Every once in a while, a laptop comes along that defies its low price. Yet again, the Acer Aspire E 15 is one of those laptops. Punching well above its weight class, the 15-inch machine has a sharp 1080p display, good performance and a wide variety of ports.
The laptop's keyboard is comfortable, its battery life is decent and it stays cool under a heavy workload. Despite a few notable shortcomings -- a poor webcam, bulky design and unwelcome bloatware -- the Aspire E 15 offers excellent bang for your buck, which is why it's one of the best laptops under $500 and one of the best laptops for college students on a budget.
Acer Aspire E 15 price and configuration options
Acer offers the Aspire E 15 in a number of configurations at a variety of prices. The $307.99 base model that I reviewed is the least expensive. It comes equipped with an Intel Core i3-8130U CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD.
My colleague, Henry T. Casey, reviewed the $599 model, which comes with a more powerful Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card. Check out our face-off between that configuration of the Aspire E 15 and the Asus VivoBook S15, another recommended mid-range laptop. For $799, the high-end Aspire E 15 upgrades you to a Core i7 CPU.
Acer Aspire E 15 design
The Aspire E 15 is what we've come to expect from a 15-inch budget laptop. It's big, heavy and not particularly easy on the eyes. The laptop's smooth black deck is made of chunky plastic, but a brushed metal texture gives it a deceivingly premium appearance.
Similarly, subtle cross-etching on the dark-gray lid and chrome trim around the touchpad spice up an otherwise plain design. Also on the lid is an offset chrome Acer logo.
At 15 x 10.2 x 1.2 inches, the Aspire E 15 is larger than the Acer Spin 3 (13.2 x 9.1 x 0.8 inches) and the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (12.9 x 8.9 x 0.6 inches). As expected, the Aspire E 15 is also heavier than those 14-inch laptops, weighing in at 5 pounds compared with the 3.8-pound Spin 3 and the 3.2-pound VivoBook Flip 14. Unlike these 2-in-1s, the E 15 has a standard clamshell design with a non-touch-screen display.
Acer Aspire E 15 ports
The Acer Aspire E 15 has an excellent assortment of ports, and not just for a budget laptop.
The right side of the laptop is a blast from the past, featuring a USB 2.0 port and an 8X DVD-RW double-layer drive. There is also a headphone jack and a power connector.
On the left side, you have a USB-3.1 Type-C port, an Ethernet port, a VGA input, an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports and a Kensington lock. An SD card reader is conveniently positioned on the laptop's front-left edge.
Acer Aspire E 15 display
The Acer Aspire E 15's 15-inch non-touch display is sharp, but not very colorful. In the trailer for Unbroken: Path to Redemption, the characters' 1940s attire should have bursted with color; instead, it looked drab. Also, the actor's skin tones were pale and lifeless. On a positive note, the 1920 x 1080 panel provided enough detail for me to make out the military medals and ribbons on Louis Zamperini's spiffy uniform.
In the trailer for the upcoming historical drama Operation Finale, I could see fine streaks of white hair on Oscar Isaac's head, and some wrinkles around his eyes. But again, the panel didn't pop, which is a shame considering that its predecessor's display blew us away with a remarkably vivid picture.
The display on the Aspire E 15 is capable of reproducing only 62.3 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is less than half of what its predecessor achieved. It is also less than the Acer Spin 3 (70 percent), the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (69 percent) and the budget laptop average (88 percent).
The Acer Aspire E 15's display reached a maximum brightness of 227 nits, which is par for the course for a budget laptop. The Acer Spin 3 (226 nits) and Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (221 nits) had almost identical luminance, while the budget laptop average (243 nits) is slightly brighter than all three devices.
Acer Aspire E 15 keyboard and touchpad
The Acer Aspire E 15's keyboard is comfortable to type on, but the keys should have more travel. At 1.1 millimeters, it falls short of our recommended 1.5mm minimum. The good news is that, even with a number pad, the full-size keys are well-spaced. The keys are also pleasantly springy, and an actuation force of 72 grams gives them a weighty feel (anything over 60 grams is ideal).
In the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 111 words per minute with an accuracy of 95 percent. That is slightly below my average speed of 119 wpm, but matches my 5 percent error rate.
The 4.1 x 3-inch touchpad on the Aspire E 15 is large and responsive. It quickly reacted to a series of Windows 10 gestures, including pinch-to-zoom, a three-finger swipe upward to see all open tabs, and a four-finger tap to open the Action Center.
Acer Aspire E 15 audio
The Aspire E 15's speakers are loud enough to fill a large room, but the overall sound quality is poor. When I listened to Band of Horses' "The Funeral," the vocals sounded hollow and distant. At high volumes, the speakers distorted, and even at around 60 percent, the guitar treble pierced my sensitive ears.
I played "A Change Is Gonna Come," hoping to hear Sam Cooke's silky-smooth delivery. Instead, the instruments overtook the song, pushing vocals to the background. The midrange wasn't much better when I listened to Travis Scott's "Sicko Mode," but at least the audio was well-balanced and clear.
