. The Acer also outshined the 268-nit category average, along with the G5 15 and its 270 nits.

Keyboard and touchpad

The chiclet-style, red-backlit membrane keyboard of the Acer Nitro 5 is quite responsive, with a key travel of 1.4 millimeters and an actuation of 70 grams. The keys feel good when you're typing, and a single tap inputs each character without bottoming out. I scored 57 words per minute according to the 10FastFingers typing test. That's a slight improvement from my usual 53 wpm.

The NitroSense application button, in-game movement keys (WASD), arrow keys and touchpad are outlined in red, so you can find them quickly no matter the lighting situation. The number pad came in handy when I had to input pages of specs into the Laptop Mag CMS. However, using the keyboard was not all smooth sailing. Multiple times, I tapped the NitroSense key, which is directly next to the backspace key, which opened the fan-control software. I continuously hit the button absent-mindedly, derailing my train of thought during work sessions.

Touchpad tracking on the Nitro 5 is a chore. While I primarily use a mouse, I have yet to find tracking as sloppy as that on the Nitro 5. Navigating to a new tab became a strategic, thought-out process that ended with me accidently clicking the close button multiple times.

MORE: A Guide to Mechanical Keyboard Switches | Tom's Guide

Aside from that, feedback from the 4.1 x 3-inch pad felt a bit mushy. On the plus side, there is plenty of room to drag your finger across the pad.

Audio

The preinstalled Waves Maxx Audio software could not improve the Nitro's underwhelming speakers. Even after I optimized the settings for music and cranked the volume, the sound barely filled our walk-in-closet-sized lab.

Listening to MGMT's psychedelic song "When You Die," I noticed elements missing from the music, like the background string, which haphazardly came and went. The percussion wasn't nearly as crisp, which I discovered upon removing my headphones. Richness and clarity reproduced in my Astro headset disappeared upon switching my main audio source to the Nitro's external speakers. With the slight level of distortion and the low maximum volume, you'll definitely need a pair of solid headphones if you want to hear every note.

When I played Far Cry New Dawn, the bass was hollow, especially when I was shooting my bow. Smashing a wooden bat against my enemies lacked its usual meaty thud. The character dialogue of NPCs I liberated sounded distant even with the voice preset selected. The hum of ATVs sounded believable, but due to the low sound, it could be only so immersive.

Gaming, graphics and VR

The Nitro 5 comes equipped with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1650 GPU with 4GB of VRAM. While the GTX 1650 offers up to 1.7 times higher performance than the GTX 1050 chip found in older budget gaming laptops, it's not quite as powerful as the GTX 1060.

Loading up a save from Far Cry New Dawn, I enjoyed a steady 44 frames per second on medium graphics settings, crawling through grass and eliminating enemies in one fluid motion. On high settings, the game saw only a 4-frame decrease, with an average of 40 frames per second.

Despite the initial encouraging numbers, the Nitro came in last on a majority of mainstream gaming benchmarks, as expected. You have to take into account that the Nitro is well above minimum thresholds while it is a third of the price less than other laptops that keep the same pace. Hitman was one game in which the Nitro lagged, producing 56 frames per second (1080p, Ultra). That's more than the category average (45 fps) but is left in the dust by much higher scores from Dell's G5 (85 fps, GTX 1650 GPU) and Asus' Zephyrus G (73 fps, GTX 1660 Ti).

The Nitro didn't have too much trouble running Metro: Last Light on high and 1080p settings. With a steady rate of 37 fps, the Nitro outperformed the 26-fps average for entry-level gaming laptops, as well as the Dell G5 15 and its 29 fps. The Zephyrus G's 51 fps average offered the most polished gameplay.

MORE: What to Look for in a Gaming Laptop - Buying Guide for Gamers

The Nitro 5 tied with the entry-level gaming laptop average of 43 frames per second in Middle Earth: Shadow of War. Dell's G5 15 fared a bit better with 47 frames per second but the big winner was the Asus pulling a stutter-free 63 fps average.

Rise of the Tomb Raider saw the slowest performance from the Nitro 5. Scoring 30 frames per second, just hitting our acceptability baseline, the Nitro 5 exceeded the 23 frame per second average from the segment. Dell's G5 15 managed an average of 37 frames per second, but this was overshadowed by the 43 frames per second produced by the Zephyrus G.

Proper VR costs almost as much as this laptop, so don't expect a killer experience pairing a headset with the Nitro 5. With a score of 5.8 fps on SteamVR, the Nitro once again beat out the G5 15 (5.6 fps) and category average (4.4 fps) but was bested by the Asus (9.2 fps).

