You don't have to pay top dollar for style. Acer's $380 Aspire E5 has a fashionable, faux-linen shell that has a great, textured feel, along with a 15-inch HD display and good battery life. However, this Core i3-powered laptop is considerably slower than competing budget systems, and Acer piled on too much bloatware.
While the Aspire E5 is affordable, you couldn't tell that by its case. Even though its lid and base are black and plastic, a clothlike texture provides a great feel. This treatment also prevents fingerprints.
Opening the lid reveals the dark-grey keyboard deck, which is very slightly embossed with a diamond print. There is a USB 2.0 port and a proprietary power connector on the right side of the Aspire E5, and its dual USB 3.0 connectors, HDMI, Ethernet, VGA and Kensington lock ports are on the left side.
For a budget laptop, the Aspire feels quite sturdy, and not at all disposable. Measuring 15 x 10.1 x 1.1 inches and weighing 5.29 pounds, it's stocky and heavy enough that you're not going to want to keep anything else in your bag as you carry this laptop around. Looking at other affordable notebooks, it's on the bulkier side, especially when compared to the HP 15t Touch (4.73 pounds) and the Lenovo G50-45 (4.6 pounds)
Display and Audio
While I watched the trailer for American Ultra, the Aspire E15's (1336 x 768) HD screen was both bright and sharp. From the vibrant blues and whites in a nightclub to the oranges and yellows in the fire-filled, on-screen text, this Acer shows that you can get a solid screen at an affordable price.
Freeze-framing certain moments in the trailer, I was able to read some pretty small text in the backgrounds and on-screen documents. The screen on the Lenovo G50-45 was also sharp enough to let you read the Easter-egg-like jokes in the trailer, but that same type looked a little blurry on both the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 and the Asus X555LA.
At full brightness, the Aspire E5's screen is relatively strong, with an average of 230 nits of brightness. That's above the Inspiron 15 5000 (167 nits) and the 192-nit average of other budget notebooks we've tested, but not as bright as the Lenovo G50-45 (238 nits).
The Aspire E5's speakers, which are hidden under its base, produced enough volume to fill a medium-sized conference room. The highs of Rihanna's "S.O.S." came through crisp and clear, but the lows did not do as well on Jay Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," sounding more on the muffled side.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Webcam
The keyboard on the Aspire E5 is good for a budget laptop, but the keys were slightly too tall for my taste. (Its keys have 1.6mm of travel, which is better than the typical 1.5mm.) Still, on the 10fastfingers typing test, I clicked my way to 75 words per minute with 97 percent accuracy, which is better than my desktop average (65 wpm).
The laptop's 4.2 x 3-inch touchpad was responsive and did a good job recognizing my edge-swiping gestures, and never accidentally registered touches.
The Aspire E5's webcam is about average for a notebook, clear enough for Skype, but a photo of myself had a lot of noise and very few details.
Powered by a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i3-4005U processor with 4GB RAM, the Aspire E5 easily handled having 10 tabs (which included a Google document, Twitter, Facebook, email, and both streaming video and music) open in Chrome with the Camera app open and a full-system scan running. However, the when I added another 10 tabs -- simulating the activity I put my laptop through every day -- the system slowed noticeably.
The Aspire E5 did not perform well on various benchmark tests. It only managed a 1,677 in the Geekbench 3 performance test, the worst score of the recent budget notebooks we reviewed, in which the average score was 3,522. The HP 15t Touch (3,420) was the closest competitor, and the $449 Dell Inspiron 15 5000 had the best-in-class score of 4,432.
The Aspire E5's low scores can be tied to it having 4GB of RAM instead of the 6GB found in the X555LA and the Dell Inspiron 15. Its 1.7GHz Core i3-4005U processor is also outclassed by the 2 GHz Core i3-5005U processors seen in the Asus and the Dell. The hard drive on the Aspire E5 is also slower than that of the X555LA and the Inspiron 15.
Testing the Aspire's ability to multitask, we opened a 69MB Word document while a 1080p video played in the background. Acer's E5 took 1 minute and 47 seconds to complete the task, more than twice as long as the budget-laptop category average (52 seconds).
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Gaming was another category in which the Intel HD Graphics 4400-powered Aspire E5 did not fare well, as World of Warcraft would not play at an acceptable speed on the notebook. Even at the lowest settings (1366 x 768 resolution, auto settings) the laptop managed only 26.9 frames per second, which is below the 30-fps playable threshold and the 31-fps average for the budget-laptop category.
Battery Life and Heat
The Aspire E5's endurance is relatively inspiring. The system lasted 5 hours and 49 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the screen at 100 nits). That's longer than the HP 15t Touch (5:24), the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (4:46) and the average for budget notebooks (5:10), which means this laptop should last while you're away from an outlet on a commute or in the classroom.
Since its battery looks to go the distance, we're happy to report that the Aspire E5 stays cool under pressure. After 15 minutes of streaming HD video, the laptop's touchpad, keyboard and underside only measured 80, 81 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, temperatures that are all well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
While it won't overheat, the Aspire E5 is pre-loaded with so much bloatware and adware that I found it hard to keep my cool.
Not only are a dozen junky free-to-play games preinstalled, but the task bar and desktop come pre-cluttered with both Acer's own apps and an Amazon button.