Acer Aspire E 15 performance
Equipped with an 8th Gen Intel Core i3-8130U CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB 5,200-RPM hard drive, the $349 Acer Aspire E 15 offers an excellent price-to-performance ratio. The laptop had enough oomph to load 10 Firefox tabs with ease, even when I played a YouTube video at 1080p. I started noticing minor lag only after I doubled the number of tabs, played two more full- HD YouTube videos and watched a Twitch stream.
The Aspire E 15 scored a solid 7,871 in the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance benchmark. The Core i3-equipped Acer Spin 3 (8,543) achieved an even better result, while the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (5,696) and the budget laptop average (5,021) were far behind.
The Aspire E 15's poor performance in our hard-drive test was expected, considering it has a slow-spinning mechanical HDD. The 1TB hard drive duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 2 minutes and 32 seconds for a rate of 33.5 megabytes per second. That is faster than the Acer Spin 3 (28.6 MBps) and the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (29.4 MBps), but much slower than the budget laptop average (50.93 MBps).
On our Excel spreadsheet test, the Aspire E 15 matched 65,000 names with their corresponding addresses in 2 minutes and 12 seconds. Again, the Aspire came out on top, accomplishing the task faster than the Acer Spin 3 (2:31), the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (3:35) and the budget average (6:00).
We pushed the Aspire E 15 to its limits by making it convert a 4K video to 1080p using the HandBrake app. It did a solid job, completing the task in 31 minutes and 40 seconds. The Acer Spin 3 (34:59) took slightly longer, while the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (52:34) and the budget laptop average (53:33) took nearly twice as long.
The Acer Aspire E 15 doesn't have the chops to play the latest games, but its graphics performance is good for a budget machine. The Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU in the Aspire E 15 scored a 63,817 on the Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test. The Acer Spin 3, with the same GPU, scored higher (70,217), while the Asus VivoBook Flip 14's UHD Graphics 615 GPU couldn't keep pace (51,586). The average score for budget laptops is 21,138.
The Aspire E 15 dominated the competition in our real-world gaming benchmark. It played the racing game Dirt 3 at 56 frames per second, drifting past the Acer Spin 3 (38 fps), the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (31 fps) and the budget laptop average (27 fps).
Acer Aspire E 15 battery life
While it won't set any records, the Acer Aspire E 15's battery life is strong for a budget laptop. It lasted 8 hours and 48 minutes in our Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. That's almost 3 hours longer than the Acer Spin 3, which powered down after 6 hours. Both the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 (7:23) and the budget laptop category average (7:19) were more than an hour shorter.
Acer Aspire E 15 webcam
The Aspire E 15's webcam doesn't raise the low bar set by other budget laptops. At first, I blamed the lifeless images it captured on the laptop's dull display. To test my theory, I snapped a selfie and viewed it from a more colorful monitor. To my surprise, my face still looked snow- white, like I'd just seen a ghost, and my dark-blue shirt was a deep black.
If you can ignore the distracting graininess, the webcam captures a decent amount of detail. I could see individual strands of hair on my head and trinkets on my co-worker's desk behind me. Despite this, I strongly recommend purchasing an external webcam for the E15.
Acer Aspire E 15 heat
The Acer Aspire E 15 stayed cool during our testing, never topping our 95-degree Fahrenheit comfort threshold. In fact, the laptop's touchpad (84 degrees), keyboard center (87 degrees) and underside (86 degrees) didn't warm to beyond 90 degrees when we watched a full-screen HD video on YouTube for 15 minutes. The hottest location, the underside near the hinge, topped out at 93 degrees.
Acer Aspire E 15 software and warranty
The Aspire E 15 is loaded with preinstalled software. Included on its Windows 10 Home operating system is a dedicated Acer folder filled with proprietary programs. Some are welcome additions, while others feel more like bloatware. One of the more useful programs is the Acer Care Center, which lets you update your drivers, backup files and delete junk. Another is the Acer Power Button, which gives you quick, on-screen access to power settings.
Other programs feel unnecessary, like Acer Documents, which shows you the folder your laptop's user manual is located in. The Acer Quick Access app includes only on/off controls for USB charging and a BlueLight Shield setting that is meant to reduce eyestrain.
There is also the list of apps from third-party companies we've come to expect on Windows 10 laptops, especially budget machines. On the Aspire, those include Booking.com, Amazon, Evernote, eBay and Netflix.
Rounding out this unwanted trove of bloatware is a variety of games aimed at children, including Bubble Witch 3 Saga, Candy Crush Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Cooking Fever, Dragon Mania Legends, Minecraft and Hidden City.
The Aspire E 15 E5-576-392H gives you solid performance, long battery life and a good range of ports for less than $400. It does have a few notable shortcomings, including a dull display and a bulky, bland design. But these don't detract too much from the overall package.
If you can extend your budget a bit, and don't mind a smaller screen, the Microsoft Surface Go is an intriguing sub-$500 alternative (when you include the keyboard). The detachable 2-in-1 has a colorful, high-resolution 10-inch display, and its durable chassis is extremely lightweight, at just 1.1 pounds. The $270 Lenovo IdeaPad 120S is also a good option for anyone on a budget. The 14-inch laptop has a clean design, good performance and charges via USB-C.
But if you want the best 15-inch laptop for less than $400, then look no further than the Aspire E 5.