Performance

Acer outfitted the Nitro 5 with a 2.4GHz Core i5-9550H processor that makes running powerful applications a snap. After installing Google Chrome, I punished my 8GB of RAM with tabs galore. Withstanding 25 web pages with five different YouTube videos playing simultaneously, the system refused to throttle under pressure.

The Nitro delivered solid results on our synthetic tests, hitting 14,432 on the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test. While entry-level gaming laptops average only 11,603 on Geekbench 4.3, Acer's machine loses to the G5 15 and its 16,722, even though the two laptops have the same Core i5-9300H. Asus' Zephyrus G ended its winning streak, scoring 14,106 with its AMD Ryzen 7 3750H CPU.

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In our file-transfer test, the Nitro 5's 512GB PCIe SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 9.5 seconds, for a transfer rate of 565 megabytes per second. This speed beat the competition, with the Asus (PCIe NVMe SSD, 424 MBps) and Dell (SSD,130 MBps) struggling to keep up, and the Nitro's score nearly doubled the category average of 293 MBps.

Battery life

Acer claims that the Nitro 5 can last up to 7 hours on a single charge. On the Laptop Mag battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness), the Nitro 5 tapped out after only 4 hours and 22 minutes. That exceeds the 3:58 average but falls to Asus' superior 4:48 and Dell's decimating 6:53.

Webcam

Holy noise, Batman! While I've been thoroughly impressed by some 720p webcams, the only thing that impressed me about this webcam was how bad it is.

My selfies were completely out of focus, with the overall image looking like the camera was submerged in a grease bath. And when the camera captured individual stubble on my face, the color was washed out.

Heat

Acer's ability to keep cool under pressure has been consistent across the company's recent product lines. The Nitro 5 was no exception, staying cooler than the competition and below the average even when performing demanding tasks. The NitroSense fan-control app, a dual-fan-ventilation cooling-management system, is a noteworthy addition. You can adjust the fan speed of your CPU and GPU independently and maximum-boost your fans with CoolBoost during heavy usage.

While Asus comes within a hair of tying the Nitro, the reading of 74 degrees Fahrenheit on the Nitro is 0.5 degrees lower than the 75.5 Asus puts up. After playing a 15 minute Far Cry New Dawn session, we found the plastic cool to the touch while the machine reached 74.5 degrees on the touchpad, 85 degrees between the G & H keys, and 83.5 degrees on the underside. That's well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.

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The hottest location of the laptop was near the hinge to the right of the underside, where the temperature clocked in at 88 degrees. The Nitro 5 is the coolest laptop amongst its competitors for heat dissipation, a specialization of Acer's. While Asus comes within a degree for each measurement, Dell's laptop continuously surpasses the average temperature of laptops in the segment.

Software and warranty

Acer includes only three first-party applications on the Nitro 5: Acer Collection S, Acer Care Center and Acer Product Registration. The collection includes application downloads consisting primarily of bloatware, such as LinkedIn and third-party mail applications. Care Center is very useful in the scheduling of updates, product information and performance enhancements. Lastly, Acer Product Registration ensures you're covered by the warranty.

Acer included its branded version of both Cyberlink's PhotoDirector and PowerDirector, which are capable content-creation programs. The Nitro 5 is admirably light on preinstalled software, which is great.

Acer provides a limited one-year warranty for the Nitro 5's parts and labor via mail in or

carry in that is on par with the competition. See how Acer fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands ranking.

Bottom line

The updated Nitro 5 is a solid gaming laptop for casual gamers who want middle-tier performance at an entry-level price. This machine's plastic body is a bit chunky, but the 9th Gen Core i5 processor and Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU more than make up for the chassis.

For about $300 more, you can get the Dell G5 15, which offers better battery life, improved performance and a lighter body. But if value is more important to you, grab the Acer Nitro 5 and put the money you save toward a few games.

Credit: Laptop Mag

CPU Intel Core i5-9300H
Operating System Windows 10 Home
RAM 8GB
RAM Upgradable to
Hard Drive Size 512GB SSD
Hard Drive Speed n/a
Hard Drive Type
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size
Highest Available Resolution
Native Resolution
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650
Video Memory 4GB
Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi Model
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI 2.0
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone/Mic
Ports (excluding USB) RJ-45
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.1 with Type-C
Ports (excluding USB) USB 2.0 Always-On
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.1 Gen 1
Ports (excluding USB) DC-in
USB Ports 4
Warranty/Support One year limited warranty
Size 15.9 x 11 x 1.1 inches
Weight 5.67
Company Website www.acer.com